Warriors of Virtue (1997)
Just four years before the first part of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy was released, there was another fantasy film which, unlike Jackson’s trilogy, pretty much faded from memory as quickly as it arrived. That film was Warriors of Virtue.
The protagonist of our story is Ryan Jeffers (Mario Yedidia), who’s the waterboy for his school’s football team. He also has limited use of his right leg, which prevents him from playing on the team himself. He assuages his unhappiness about this by reading comics and adventure stories and by spending his time at the Chinese restaurant owned by his pal Ming (Dennis Dun).
During a football game, Ryan makes a play suggestion to quarterback Brad (Michael Dubrow), which Brad responds to by spitting on his foot. But this doesn’t stop Brad from making that suggested play anyway, which in turn leads to the team winning the game. Ryan is happy but saddened, as he was unable to make that winning play himself, while Brad gets all the glory. Ryan’s pal Chucky (Rickey D’Shon Collins) notices this and as the duo walk home, he calls Brad out on it just as he and his pals pass by. Brad looks pissed off, but offers Ryan a chance to hang out with them later that evening at the nearby water plant. Ryan is happy for the chance, but Chucky thinks this is a trick.
After venting a bit to his career-minded mom (Teryl Rothery), Ryan visits Ming again. The latter shows him a jar which he says has a cocoon inside, although it looks more like a small coconut. Ming says he found it on the road when he was Ryan’s age. Upon opening it, a creature flew out, although it came back down just a moment later. Ming explains that he interrupted the creature’s journey (how, I’m not sure) and goes on to tell Ryan that everyone has cocoons and must learn to fly—metaphorically speaking, I assume. Ryan mopes that it’s a bit hard for him, given his leg, but Ming hands him what he calls a manuscript. It explains the world of Tao, meaning finding one’s self, and includes representations of the five elements: earth, fire, water, wood, and metal.
That night, Ryan and a reluctant Chucky meet Brad and the others at the water plant. Brad bullies Ryan into leading them all inside the plant, which one would think would be locked up at night, and then shows them a narrow pipe that goes over a whirlpool. He dares Ryan to cross the pipe, and even performs the deed himself as incentive. A thoughtful bully? That’s a first. Chucky gets a funny line here by telling Ryan, “Let’s make like Tom and cruise.”
But over Chucky’s and even some of Brad’s friends’ objections, Ryan attempts to cross the pipe. As he starts out, Brad taunts him by saying that another pipe nearby could spill more water anytime. Sure enough, water comes out of that pipe, knocking Ryan into the whirlpool.
Ryan awakens in what looks like a forest. He’s soon attacked by what looks like someone wearing the same armor as the Orcs in Lord of the Rings. This guy brings Ryan to the ground with a spear to his back. Alas, the spear only hit Ryan’s backpack, which he quickly discards before running away. After a brief, scary encounter with a kangaroo-looking creature, Ryan realizes that he has the use of both his legs again.
He understandably dances for joy at this before bumping into a dwarf named Mudlap (Michael J. Anderson). The two struggle a bit before Mudlap is stopped by an arrow which pins him to a tree. The arrow is thrown by the beautiful Elysia (Marley Shelton), who appears and asks if Ryan is fine. She informs him that he’s in the land of Tao, and that those who attacked him earlier were soldiers of the evil Komodo (Angus Macfadyen). Elysia quickly takes Ryan away.
The orc-armored fellow who attacked Ryan arrives at Komodo’s lair (which looks like the one used by Jose Ferrer in Dune) with Ryan’s backpack. Komodo gives the backpack to his annoying minions before rewarding the underling who got it in the first place with the old “death by trapdoor” bit. The minions play with Ryan’s other belongings while Komodo becomes entranced with the manuscript he got from Ming, which his aide General Grillo (Tom Towles) points out has the symbol of Tao on the cover. Komodo quickly orders the capture of Ryan.
Elysia is seen on a boat with Ryan. He informs her of the manuscript which she refers to as “the manuscript of legend”, which according to her leader Master Chung (Chao-Li Chi) can change how bad things have gotten in Tao. Chung was a leader of peace, but Komodo arrived on the scene to conquer by stripping the life springs of Tao of a mineral to keep him forever young.
She goes on to explain that only one spring remains, but even the title warriors are having a tough time keeping it protected. When Ryan asks about the Warriors, Elysia explains that they’re kangaroos who each represent an element: Laif, Warrior of Wood (who represents the virtue of Order); Chi, Warrior of Fire (virtue of Wisdom); Tsun, Warrior of Earth (virtue of Loyalty); and Yee, Warrior of Metal (virtue of Righteousness). Yun, the Warrior of Water (virtue of Benevolence) has left them following an earlier conflict.
