Sometimes a mess can be a good thing. Consider the canvases of Jackson Pollock, the beauty of bikini Jell-O wrestling, or the green-screen genre mishmash that is "The Warrior's Way." Few people will see it, and far fewer will get it, but those among the latter will enjoy the hell out of its ever-wavering groove.
But damn, is it strange. Tonally, the piece is all over the board, resulting in something that feels fueled by NyQuil. Seriously, "The Human Centipede" has more plot than this New Zealand/Asian production.
So-called "international superstar" Jang Dong Gun of South Korea fronts the film as Yang, your basic strong-and-silent type. As the movie opens, he's just become the finest swordsman in the history of mankind, ever, and I do mean that literally, as a subtitle spells out to assuage any doubt. He's defeated every member of his enemy clan, save for one: the infant girl of the poor sap whose throat just became a lawn sprinkler.
Deciding not to stab the baby, Yang more or less claims her, despite knowing that doing so will make them the target of his own clan, the Sad Flutes. So Yang and the tot hightail it to America, and specifically, the sagebrush boonies of Lode "? population Count It on Your Hands and Feet "? where everyone looks in drastic need of a flea dip.
Although he's only slightly more talkative than his dead rivals, Yang makes the friendship of a tough-talkin' young woman (a miscast Kate Bosworth, "21") who hearts her opera records. An impossible love blooms as those pesky Sad Flutes close in.
This marks the first film for writer/director Sngmoo Lee. While he's a fine visualist, one suspects he let some 12-year-old boy on Ritalin who lives on his street determine story points: "I want to see cowboys fight ninjas. I want a circus with a clown and a bearded lady and a guy who breathes fire. And a midget. And he's black. I want the main bad guy to have a burned face that he covers up with a cool mask, like Phantom of the Opera plus Leatherface. Oh, and a Shih Tzu. And a monster with tentacles."
"Sorry, I don't have the budget for a monster with tentacles."
"Aw, man! OK, how 'bout a Ferris wheel? And a court jester? And Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush as a drunkard?"
All that really matters is whether it's entertaining, and it is deliriously so. With such disparate elements pasted together with the permanence of saliva, how could it not? Besides, I miss the days of a decade ago when kung-fu flicks like "Iron Monkey" and "Black Mask" received wide theatrical releases; this feels very much like it's of that era.
Is it a Western or a martial arts film? A fantasy or a romance? Just like how many licks it takes to get the center of a Tootsie Pop, the world may never know the answer. In the end, its scattershot nature is something of an asset, so don't question "? just enjoy that it tastes good. "?Rod Lott