Geoffrey Rush is both a great actor and a great overactor. He’s a consummate ham, as comfortable mugging through ridiculous schlock as highbrow fare. So it’s altogether apt that Rush can currently be seen both going toe-to-toe with Colin Firth in The King’s Speech—the current favorite in the Best Actor Oscar race, and likely to earn Rush a Best Supporting Actor nod—and staggering drunkenly through an Old West town made up of circus freaks in the culture-clash East-meets-Western film The Warrior’s Way. The egregious overacting of Rush and fellow well-seasoned ham Danny Huston fits the film’s campy ridiculousness just as neatly as Rush’s wry wit and restraint suited his fine performance in The King’s Speech.
A film that just might get overlooked come Oscar night, The Warrior’s Way casts Jang Dong-gun as the greatest swordsman in the world, an assassin so skilled that killing comes as naturally to him as breathing. But when Jang refuses to kill a baby belonging to a rival clan, his mentor singles him out for assassination. Jang takes the baby and flees to a sleepy backwater in the American West where the circus came to town and never left. There, he learns the mysterious way of the non-warrior over the course of a single becoming-domesticated sequence. But trouble looms in the form of Jang’s vengeance-minded clan and a deranged, disfigured military man played by Huston.
Jang glides through the film with his stoic visage frozen in a perfect poker face: He’s an oasis of purposeful calm in the midst of gleeful, deliberate lunacy. Thankfully, Rush, Huston, and Kate Bosworth help the film maintain a sense of equilibrium by overacting in direct proportion to Jang’s underacting, as, respectively, a drunk with a dark secret, a scenery-chewing mass murderer with the ghoulish mask of a slasher-film villain, and the rootingest, tootingest knife-thrower in the whole dang town. The Warrior’s Way gets far on the sheer preposterousness of its premise and execution, though the pervasive threat of sexual violence from Huston undercuts some of the goofy fun. Sngmoo Lee directs with tongue firmly in cheek and a winning sense of the film’s goofiness; to damn his agreeable campfest with faint praise, The Warrior’s Way is easily the best circus-themed, martial-arts-heavy action-comedy oater of the year.