Title: The Man with The Iron Fists (2012)
Director: The RZA
Cast: Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, RZA, Byron Mann, Rick Yune, David Bautista, Pam Grier, Gordon Liu
The RZA’s love for Kung Fu movies can be traced all the way back to his beginnings as a musician in the Wu-Tang clan, where the famous rap group would conceptualize whole albums based on Kung Fu movies like The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978). RZA also scored the music to Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies, Afro Samurai (2007) and its sequel Afro Samurai Resurrection (2009). So it’s safe to say that RZA’s love for Kung Fu films has always been there. In a featurette RZA did for the Afro Samurai dvd, his genuine love and appreciation for these films was evident; so the fact that he directed, wrote, starred and scored The Man With the Iron Fists doesn’t surprise me the least, in fact, it makes all the sense in the world. Here’s a guy who’s seen thousands of Kung Fu movies. He understands and obviously loves the genre; this isn’t some ignorant poser trying to make a Kung Fu film, this is a connoisseur. With The Man with the Iron Fists he meant to unleash all that Kung Fu knowledge onto the silver screen as a love letter to genre. Problem is, this is his first film ever, so a lot was depending on him pulling it off, and pulling it off well. So, the question remained: would the RZA be able to do it? Could he pull off this ambitious project on his first time out?
Story is all about this peace loving blacksmith (RZA) who hates making weapons and would much rather spend his time making toys for kids. But, as fate would have it, he ends up having to make weapons anyway so he can save enough money to escape with the woman he loves. He makes weapons for two gangs that are fighting each other over a shipment of gold, and the control of the town. You see one greedy bastard known as ‘Silver Lion’ killed his own master ‘Golden Lion’ just so he could take over the clan; problem is that while Golden Lion wanted peace, Silver Lion wants war and The Blacksmith is caught in the middle of it all. Will The Blacksmith ever find the peace and love he yearns, or will death, carnage and revenge force him to turn into a stone cold killer?
The Man with the Iron Fists was obviously a labor of love for the RZA who basically took all the things he loves about Kung Fu movies, put them all in a blender and called it The Man with the Iron Fists. It’s got elements from recent Kung Fu films like True Legend (2010), a little bit of Afro Samurai (2007) and a whole lot of Shaw Brothers. The thing with The Man with the Iron Fists is that if you’re a lover of Kung Fu movies (like I am) you will immediately identify the films where RZA got his inspiration from. It kind of reminds of what happens when you watch a Tarantino film. The film has that repetitive storyline that a lot of Kung Fu movies have where the hero gets all banged up by the bad guys, goes through a recuperation/training process and by the ending of the film, he ends up kicking everyone’s collective asses to kingdom come. The difference between a Tarantino film and The Man with the Iron Fists is that while Tarantino takes the genre he is paying homage to and re-invents it, brings something new to the table, makes it better somehow, The Man with the Iron Fists hardly re-invents the Kung Fu genre, or brings anything new to the table. It’s quite simply a homage that walks on tired ground. Still, that being said, the film is an extremely entertaining affair; I was not bored for a moment.
And here’s the part where I start talking about all the cool stuff this movie has going for it. First off, the production values are top notch. The art direction, the wardrobes, the weapons and the look of the film were all great. I’m thinking that the production benefited a whole lot from shooting on location in china, which is a great surprise; I love it when a film shoots on location. The Kung Fu action is excellent and very well shot. I’ve read some reviewers complaint about them not being able to comprehend what’s going on in the fights, I don’t get where they are coming from, I could see perfectly well what was happening during the fight choreography, which was quite good in my book. Characters have all sorts of cool weapons that I had not seen on any movie before; like for example there’s these two sword fighters, each has a sword that when united with the other, creates a ying and yang symbol that allows them to kick some serious ass together. The gore was plentiful as well, which caught me completely off guard! Since Hollywood’s so shy with blood and guts these days, I was expecting a tame film in this regard, but I was wrong. There’s all sorts of over the top death sequences; which were gruesomely entertaining; a kung fu fan should be pleased with all the blood spraying on this movie.
I won’t lie, the film does have a few flaws here and there, most of them related to this being the RZA’s first film. For instance, I don’t think it was a smart choice on the RZA’s part to juggle so many production responsibilities. He directs, writes, scores and on top of all that, acts in the film! The RZA plays the titular ‘Man with the Iron Fists’ and his performance is quite subdued. The Blacksmith is a very quiet, laid back kind of character, it felt to me like this pivotal character should have been played a bit more intensely by an actor with experience. I don’t think it’s the worst performance ever, but the part called for someone who could display more emotion, plus to be honest, I don’t think RZA’s much of an actor. As a director? Sure, he did a decent job, but acting is definitely not his forte. Also, somewhere near the end, the film feels a bit rushed. This could also have something to do with the fact that the original cut of the film was four hours long and the RZA had to compromise and cut it down to the usual hour and a half; this is his first film after all. I’m looking forward to a director’s cut of the film where hopefully we’ll get more character development and story. I hear RZA is pushing for a director’s cut for the dvd release, which would be awesome in my book. Since this film only cost 20 million dollars to make (a modest budget by Hollywood standards) I think it will be successful enough to make its money back, and hopefully bring on a sequel. I wouldn’t mind getting a second dose of Kung Fu awesomeness from RZA, because this movie satisfies in that department.
My final word on this one is that it’s not a perfect movie, but it is fun enough for you to forget all about the flaws and just enjoy the damn thing. The violence is so cartoonish and over the top that people laugh after some of the deaths, which I think is a perfectly normal reaction to all the mayhem that happens on screen. The idea of this character having Iron Fists is freaking awesome and him battling this other dude with metal skin? Sweeeet. The RZA as the Black Smith was the weak link of the show, but then we have Russell Crow chewing up scenes and having a blast with Lucy Liu who plays the lady who runs the local whore house. Fun times are to be had, if you love your Kung Fu mixed with some hip hop tunes; this is the place to go. I wonder if what RZA was really trying to prove with this film is that he could be the one to direct the Afro Samurai movie? Now there’s an idea!
Rating: 4 out of 5