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WARRIOR'S WAY, THE , New Zealand , 2010 , MPAA Rating : R for strong bloody violence

THE WARRIOR’S WAY starts strong, ends with a slick tableaux and in between disappoints with a steady acceleration that not even a quietly charismatic performance by star Dong-Gun Jang, nor the image of a clown with a gun during the film’s climactic shoot-out, can surmount. A fanciful mix of spaghetti-western bad guys, colorful carnival folk, and ninja assassins in traditional black garb, the flick is art-directed to the nth degree, but ponderously realized with direction by Sngmoo Lee that is stylish, but fails to find anything about which to become animated.

The setting is Lode, self-proclaimed Paris of the Old West, but in reality a near-ghost town dominated by an unfinished Ferris wheel and the desert sand that in inexorably reclaiming the spot for itself. It is a place of refuge for Yang (Jang), a rogue ninja on the lam from his former associates because of the baby princess he has it two, the one who is last remaining member of his clan’s sworn enemies. It’s a place of sorrow for Lynne (Kate Bosworth), the town tomboy, as the scene of her family’s slaughter, revenge for which is stymied by her inability to aim true with any known weapon. It’s a place of stagnation for Eight Ball (Tony Cox), the ringmaster of abbreviated height that he turns to his distinct advantage despite a floundering circus that has pinned its hopes on that Ferris wheel with no completion date in sight. With a teeth-obsessed desperado (Danny Huston) nursing a grudge and a strict code of conduct threatening mayhem, and a band of ninjas hot on Yang’s trail about to hit pay dirt, the idyllic life xxx has found doing the town’s laundry, planting flowers, and firming up Lynne’s aim will shortly be coming to an explosive end.

There are eccentrics aplenty here, the circus denizens, and the troglodyte natives, including Geoffrey Rush as the town drunk given to inappropriate outbursts. There are nifty slo-mo close-ups of things like a bullet making its way through the barrel of a gun. And there is Jang, poker-faced and imperturbable whether facing down the best swordsman in the world or a baby in need of changing. He is cool, but he is not cold, and the heart that got him into trouble despite rigorous training since childhood is a constant presence. All are trapped in a story that is cliché-driven in a way that might have wanted to be camp, but isn’t, and that moves along with all the verve of a funeral dirge despite color-saturated sunsets of epic proportions.

THE WARRIOR’S WAY stumbles uncertainly between its surrealist aesthetic and an engaging execution. Not without its charms, not without points of interest, it’s a disappointment of what could have been.

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