They arrive at a village where Elysia introduces Ryan to Chung and a populace of muppets who say that Ryan’s arrival signifies hope. Ryan is soon captured by Komodo’s idiot minions Mantose (Lee Arenberg), Barbarocious (Ying Qu), and Dullard (Stuart Kingston), just as he and Elysia are becoming a bit smitten with each other. But Yun arrives to help Ryan out. Ryan recognizes him from when he first arrived in Tao, and asks about his backpack. Yun says he doesn’t have it, but believes Komodo does. Yun is hesitant to help out, but Ryan’s persistence wins him over. As they make their plans, Elysia clandestinely sneaks away.
In next scene, she arrives at Komodo’s lair, dressed in somewhat provocative attire and with what looks like guilt on her face. But Komodo tempts her with what he calls “medication”, no doubt to ease the pain of being exposed to his overacting at such close range. As he plots his strategy, he tells his minions, “Do not think thoughts!” With the posse he has, I’d say there’s little danger of that.
Yun, Yee, and Chi are soon led into a trap by Mudlap. They’re brought to Komodo and Elysia, who explains herself by blaming Yun for accidentally killing her brother. They’re sent down into the same trapdoor seen earlier, but manage to escape before the spinning blade below slices them up.
As they return to the Lifespring, Komodo arrives and fights with Chung. The fight ends with Komodo triumphant before he captures Ryan. Komodo states that thanks to Chung, he’s in hell (well, he’s in this movie, isn’t he?). With his dying breath, Chung tells Komodo that “to take a life is to lose part of yourself.”
In Komodo’s lair, he and Elysia basically tempt Ryan with the Dark Side (I don’t know how else to put it). To that end, Komodo tells Ryan to read the book, as he believes it will be a gateway to our world.
But blank pages are all Ryan sees when he opens it. Rather than say this, however, Ryan simply says, “Shit happens!” Both Komodo and Elysia slowly repeat this phrase, making this an all-the-more fitting metaphor for this movie.
In anger, Komodo attempts to kill Ryan, but Elysia pleads on Ryan’s behalf. She even physically stops Komodo from making a fatal blow before Barbarocious kills her for her trouble. Komodo retaliates by killing Barbarocious (there’s just no pleasing this guy). Ryan uses this as a chance to escape, and he’s next seen mourning Chung and his chances of returning home, while Komodo is doing the same for Elysia.
Mudlap shows up to apologize and Ryan rightly tells him to piss off. At the same time, Komodo arrives to take on the warriors himself. As he basically hands their asses to them, Ryan hears the voice of Obi-Wan, er, Chung. Ryan opens the book and sees words on one of the pages (which is also glowing, of course). It has the elements listed as well as a passage repeating Chung’s final words to Komodo.
Reinvigorated, Ryan goes to the village and taunts Komodo into using his power on him. This weakens him enough for the warriors to defeat him. As the quintet go to Ryan, they take care of Komodo’s remaining cronies by (I kid you not) saying that the fighting’s over now. If only all conflicts could be resolved this easily. Komodo himself appears, but now as a more meek fellow with apparently no memory of his wickedness. Thankfully, this also includes his awful overacting.
The warriors all thank Ryan before he suddenly finds himself back on that pipe in the water plant. Brad is seen cajoling him to cross, but this time Ryan does the smart thing and cruises off with Chucky. This is followed by Brad getting trapped on the other side as water from the nearby pipe begins to come in.
The film ends with Ryan at home, telling his mom that he loves her and hugging his dog Bravo, whom he begins to tell his adventure to.
Films about an outsider, especially a young one, wishing to fit in and going on the adventure of a lifetime are always appealing. This film certainly had that premise in its favor. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do much with it.
The world of Tao itself looks like it was simply shot on a studio backlot, and it doesn’t inspire any sense of awe in the viewer. Jim Henson’s classic series Fraggle Rock presented a similar set up, but you still felt that you were in another world when you watched that show.
The warriors themselves basically remind me of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, only not as fun to watch.
The cast does what they can, although Macfadyen hams it up so much that even green eggs can’t help him. The Ryan/Elysia scenes in particular had potential, as did the moments where she seems to be conflicted as to who to join. Sadly, this potential is tossed aside much too quickly.
Like the aforementioned Dune, this film can be described with one word: dull. It’s not as enchanting as The Wizard of Oz, it’s not as exciting as Star Wars, it’s not ambitious like The Dark Crystal, it’s not epic like Lord of the Rings and it’s not funny like The BFG. Even Hook had the hilarious performances of Dustin Hoffman as the title character and Bob Hoskins as Mr. Smee to keep that movie afloat.
Warriors of Virtue did get a direct-to-video sequel in 2002, with Ryan and Chucky now played by different actors and the title warriors no longer kangaroos, but looking more like humans. This, to me, reflects the disappointment and lost potential I felt when viewing this movie.