On the surface, this one has it all – it’s a wuxia/wild west fusion similar to Ekin Cheng’s A Man Called Hero (and they are always fun), has a good looking Korean lead actor with all the moves, a fascinating cast including Geoffrey Rush, a feisty female lead, enough weirdness to make anyone happy, and the cutest kid since Monsters Inc (and this one is real). You couldn’t ask for more right?
Kate Bosworth seeing red
Yes well, but…sigh – it just doesn’t quite hit the bullseye. I enjoyed it, and I will watch it again, but it just seems to have missed so many opportunities. Take the title. It was originally called Laundry Warrior, and I think that was a better title – less pretentious for one thing, and actually pertinent to the plot. Our hero does indeed end up working in a laundry, and that brings me to the next missed opportunity. Dong-Gun Jang is not being oversold when he is described as one of Korea’s biggest box office stars, he previously starred in The Promise, and Brotherhood of War, but he’s kind of underused here – scripts intended for western audiences always seem to have an extra clause for Asian actors – “just stand there, look inscrutable, kill.” No such restraint is placed on the western actors, who are allowed to emote all over the place. OK so the movie was produced by Lord of the Rings Barrie Osborne, and he may not have picked up on Asian actors’ amazing ability to emcompass pages of dialogue, mood and emotions in a single expression, but surely director Sngmoo Lee would know?
Ronald (Geoffrey Rush) gets his mojo back
But that’s my usual gripe when Asian actors are roped into movies intended for western audiences (theirs too, perhaps, some of them head straight back to Asia and more challenging roles) and actually, it probably works well here, since Jang’s character Yang is supposed to be generally inscrutable and stand offish. The baby April (Analin Rudd, who is so darned cute it ought to be illegal) is the first to break through his warrior reserve when he refuses to kill her as ordered, instead taking her to America to escape the Sad Flute Ninja. There he and the baby wander into a virtual ghost town, inhabited by the dried out husks of a carnival show, including the tragic Lynne (Kate Bosworth) who is the next to crack open his hardened shell.
A very early form of baby carrier…
He is looking for an old friend, who was last heard of running a laundry there, but finds the friend dead and the laundry as abandoned and run down as everything else. He gets it running again, thinking this is a good safe place for the baby. There are some charming and funny scenes here as Yang plants a garden, struggles with washing, ironing and hanging out sheets, and bonds with the adorable infant.
Analin Rudd and Dong-Gun Jang
But inevitably the bad guys turn up, led by the Colonel (Danny Huston) a particularly nasty piece of work who dropped by before to ruin Lynne’s life, and for whom she harbours an abiding, vengeful hatred. The carnies are given a bit of a raw deal, I think, as anyone who has seen a rumpus erupt between carnival folk and locals anywhere in the world will testify. At first they are a bunch of beaten dogs who won’t even bark. But eventually they do get motivated for the final showdown, between the Colonel’s gang, the Sad Flutes, Yang and everyone else.
This movie languished for two years before release because the company (also called Sad Flutes) apparently ran out of money when it was completed, which is a pity because it lost the momentum it needed at the box office. There is so much to love about this movie – the interaction between Yang, the baby and Lynne, the incredible cinematography, the opening scenes (which look like a video game), the sheer hugeness of the writer’s (Sngmoo again) vision brought to life, and the performances of a hand picked cast, it almost seems churlish to pick holes. If you enjoyed A Man Called Hero (and I loved it) you won’t be too disappointed in this one.
Visit the website. It’s pretty awesome.