Everybody was kung fu fighting
Hey, RZA, don’t quit your day job just yet
By Tim Pompey 11/15/2012
The Man with the Iron Fists
Directed by RZA
Starring: RZA, Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu
Rated R for bloody violence, strong sexuality, language and brief drug use
1 hr. 35 mins.
If you like your kung fu raw and bloody, The Man with the Iron Fists will certainly make you happy. Unfortunately, that’s about as far as this film goes.
If you’re looking for something more intelligent or funny, something akin to, say, Kill Bill by one of this film’s producers, Quentin Tarantino, well, you’ll just have to wait until next month for the real deal.
Not that Iron Fists doesn’t make a gallant effort. With hip-hop mogul and kung fu fanatic RZA of Wu-Tang Clan as director, it certainly reflects his passion for both the art and excitement of kung fu. But it doesn’t have the full chops to make for a great martial arts film.
A blacksmith (RZA) lives in a small Chinese village called Jungleland. How did he get there? Freed by his owner from a Southern plantation, he ends up killing a redneck attacker and fleeing the U.S. aboard a boat bound for China. When the boat is shipwrecked off the Chinese coast, the blacksmith is left for dead until he is rescued and taken in by monks from a Buddhist monastery. It’s here that the blacksmith learns Buddhism, martial arts and, presumably, blacksmithing.
Now, living a quiet life in his small village, the blacksmith’s specialties are weapons. He’s sought out by warriors and gangs alike for his intricate work. But all this death-mongering leaves him with a guilty conscience. Someday, he hopes to earn enough money from weapon-making to escape with his girlfriend, Lady Silk (Jamie Chung), and live a more peaceful existence.
But in a twist of fate, the governor of the province has sent out a load of gold for delivery. As you might surmise, the gold brings out a passel of assassins and thieves who all converge and fight over it in Jungleland. Blacksmith gets caught in the middle of the fray and must figure out how to keep himself and Lady Silk alive, even as he’s forced to make more elaborate weapons for his enemies.
I suspect, given this oddball storyline, that RZA is making a wise-ass attempt to be absurdist, and sometimes it works. For instance, the villainous Silver Lion (Byron Mann) looks like a poofy-haired glam rocker, and British cowboy Jack Knife (Russell Crowe) plays like a boozier version of Crocodile Dundee.
But other characters, like Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu), Zen Yi (Rick Yune) and Brass Body (Dave Bautista), play mostly straight action. If they’re humorous, it’s more by accident than design.
And therein lies the problem. Iron Fists is not funny enough. Except for Crowe (who seems to be having a blast) and Mann (who gets sharper as the movie goes on) most of the remaining cast members simply mimic other kung fu characters. The film itself, with its urban soundtrack, often feels more like a rehashed MTV video than a martial arts flick.
What does work are the action sequences, especially toward the end. From weaponry to flying assassins, RZA creates a series of battles in and around the town’s brothel, the Pink Blossom, that are energetic and exciting to watch.
From Blossom’s black widows to the X-Blade’s sleek weaponry and the blacksmith’s newly forged iron arms, the movie finds its feet in the last half-hour and becomes more than just bits and pieces. It’s actually fun.
Iron Fists tries to do too much with too little and ends up feeling clumsy. Better writing would have helped, and a more focused storyline. As such, if you don’t mind all the blood and guts, you may be amused by some of it, but not enough to feel that you got your money’s worth. In terms of kung fu film competition, this one deserves to be thrown off the mat.