With its blend of Western and martial-arts film traditions, a mash-up marked by rooftop-leaping ninjas, mid-air sword fights and an otherworldly backdrop, The Warrior's Way proved too big to shoot on location in New Mexico. Instead, producers turned to the soundstages of New Zealand's Henderson Valley Studios to bring to life director Sngmoo Lee's story of revenge and redemption.
"This movie is so unique, and [Lee's] vision is very creative. We came to the conclusion that it would be very difficult to accomplish his vision with physical production," producer Joo-Ick Lee told Spinoff Online. It was a move made easier by producer Barry Osborne, who spent five years filming The Lord of the Rings trilogy on soundstages and locations across New Zealand.
Lee's job includes gathering talent, both in front of and behind the camera, and keeping production moving -- duties he enjoys, particularly when everything works out. "One of the cheerful moments during the whole painful process of producing films is getting actors that you wanted, or a nice staff," he said.
Among that group is production designer James Acheson, who worked on BBC shows like Doctor Who before going on to win Academy Awards for The Last Emperor, Dangerous Liaisons and Restoration. He also designed Spider-Man's costume for the Sam Raimi-directed trilogy. "I couldn't believe we could get him," Lee said. "I think he turned down some other big-scale Hollywood film to be with us."
Another win for Lee was casting Tony Cox as Eight-Ball, leader of the carnie folk in the Old West town. "It's not like he was voted in, he was just the leader," the actor said. "The carnie people are just a group of misfits and they had their own little thing."
In The Warrior's Way, disgraced assassin Yang (Dong-gun Jang) flees his native land with a baby in one hand and a sword in the other to the American West, where he seeks refuge in a once-thriving frontier town. Once there, he encounters the settlement's few remaining citizens, including Eight-Ball.
Cox, known for comedies like Bad Santa and Me, Myself & Irene, said he relished the opportunity to take on a serious role. "As a little person, you don't see many good scripts at all," he said.
In addition to leading the gang, Eight-Ball took in Kate Bosworth's Lynne at a young age and serves as a father figure to the knife thrower-in-training. "This was a good role," Cox said. "It was well-written, and I was just happy to be the one to play it."
He also enjoyed working with director Lee. "He was an actor's director," Cox said. "If you had a problem with something in the script and you wanted to discuss it, he was always right there for you," he said.
Although The Warrior's Way marks Lee's first feature, Cox found him a capable director with a clear version and the ability to compromise.
"When I came over [to New Zealand], he had changed some lines and I wanted to know why; I thought the lines that were there [originally] were better," he recalled. "We met at a place called Tony's Steakhouse -- which, I figured, I already had the upper hand -- and we talked about it and he wanted to know why I wanted to keep it like it was and he expressed himself and he said, 'If you feel that highly about it, we'll do it.' It's good when you have a director like that."
Cox also found himself working with Analin Rudd, who plays Baby April, the infant Yang brings with him to town. "She was so great," he said. "I really enjoyed working with her. I was just a little nervous about the scenes where I had to hold her."
After meeting with Rudd and her mother, he found his comfort level and the scenes were shot without incident. He had high praise for the child. "That was the most amazing little kid I've ever seen in my entire life -- the expressions on the face, she never really cried," he said. "Actually, they used her so much, they didn't really get a chance to use the other baby [meant to give Rudd time off] because that one cried."
While the actor had plenty to juggle during filming, he was still surprised when he saw the finished product, "I think it looks great," Cox said. Working in the green-screen environment, he was unsure what to expect, but found the final, rendered world breathtaking. "It's never what you imagine, it looks better."
"Even as it liberates the imagination of the filmmaker, to physically accomplish that, we have to enhance the budget drastically," said producer Lee. Pressed for more information, he added, "You always try to control the budget, but life doesn't always carry on like you planned ... C'est la vie!"
The Warrior's Way opens today.