THE WARRIOR'S WAY
by Greg Lynch Jr.
THE WARRIOR'S WAY is the tale of two feuding warrior clans. When Jang, representing the Sad Flutes Clan, balks at killing the final member of the enemy clan, the Sad Flutes view him as a traitor. He flees for his life to the American Southwest. Of course, his clan will not let him escape.
THE WARRIOR'S WAY is also the story of a Colonel who terrorizes a town full of Carnies. He wants payback for the horrific scars one of the town's residents inflicted on him. He's also very keen on checking on everyone's dental hygiene.
And still, THE WARRIOR'S WAY is about two people from different cultures falling in love while learning how to kill with swords.
As most of the people involved in making the film will tell you, it's a kaleidoscopic clash of different genres.
More appropriately, THE WARRIOR'S WAY could be the story of director Sngmoo (pronounced sing-moo) Lee's struggle to get this film to the screen. It took him ten years to bring the picture to theaters, but all his hard work pays off on December 3 when THE WARRIOR'S WAY opens nationally in the United States.
As with any film that has a difficult path to its premiere, you have to wonder what was the problem getting the green light. From the very start, Sngmoo Lee had A-List Korean actor Jang Dong Gun attached to project. Jang Dong Gun appeared in the two biggest Korean pictures of all time: FRIEND and TAEGUKGI: THE BROTHERHOOD OF WAR. Jang was so committed to the project that he devoted two years of his red-hot film career to the picture. Two years is an eternity for an actor at the peak of his career.
Not only did THE WARRIOR'S WAY attract the biggest star in Asia. it drew some of the best film executives. Jooick Lee, the Korean producer of THE WARRIOR'S WAY, was able to entice Barrie Osborne and Michael Peyser aboard the project. In case the names are unfamiliar, Barrie Osborne was producer on the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy and THE MATRIX, while Michael Peyser was associate producer on many of Woody Allen's films, including THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO, BROADWAY DANNY ROSE, and ZELIG. Most recently, Peyser was the executive producer on the concert film U2 3D. THE WARRIOR'S WAY certainly did not lack for talent or experience in the executive offices.
Over the course of any hero's journey, there will be roadblocks. One of the biggest - and having the most profound effect on the tone of the film - was finding a suitable shooting local for the production. Originally the film was to be a live-action adventure shot in New Mexico, Arizona or even Australia. Sngmoo Lee envisioned the film as a fable. But none of the scouted locations matched the lyrical qualities of his screenplay. Although they found suitable deserts, the hills in the surrounding areas were always too green. They never could find a spot that suited their needs. The decision was made to shoot the film on sound stages and use green screens to supply the backdrops.
Instead of months in the American southwest, the production would now take up residence on six sound stages in Auckland, New Zealand. On the one hand, the move to making the film using CGI techniques was incredibly liberating. Production Designer Dan Hennah (Academy Award winner for RETURN OF THE KING) and Visual Effects Supervisor Jason Piccioni (X-MEN 2) could more precisely bring Sngmoo Lee's vision to the screen. But shooting against green screens and adding in the elements in post production is a more expensive proposition than just shooting live action. Jooick Lee took the changes to his budget in stride. "That's the price you have to pay for being a producer," says Lee. "Being surprised and not having a heart attack and trying to make both ends meet."
There was some fear when switching from a live action film to a CGI film. It had never been done before. Would audiences want to see a picture without any real backgrounds? Coming to their rescue was Zach Snyder's film "300" with its completely computer-generated environments. As Sngmoo states, "I and the producers were promoting this idea. But could it be done? Was it possible with our budget? Then 300 came out. We said, Okay, that we can do."
At the heart of the film is ex-Sad Flute Yang, played by Jang Dong Gun. He turns his back on everything he knows and flees to a laundry in a town in the American Southwest. The film was originally going to be called THE LAUNDRY WARRIOR, but because of the negative stereotypes this reinforced, the name was changed to THE WARRIOR'S WAY.
Jang felt drawn to this type of picture because of his father's love for John Wayne westerns and his own affection for the film SHANE starring Alan Ladd. Jang felt there was a lot of Shane's character in his own portrayal, though he relied on Clint Eastwood for his frown.
The portrayal of Yang was one of stillness and internalized emotion. For Jang the struggle was "to make the audience realize what I'm feeling without showing it. It was very difficult."
Jang also was surrounded by a largely English-speaking cast - something he hadn't experienced before. "Initially I was a little worried because we come from very different backgrounds, very different cultures. How would we be able to work together and would it go well? But I realized that because we were working towards the same goal, I found more things in common with them than I found differences. So, although the languages were different and the cultures were also different, we were able to connect really well."
Jang trained for six months for the action sequences under the tutelage of Japanese Action Director Yuji Shimomura. Training under Yuji was a case of serendipity for Jang. One of Jang's favorite Playstation games is Devil May Cry. Yuji Shimomura designed all the action sequences for Devil May Cry. Yang's fervent hope was that he would look as cool as the characters in Devil May Cry and believed Yuji could make that possible.
One of the goals for the film was to have unique fighting style. They chose Yuji because he had trained with Donnie Yen in Hong Kong but could still do traditional Japanese swordplay. Sngmoo and Osborne felt he was the only one in Asia who could help perfect this new fighting style. "They didn't want to repeat anything that had been done before," explains Sngmoo. "They want to make their own fighting style. Not Japanese. Not Samurai. No Chinese. No Korean. The Warrior Way Style. It took a lot of time, but they really enjoyed the process."
