★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of 5 buckets | DVD or Rental
Rated: R Language, brief drug use, bloody violence and strong sexuality
Release Date: November 2, 2012
Runtime: 1 hour 35 minutes
Writers: RZA, Eli Roth
Cast: RZA, Russel Crowe, Lucy Liu, Rick Yune, Dave Bautista, Jamie Chung, Bryon Mann, Daniel Wu, Grace Huang, Andrew Lin, Pam Grier, Dennis Chan, Terence Yin
SYNOPSIS: When the Governor sends a shipment of gold to the north, the Lion Clan decides to steal it. Only a lowly skilled blacksmith, the son of the slain Gold Lion, and a mysterious European knife slinger may be enough to stop the Lion Clan before its too late.
REVIEW: The Wu Tang Clan's RZA, who has appeared in several films including Repo Men , Due Date, and The Next Three Days, has taken to taking the next creative step in the film making process - directing. Teamed with Hostel scribe Eli Roth, RZA writes, directs, and stars in his homage to the 1970s Chinese Kung Fu cinema that he and his Wu Tang Clan rappers grew up on.
In feudal China, the Governor (Terence Yin, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life) sends a massive shipment of gold north under the guard of the ruthless assassins male (Andrew Lin, Triple Tap) and female (Grace Huang, Cold War) Gemini Killers and their crossbow soldiers. The Governor has also made a pact with the Lion Clan under the leadership of Gold Lion to protect the road to the north. When Gold Lion is betrayed and killed by his lieutenants Silver Lion (Bryon Mann, Catwoman) and Bronze Lion (Cung Le,Pandorum), Silver Lion takes over the clan and plans to attack the other clans and take the gold for themselves. In the small jungle village where the opposing and warring clans pass through with their destruction, a nameless Blacksmith (RZA) tries to atone for the sins of his past and tries to provide money for a future with the lovely woman Lady Silk (Jamie Chung, Sucker Punch) who works as a lady of the evening for Madame Blossom (Lucy Lui, Kung Fu Panda 2). As the clans plan to go to war, Blacksmith is ordered to make weapons for several of the clans, including the Lions and Hyenas. As the gold gets closer, strangers come to the village, including a European knife slinger named Jack (Russell Crowe, The Next Three Days) who killing talents is only matched by his mysterious nature. When the gold arrives to the village, arrow tips, bullets, daggers, poison darts, and legendary Kung Fu fly in defense and pursuit of the precious metal. In the end, who will prevail?
With Quentin Tarantino producing, Eli Roth co-writing, and RZA writing, directing, and staring, you can be assured that the Kung Fu flicks of the 1970s will be well respected and represented. All of the classic elements are in place. A humble man trying to work away to distance himself from the sins of his past while providing for a future with his flawed, but true, love. The setting of feudal China and the commanding government is always a great setting for these films. Add in warring clans with their own style of Kung Fu - Tiger, Lion, Rodent, and Hyena. I did not see too much Crane or Viper style of fighting, but you can't have everything! And not to be outdone with clever and cool weapons for each clan, you always should throw in a man with such unbelievable Chi that he can turn his body to bronze (a la Bronze Body played by WWE's David Bautista). There is always conflict, and tremendous fight scenes, usually strung together by a simple, by-the-numbers formulaic story. The Man with the Iron Fists is no different, in that regard, but does manage to pull it off with an American infused flair.
As a novice director, RZA surprises with his skill behind the camera lens. As an impressionable student of the Chinese cinema of the 70s that he grew up on, RZA is not looking to turn in shoddy work. And what he produces is not chop-socky film making. The film starts with the same Chinese double-character writing and muted film stock that we all loved. As a kid, I didn't understand that these earlier films were imports from Asia, but the opening titles are as distinctive now as they ever were. The shot of horse-mounted warriors on a dirt road traveling through forests of bamboo is used to classic effect. Sure, the film is formulaic, but that was what was so cool about those films that some of us watched in the 80s and 90s in syndication on our local Saturday afternoon or midnight Kung Fu Theater. The fighting choreography is slick and the weapons are bloody cool, literally. Replacing the powder-footed kicks of that earlier era are the bullets of bloody visual effects and post-production spurts of bodily fluids. You wouldn't see that in the Kung Fu flicks of the past. We are in a brand new era of desensitized movie action violence, and RZA follows through on amping up the gore and cascades of blood. And, just to make sure you know in case you were thinking RZA missed an element or two, there are old warriors with long white hair and crazy eyebrows, the stupid but loyal sidekicks, flashback scenes of enlightenment and training, and a metal statue of a human body with all the most important pressure and strike points!
RZA, as an actor is a major part of the film as the title's character Blacksmith, but the director side of him keeps a good balance between all of the major characters set in the film. Russell Crowe's cocky, but skilled Jack Knife, Lucy Lui's demure, but deadly Madame Blossom, Rick Yune's noble avenger Xen Yi, The X-Blade, and Bryon Mann's treacherous Silver Lion all get equal time to develop and show their true colors - for better or worse. Many of the players worked together on previous films, which always helps. Even Pam Grier comes in a cool cameo during a flashback sequence - proving that Tarantino was an active participant in the making of this film venture.
The Wu Tang Clan's RZA pays homage to the Kung Fu-ploitation genre he loves, and creates something he can be proud of. He doesn't create an unique vision that steps beyond the Kung Fu films of an era past, but instead recreates a tale from various films he remembers from his youth. Hell, if I was a film maker, I would love to recreate my own most favorite non-Bruce Lee flick from that era, The Five Masters of Death, almost down to every detail except for an updated treatment. Not everyone is going to care for this movie, but that's okay. This movie is for the fans of a genre thirty to forty years old and of a part of our adolescence that is ingrained in our high-kicking action loving psyche. If you are looking for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or The House of Flying Daggers, look elsewhere. If you are looking for a Kung Fu flick that has everything but poorly dubbed dialogue, check out RZA's flick.
The Man with the Iron Fists is an update to syndicated imported Kung Fu films of a young boy's youth. RZA is faithful to the genre, albeit in a more brutal and bloody way. As a fan, RZA creates a film that will appeal to the fan. He knows the Crane style of film making, and there may be no defense against it if you like the genre.