Recently, I attended a preview of the new film The Warrior’s Way. We were shown extended clips from the film and there was a roundtable discussion with various cast and crew between clips. The attendees were: Sngmoo Lee (writer/director), Barrie M. Osborne, Jooick Lee, Michael Payser (producers), Danny Huston, Jang Dong Gun (actors), Jonno Woodford-Robinson (editor), and Jason Piccioni (visual effects supervisor).
The film looks very intriguing. It is essentially a mash-up of the old west and the old east, bringing an eastern samurai swordsman character into a frontier town. It’s a clash of cultures and a mix of film genres. The extended clips we saw only made me want to see more.
Director Sngmoo Lee stated that he originally conceived the idea eleven years ago, but at the time he envisioned it as a low-budget El Mariachi type independent film. Yet in the last eleven years it grew into a big-budget studio picture, much to his pleasure. He also stated that he really wanted a Korean actor to play the lead and felt very fortunate that Jang Dong Gun was willing to commit to the role, even though it ended up taking three years out of his very successful career in Korea. (In Korea he is comparable to Johnny Depp or Brad Pitt.) The film follows Yang, the world’s greatest swordsman, as he abandon’s his warrior clan to start a new life in the American Badlands. In the once-thriving but now in shambles Gold Rush town Lode, he finds a kindred spirit in Lynne, played by Kate Bosworth. The story revolves around this duo, a hero who wants to stop killing and a heroine who wants to kill but needs to be trained. And this dance of romance is the dance of death.
When asked why he chose to do the film, Dong Gun answered (via a translator) that he had read a lot of scripts intended for international production, but that The Warrior’s Way was the most refreshing, interesting, and challenging. And to prepare for the role he said “I’m not American but I’ve watched a lot of westerns since I was very young because my father loved John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. One film I remember vividly is Shane. When reading the script for this film it reminded me of Shane and because I had such a strong interest in westerns already it helped me prepare for the role.” I can say that he looks fantastic in the role and I hope that the film brings him international success.
After previewing some clips showcasing the romantic element between the two leads, a question was posed that considering the great cultural divide between the two actors, how was the chemistry achieved on screen? Dong Gun answered “This is not the first time I’ve worked with an international cast, but in my previous films they’ve all been Asian, so we’ve shared a certain similarity in culture. In this case the people I worked with, particularly Kate, come from completely different places very far apart and our cultures are completely different. But I felt in my other films and also in this one that when I work with someone from a different background and with different languages the connection we feel as actors or performers is much more important then the language or the culture. And the chemistry that we create or feel is also more important. All the members of this cast are such great performers and we all came into it knowing what we had to do, so it wasn’t as difficult as you would think.”
A clip reel showcasing Danny Huston (one of the most underrated actors working today, in my opinion) was played next. Afterward, in answer to what reference points he used for playing his character, the film’s villain, Colonel, he responded, “It all starts with the wonderful screenplay, which had lots of Sergio Leone touches and Fellini-esque magic…and some familiar themes, a few that I felt belonged to my childhood – films that scared me. And there’s my love for the western. But here there were many layers of magic that seemed to weave through the piece. So my duty I felt as the Colonel in this story was to bring a humanity to this leatherface psychopath and also create a villain that is a little bit of a coward at times but a force to contend with. And this, in a way, love he has for this girl [Bosworth] that scarred him for life…didn’t only scar his face but also scarred his heart, which is in a way what keeps him going. I felt he was quite a vain character also. His mask to some may seem ugly, but to him it’s his brighter side. He’s also phobic. He doesn’t like dirt. And he’s in the middle of the dust bowl! And he’s obsessed with women’s teeth. So he has many different aspects to him that were just a delight to play.” And in talking to Mr. Huston after the screening/roundtable, he confirmed to me that he loves to play villains because there’s always so much to work with.
Later, visual effects supervisor Jason Piccioni was talking about creating the style of the film and he said, “At one point we decided that the movie is a storybook from the point of view of the town, not necessarily one particular character. So we used that as a license to project what a person of that town would, 10 years later, tell his kids about.” And for the flashback scenes in Asia he mentioned that they were given license to depict what life would look like in Asia from the perspective and imagination of a kid in the old west.
Producer Barrie Osborne concluded by describing how he came to the project. “Every once in a while you find a script that redefines what is cool, what cinema is, what’s interesting and fresh. On the surface it is an action film with a ‘fish-out-of-water’ story, but underneath beats a heart with a story about love and human tragedy.” That, folks, is The Warrior’s Way.