Asian swordsman Yang may have never heard the phrase "be careful what you wish for," but like the sschlinnng of finely honed metal on an ornate scabbard, it rings true anyway. Stolen away as a boy by ninja assassins called the Sad Flutes, Yang is raised to be the greatest sword-slasher in the world. But when he reaches that vaunted pinnacle—by all but wiping out a rival clan single-handedly—he feels disturbingly empty. Especially since the final clan-extinguishing act demands that he slaughter a royal infant.
He just won't do it. So he stoically stows his blade, grabs the burbling princess and treks off to hide in the American Wild West. There he trades cherry blossoms for dust bowls and lands in a broken-down burg of Lode. He may now be a hunted criminal in the eyes of his fellow Flutes, but as long as he keeps his sword sealed away he can, at least, quietly live with himself.
Of course, living in Lode—a place populated by carnival folk who hope to bring their town back to life by completing a giant Ferris wheel—isn't as quiet as Yang expected. Particularly when he runs into a spunky knife thrower named Lynne. She can't seem to keep her nose out of the former assassin's business. Truthfully, though, the quirky town and the pretty gal's attentions are sort of growing on him.
Yang's new domestic bliss is short-lived, of course. A heavily scarred ruffian known as the Colonel leads his band of leather-clad riders and thugs into town for a little raping and pillaging. And Lynne, who has a tortured past with the man, is designated the Colonel's main target of the night.
So Yang has a choice to make: Does he remain hidden away and allow those he's come to care for to suffer and maybe even die? Or does he unsheathe his sword to protect them—and magically alert an army of trained ninjas who will rain down upon Lode seeking the swordsman's blood?
The film stresses the life-changing power of love. Even though Yang is forced as a boy to learn the assassin's heartless ways, it turns out that he isn't as unfeeling as he's supposed to be. A baby crumples his deadly resolve and he instantly dedicates himself to protecting her with his life.
Once he finds his way to Lode, the former killer decides to turn over a new leaf and take on the role of the town launderer. In that humble position he comes to care for and respect his fellow townsfolk. It's said that Yang learns the joys of hard work and making things grow. He soon falls in love with Lynne and she also makes the list of those he would give everything for.
It turns out that Ron, the town drunk, was once a gunman and killer as well. But he changed his ways at the prompting of his own true love. (It was when she died that he fell to drink.)
[Spoiler Warning] Yang can't sit still and let Lynne and his new friends be hurt and killed. So he gives away his secret location to help them. Then, after vanquishing the town's foes, Yang realizes that his very presence now endangers Lynne and the baby—the only people he's ever loved—so he sacrificially forces himself to walk away from them.
The Sad Flute assassins are said to be able to mystically hear the unsheathing of Yang's sword from pretty much anywhere in the world, it would seem. The magic's power, we're told, comes from the "cries of the many souls" he took with the blade. The ninjas themselves are able to (seemingly) magically appear by the score. And we see them (apparently) defy gravity with their mystical skills.
Lamenting Lynne's lack of knife-throwing skills, the town mayor says, "God ain't fair." During a Christmas celebration, a record player blares out "Silent Night."
The Colonel is known as an abuser of women. And we see him approaching defenseless teens or young adults to examine their teeth before choosing his victim. We see two young women cowering naked in a bathtub.
Lynne wears a shoulder-baring, cleavage-revealing dress to tempt the Colonel to choose her. (She wants to kill him.) The Colonel cuts away the back of her dress, revealing a scar where he shot her when she was a girl. He licks the scar and her neck. We see her undergarments (bloomers and stockings) as two thugs pick up her skirt.
A bearded lady wears a revealing dress. Yang and Lynne share a long passionate kiss.
The movie starts with stylized ninja sword battles that produce bright red mists of blood as Yang quickly dispatches opponents. We see Yang's skillful killings silhouetted behind curtains or through smoke—blood spray and severed body parts hanging suspended in slow motion.
Later, people are pockmarked with the lead that erupts from a variety of pistols, rifles and Gatling guns. Scores and scores of ninja warriors slice, dice, stab, slash and skewer people in a wide variety of ways. The result is lots and lots of blood splashing walls and dribbling down faces and scenery. The dead and dismembered stack up like cordwood. In fact, one quick scene features at least 40 or 50 gashed and dismembered sailors onboard a ship—the camera panning across them to show their blood pouring over the port side.
The flagrantly violent and misogynistic scenes the Colonel and Lynne share can sometimes be even more wince-inducing. He manhandles her (as a child and an adult), smashing her against furniture, sending her crashing through a window, slamming her into walls, backhanding her across the room and shooting her down in the street. Lynne slashes back with a knife. And she throws a pan of hot grease in his face. He shoots her family, point-blank, right in front of her.
A Gatlin gun wielder has both arms severed off at the bicep. As his stumps gush, he gawks at his own hands, still clutching the weapon and continuing to unleash a torrent of hot lead that eventually rips into him.
Dynamite is detonated in the midst of crowds.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Alcohol flows freely in and around the town of Lode. The main abuser of the stuff is a drunk named Ron who is seen regularly swigging from a bottle. At one point he accidentally drinks from a bottle that appears to contain kerosene … and promptly passes out.
Let me conclude by answering the first question that probably sprang to your mind when you heard about this film:
Yes, this movie's blend of Wild West gunslingers, brightly colored carnival folk and ninja assassins is just as quirky as it sounds. It takes the old spaghetti Western formula, adds in heaping helpings of Eastern mysticism and swordplay, and then it runs the whole cats-in-a-bag mix through a hyper-stylized CG filter (along the lines of Sin City).
The result is a bloody, tongue-in-cheek Chop Suey Western.
It may not showcase Academy Award-winning performances, but it still shoots for showy. When the heroic, action-filled finale erupts on the screen with a gigantic cavalcade of riddling bullets, gravity-defying ninjas, tumbling clowns, lighting-fast sword slashes and dynamite-laden explosions, it's almost possible to overlook all the mess on display.
But not completely. Nope, not really.
The Warrior's Way isn't quite the out-and-out orgy of violence that 300 is. But that's splitting hairs with the same kind of precision Yang uses to split heads. Loads (or should it be spelled Lodes?) of lopped-off body parts, gushing arteries and gore-splashed scenery make very, very certain you know that this Western doesn't star John Wayne.