Review by The Isolated Moviegoer:
The founding member of hip-hop’s Wu-Tang Clan, RZA has long revered kung fu flicks and successfully incorporated their sensibilities (and soundbites) into his music. After composing scores for Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill) and Jim Jarmusch (Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai) on their martial arts pictures, he expressed a strong interest in adapting his encyclopedic genre knowledge into his own film. On paper, the prospect is tantalizing, but as an actual filmmaker, RZA proves far less gifted. Hamstrung by ineffective fight sequences and cartoonishly bad performances, his The Man with the Iron Fists underwhelms on all levels, most notably in its lack of passion for a subject he holds so dear.
RZA stars as the Blacksmith, the humble forger of weapons for the clans surrounding his feudal Chinese dwelling of Jungle Village. Also serving as the film’s omniscient narrator, he tells of the Governor (Terence Yin) tasking Gold Lion (Kuan Tai Chen) with protecting his gold once it arrives in the Blacksmith’s sleepy town. Intent on taking the treasure for himself, however, Silver Lion (Byron Mann) kills his master and marches with his fellow Lions (who all look like Prince clones) toward the riches.
The pending delivery also draws Zen Yi (Rick Yune), Gold Lion’s son, and British soldier Jack Knife (a portly Russell Crowe). Holing up at the brothel run by Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu), the two team with Blacksmith to counter Silver Lion, whose allies include Brass Body (Dave Bautista), a man who can literally turn to metal, and the insidious, likewise true-to-name Poison Dagger (Daniel Wu).
Not much more set-up is necessary to incite some battling, which is all The Man with the Iron Fists is really after. Still, even in this simple pursuit, the film comes up short. RZA’s inexperience behind the camera makes for a surprisingly joyless work from someone so steeped in the martial arts industry. Fight scenes feature a bad combination of slow-mo and general visual incomprehension, with some god-awful CGI blood splatter thrown in. There’s also the basic truth that RZA himself is not a kung fu warrior, as his woodblock agility so painfully makes clear.
RZA’s other decisions are comparably bad. While his hip-hop lisp sounds epic on wax, it makes for terrible film narration. When his voice-over isn’t drawing head-scratches, his and co-writer Eli Roth’s (Hostel) numbing attempts at humor and general badassery likewise fall flat. Enhancing the corniness of these cringe-worthy nuggets is their delivery by a cast used to letting their fighting skills do the talking, though the ensemble’s biggest names fare just as poorly. Liu is embarrassing as a diet cola version of her Kill Bill murderess and Crowe digs a new career low. Quoting faux-poetic lines and twice blowing his top to unintentionally comedic ends, his blade-wielding Jack so badly wants to be over-the-top, but in a film where nothing connects, he’s merely another half-assed component.
And yet the above accounts merely scrape the surface of The Man with the Iron Fists‘ calamities. Among these many wonders are the gyrating, skinless sex scenes at the brothel; the odd flashback to the Blacksmith’s plantation days with an unrecognizable Pam Grier as his mother; and the Wolf Clan, who wear their namesake animal’s face atop their heads, but more closely resemble Mr. and Mrs. Beaver from the BBC’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. More egregious still is that the title itself is such a crucial plot element and comes to fruition so late in the film that it feels like a spoiler to use it this openly.
At least the film is a brisk 95 minutes. On par with the bulk of direct-to-DVD chopsocky B-movies that make it stateside, it probably should have stayed away from theaters as well. Stay home and blast Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers instead.
Rated R for bloody violence, strong sexuality, language and brief drug use.
The Man with the Iron Fists is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.
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