There was one mishap during the training. Yang hurt his hip and couldn't work for a month. Usually this would be a disaster for a film. Working on the film INVISIBLE MAN, Elisabeth Shue tore her tendon. The production was put on hold for six weeks at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars. For THE WARRIOR'S WAY, it was a blessing in disguise, occurring just as they were getting ready to shoot in New Mexico. Because of the delay, Sngmoo could re-evaluate the decision to make the movie using CGI. After Jang got hurt, they moved the production to New Zealand. Jooick joked that Sngmoo hurt Jang on purpose in order to do the CGI film.
In the end, the injuries, the hard work and the training paid off. When asked about his favorite aspect of the film, Jang replies, "The action scenes were the best thing. It was physically exhausting but so much fun. Because I knew it was going to come out looking really really cool."
Jang Dong Gun was not the only member of the cast to undertake martial arts training. Both Danny Huston and Kate Bosworth underwent extensive preparation for their pivotal fight sequence in the film.
In THE WARRIOR'S WAY, Bosworth plays Lynne, a woman hiding from the Colonel played by Huston. As a child, Lynne harms the Colonel, who retaliates by killing Lynne's family and - he thinks - Lynne as well. Lynne hides out in the town of Carnival folk until she meets up with Jang. Against his better judgement, Jang trains Lynne in THE WARRIOR'S WAY. This training culminates is an extended Lynne-Jang sequence that Bosworth describes as "a five minute dance sequence with knives. That was the one. Oh s**t, I better get this right."
Kate Bosworth has a track record of picking up unique skills for her characters. Ms. Bosworth used her equestrian knowledge for her part in THE HORSE WHISPER, took up surfing for BLUE CRUSH, and learned to fly for her role as Lois Lane in SUPERMAN RETURNS. Maybe not that last part. But she throws herself into preparing for each role. When asked about the training for the action sequences in THE WARRIOR'S WAY, Ms. Bosworth replies, "We (Kate and Danny Huston) were both onboard with it. We both committed to it completely, did much of the stunts ourselves." They both wished they had more time for the training. But you have to do what you have to do.
Danny Huston had some martial arts experience as a young boy in Italy where he studied taekwondo for three years. As Huston states, "When I worked on this film, suddenly as we choreographed the sword moves, mapping it out in the room, it reminded me very much of that place as a kid. It was very enjoyable."
From the time they arrived in New Zealand, Bosworth and Huston trained for their pivotal fight. Because of conflicting schedules, they never had a chance to train together. Huston trained alone with his partner. Bosworth trained with her stunt man. The first time they faced off was before the cameras. Despite this, Huston felt it worked for the fight sequence. "I utterly enjoyed it. I had a really thrilling time working the choreography with Kate, and it was sort of like a dance, a ballet."
The entire fight took three days to film. As Huston says, "There was a lot of trust between us. It was kind of unpredictable. We didn't quite know what we would be dealing with in regards to how we would interact with these quite potentially dangerous stunts. I was brandishing a big old sword and swinging it over Kate's head. There was a certain amount of danger which made it exhilarating." Huston felt the bumps and bruises they received from each other were badges of honor and showed they put in an honest day's work. The fighting became so real at one point that Huston actually clipped Bosworth. She was supposed to jump up and out of the way of his swing but didn't quite make it.
Kate for her part had no martial arts training. "I had never taken any kind of martial arts and was completely unfamiliar with it . It did sort of remind me of my training for BLUE CRUSH. I do better when I kind of know what I'm dealing with. I need to meet with the trainer. I need to know what I'm doing. I wish I had more of a background in ballet, a certain dance, to tackle this movie better. It had more of that element than weaponry."
When Huston was asked to describe the Colonel's fighting style, he likens it to an "app" he has on his iPhone. "The Klang. There's this app that has these swords on it. And mine klangs. It's quite Klangy." Ms. Bosworth adds, "It sort of sums up the Colonel's knife-fighting skills: KLANG."
Geoffrey Rush also appears in the film as the mysterious character Ron. If you chart the arc of a warrior, you find Lynn as the beginner longing to soak up every weapon form she can in a quest for vengeance. Jang has reached the pinnacle of fighting. And Ron is the warrior on the downside of greatness. In another nod to great westerns of the past, you can think of Rush's character as the Cat Ballou of the piece. He's a man who once was great but now drowns his thirst for violence in alcohol.
The only lead not given martial arts training for the film had the most experience as a martial artist. Tony Cox, who plays Eight-Ball, has a black belt in karate. The only time he's ever been able to use his martial arts skills in a film was the nunchuk scene in ME, MYSELF, AND IRENE. But Cox was not too disappointed in getting the role of Eight-Ball. Because of his small stature, he's usually cast as comic relief in most films. This was his first big chance to have a dramatic role as the leader of the Carnies.
In the end, the film will stand or fail on how well these disparate elements hang together. Can you meld Samurais with cowboys? Ninjas with Carnies?
Michael Peyser sums it up: "The great thing that this tale tells is people don't act on what their characters are expected to do, they act on something deeper, something they've just discovered. The hero in this story makes his choice on what he is going to do based on a baby's laugh. That simple twist of fate is enough to uncover this huge tale of the odysseys of this warrior Yang and the little baby, April."
We shall see if that simple twist of fate can embark us on a great movie journey as well.
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Written by Greg Lynch Jr. for KUNGFUMAGAZINE.COM