Old school rap and martial arts collide with RZA’s directorial debut, “The Man With the Iron Fists.” While the tone and pacing might be uneven at times, this is not a film designed for Oscar season; it’s fun, wild and sleazy, yet at the same time harkens back to the kung-fu genre’s classics of the Bruce Lee era.
Basic in nature, the story follows the lives of warriors, assassins and a lone outsider blacksmith in 19th century China who must unite to destroy the clan traitor who would destroy them all.
Since his arrival in China’s Jungle Village, the town’s blacksmith (RZA) has been forced by radical tribal factions to create elaborate tools of destruction. When the clans’ brewing war boils over, the stranger channels an ancient energy to transform himself into the ultimate weapon to become the savior of his adopted people.
Whether in film or during his time as a member of the rap group The Wu-Tang Clan, RZA has always been highly influenced by Asian culture. So it comes as no surprise that he would endeavor to add his own mark to the kung-fu genre.
From following director Quentin Tarantino around, taking notes on the set of “Kill Bill,” to working on the script with producer/screenwriter Eli Roth for two years, RZA’s filmmaking crash course was one inspired by his passion for the genre, and its shows throughout the film.
Each clan is unique in style and design, while every character brings something new to the table, and Chinese culture is injected throughout.
As the lead actor, RZA doesn’t have the ability to exactly command your attention, but he has placed himself in a very successful situation, playing the quiet loner with subtlety, using his smooth bass vocals to narrate the story and allowing his international supporting cast to shine around him.
Lucy Liu commands the screen with grace as Madam Blossom, the owner of the Pink Blossom brothel, and Byron Mann as Silver Lion makes for a fun villain with his serpent smile and glam-rock hairstyle.
But the show-stealing performance goes to Russell Crowe, who has no business being in this film as the opium-addicted British soldier Jack Knife.
You can tell Crowe is enjoying every minute of his decadent, over-the-top performance, going against type from what we have come to expect from this “serious actor.”
As a director, RZA’s debut definitely has its flaws. The tone of the film switches from the explicit humor of Crowe’s character in the Pink Blossom brothel, or the tongue-in-cheek lines often seen in this genre (the best one going to WWE wrestler Dave Batista in the movie’s finale), to very solemn notes following the blacksmith’s romance and origin story, which is oddly placed near the third act, making the film lose its momentum into the finale.
But some of these flaws seem to add to the film’s charm. Anyone coming into this film hoping for a deep character study or Oscar-worthy performances (although Crowe is quite memorable and entertaining) will be disappointed.
But the reason we watch kung-fu is for the over-the-top fight sequences; it’s one of the rare cases in film where it’s okay to have style over substance.
November 15, 2012