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The Man With The Iron Fists



Reviewer: Philip Price
Director: RZA
Stars: Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Cung Le
Released: 7th December 2012 (UK)
First things first I have no real knowledge concerning the kung fu genre. I have never watched much of the landmark films in its canon as I generally wasn’t interested in what these types of film had to offer so, if one is looking for an expert opinion on The Man with the Iron Fists you are reading in the wrong place. This is simply an overview and opinion of the film as a film in general and not in comparison to what standards might have been held for in relation to other martial arts films. There is a certain type of vibe you expect a film to have as well when it is labeled with the infamous “Quentin Tarantino Presents” banner though and I am familiar with that directors work. While this is a film I will likely never lay eyes on again I cannot be mad at it either. It delivers everything you expect from it and probably a little more, but as far as really going for it, really getting it and exuding that quality of self-aware honesty and ridiculous characters and violence the film sometimes seems to be trying a little too hard, then again maybe that is the point. That is what a film so intent on honoring the style of this genre does seem to deserve and the effort is clear in every aspect as writer/director/composer RZA has thrown himself into this world and developed a universe for his story to take place. It is evident the man has a real knack for tone and pacing. The film is a brisk hour and forty minutes and it speeds by feeling more like a Saturday morning show than a feature length film. In the end though, the film feels more slight than epic and it should have at least emulated this feeling in one area or another. It makes a good amount of connections but is unable to land all its punches.
What is most impressive about all of this though is the cast it boasts. Never would I have expected to see Russell Crowe in a role that has him playing for laughs with a goofy haircut and cheesy lines while wielding a ridiculous weapon and looking burly as ever while he fornicates with a good number of Asian escorts. Lucy Liu shows up as Madame Blossom in a few scenes but what is otherwise a standard and undeveloped character. It is clear both of these actors know what they were getting into and it is fun to watch, especially Crowe, barrel his way through the movie. While RZA himself isn’t that great of an actor he knowingly cuts his screen time down but as the title character short changes the impact of his climax. Jamie Chung in another underwritten role makes up the rest of the cast that will be recognizable to the audience, but some of the best work is done by the likes of real martial artists or actors native to China where the entire production was shot. As leader of the baddies Byron Mann plays a character so over the top and cheeky he nearly steals the show even from the elaborately choreographed fight scenes. David Bautista shows up as a gun for hire named Brass body who can literally stop any potential threat to his body by turning it into brass and Rick Yune (Die Another Day, Fast and the Furious) does fine work as the courageous and rightful heir to the head of the Lion Clan after Mann’s character kills his father. Known as the X-Blade Yune possesses armor that has more traps and stabs than you could imagine but overall it is silly, just like the rest of the movie. That may be the perfect word to describe the film, for as much as it tries to be this epic it leans to heavily on those one-liners and style choices that make it more a second tier Tarantino production rather than an imitation of the films RZA clearly loved as a boy.
As for the story itself, it is rather convoluted and has too much going on for it to so neatly wrap up in the end.  The mastermind behind this whole thing likely wants to re-visit this place and these characters but he has overloaded a compact time period and in doing so, as I mentioned earlier, gives his titular hero limited screen time leaving the crowd not exactly yearning for more but wondering why the movie was named after this guy who seems to have very little to do what everything that is actually going down in the film. Set in a small town called Jungle Village in nineteenth-century China RZA is the blacksmith who is forced by opposing clans to weld their weapons of destruction they use on one another. When Silver Lion (Mann) betrays his clan by killing their leader to keep a King’s gold he incites hate from that leaders son (Yune) and pisses off even more people when killing a clan known as the Gemini and stealing their gold as well. Jack Knife (Crowe) mysteriously shows up in the village around the same time all of this unfolds and seems to sympathize with the blacksmith who has been helping his lover Lady Silk (Chung) keep an eye on the injured Zen Yi (Yune) who was beaten to within an inch of his life by Silver Lions main man Brass Body (Bautista). Sound a little confusing? It really isn’t but the way in which RZA has chosen to compose the film makes for a stilted if not brief experience. I can applaud the guy for his pacing and the world he has created as it certainly feels complete and gives a wider perspective than might be applied not just to this genre of film, but movies in general but is also cause for a feeling of overkill that lingers throughout the film in all the wrong ways. The biggest complaint that I have though still comes back around to the use of RZA himself in the title role. Everything else can be excused or at least put off on the fact it is trying to be goofy in imitating the styles and tones the movies he has so clearly modeled this one after but to spread one self so thin on a single project will certainly become evident at some point and never has that been more true in the fact RZa paid so much attention to every other aspect of the film he forgot about himself hoping it would come naturally. Unfortunately, it doesn’t.
Regardless of how much I ended up not really enjoying the film I can at least acknowledge that RZA is probably a fine student of the kung fu genre. The action sequences look great and are truly inventive in ways that they look completely different from anything we would see come out of a big budget action film. The music is where the creator really shines though. This is not surprising as the guy has his roots with the Wu Tang Clan, but here he mixes the tones and sounds of standard soundtracks with the vibe of hip hop and then throws in a few loops from those Chinese loops we will all recognize giving the film an energy it wouldn’t have without such a lively backdrop. If you don’t want to buy the soundtrack after hearing that opening titles track you probably shouldn’t have seen the film in the first place. It is one of those movies that intends to be cool by being inherently cheesy and that attitude is completely summed up in the sounds we hear matched to the action unfolding on screen. It is fun in parts and it has no other intentions than to be that of a good time and an honorable tribute to the films of the director’s youth. Still, with even the most earnest of intentions I couldn’t easily get past the factors that were holding me back from having a good time with it. It was sloppy, in ways that were not done on purpose through the editing, it was lifeless in its main protagonist that we never get to know and doesn’t acquire his “Iron Fists” until the beginning of the third act. It is meant to be a thrilling, escapist, homage but instead ends up being a mess of ideas and blood that never meld to create that perfect concoction that RZA likely saw in his mind. That unattainable goal that will always be his ambition, unmatched by what has turned out here.

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