[Review] – The Man with the Iron Fists

11 Nov

Title: The Man with the Iron Fists
Year: 2012
Director: RZA
Writers: RZA and Eli Roth
Starring: RZA, Rick Yune, Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, David Bautista, Jamie Chung, Cung Le, Byron Mann
MPAA Rating: R, bloody violence, strong sexuality, language and brief drug use
Runtime: 95 min
IMDb Rating: 6.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 54%
Metacritic: 54

Everything about The Man with the Iron Fists sounded just deliciously insane and just prime for my enjoyment. It’s the directorial debut of the RZA, the leader of the Wu-Tang Clan who most recently had an arc in Californication, he also co-wrote the film with Eli Roth which is a weird pairing that yet somehow makes a lot of sense to me. Then you find out that it’s actually a martial arts film set in 19th century China about a group of lone warriors who are forced to unite against a greater evil to save their village? I was sold.

The film has a “presented by” credit from Quentin Tarantino, which of course indicates sort of what you should expect from it and that comes from the fact that the idea really came about back in 2003 when RZA was producing the soundtrack for Kill Bill. He actually went to the Kill Bill set in China and watched Mr. Tarantino at work, then in 2005 he met with Mr. Roth and they discussed the project but left it at that, flash-forward to two years later and they start a process that would take them nearly two years, developing and writing the film in between each of their individual work commitments.

Apparently what RZA wanted to do was something in the vein of Star Wars in that he created a universe so deep and rich that even when the fights weren’t going on you’d be invested about what was happening on screen so he imagined every detail of every little thing that would be present in his directorial debut. Universal then agreed to back up the $20 million project, 10 weeks were spent in late-2010/early-2011 making this in China with actors that ranged from Russell Crowe to Lucy Liu to RZA himself and now we get this.

What we get, by the way, is a film that worked infinitely better than I ever thought it did. I mean, every little thing I just wrote above was stuff I really felt upon finding about details of this project because it seemed like of those ridiculous projects that I want to be awesome but that, 99 times out of 100, will be a sore disappointment because when something sounds ridiculous most of the time it’s because it is. But this I thought worked and was more fun than it had any right to be, not to mention that you just know from watching this that the RZA has genuine passion for this genre.

It’s obviously a messy movie, a directorial debut that feels like one in terms of lack of polishing and how all over the place it is, but I thought it showed promise and it showed that RZA didn’t just do this to do it, that he really loves this and that he really was observing what Quentin Tarantino did in China nine years ago. It’s obviously useful that he had Mr. Tarantino as a sort of mentor here, and that he had Mr. Roth working with him on the screenplay because those are the two guys that probably know the most of making really enjoyable B-movies which is essentially what this is.

RZA takes on the lead role as well, a man simply known as The Blacksmith who is, appropriately enough, an enigmatic blacksmith who creates these tools of sheer destruction for the villagers of Jungle Village who pretty much seem to live only to savagely get blood to splatter from the bodies of whoever crosses their paths. The clans battle, the quest for power and gold is on, and the city is threatened to be destroyed.

Now,when I told you before that RZA was all about creating a universe and really imagining every detail of it I was speaking the truth, he really did that here. I guess that should as no surprise even for those of us who have loved his musical input over the years, the guy just knows how to build a universe and everything here seems to be accounted for, the background story that you get for the character he plays, for example, is so rich and dense that it would probably make for a fine spin-off of this movie.

Speaking of spin-offs, by the way, I want to slip a really fun fact here. The Tarantino connection is there with Kill Bill and that “presented by” credit he has in this picture, but apparently there was another connection to be made that sadly didn’t come to fruition: one great universe-builder was to meet the other. Mr. Tarantino, who has little things that appear through all his movies tying their stories in one infinitely nifty universe, was actually set to have a younger version of The Blacksmith appear in a cameo role as a slave at an auction in his upcoming Django Unchained. So, yeah, that would’ve been cool.

Anyways, I digress, this film’s good. It’s good in the way that so many “firsts” are good, especially when you speak of music. Most first albums, especially those in the hip-hop world, are charged with so much detail, like the artist was speaking about every little thing that had happened in his life before then, every little story and idea and joke and character. Take Kendrick Lamar’s stunning debut from this year for example, there’s a lot to digest there because that’s the first chance he’s had at letting it all out there. That’s why second efforts always feel more mature; yes, partly because an artists grows, but also because he’s got less on his mind by then.

In that sense you have to admire The Man with the Iron Fists, it has a lot of ambition and, most importantly, you feel RZA here, it’s tremendously obvious that this is the exact film he’s been dreaming of making since he was younger watching martial arts films, and I really give him all the kudos in the world for delivering. You see him just blending together every thing that’s influenced him, from the kung fu to the Sergio Leone, because this is the first time he’s getting to do so and for all he knows it might be the last. That’s why this is a tad shoddy at times, why some parts feel more like the work of a film-lover than a filmmaker, if you catch my drift.

As for how RZA does in front of the camera, well that’s actually not that great. I mean he’s good in the role, for sure, but because RZA is so subdued and laid back so is his character and for a role that should be super juicy the character just doesn’t really grab you by the lapels as much as he should. But then again, you have Russell Crowe to do that. Mr. Crowe is just having a blast here as Jack Knife, the rogue British killing machine who beds a gal or two in the midst of all the gory proceedings, he’s having a blast bringing the professional theatricality to the craziness.

I really, really enjoyed this movie. I’m giving it such a good grade because I think it deserves it, because I grade films based on what they tried to be (that’s why popcorn fare like The Avengers ranks higher than a few more baity, high-brow films in my mind) and this film is everything it wanted to be. RZA proves to be a director who can handle his stuff because he loves his stuff and, especially if he keeps hanging out with the Tarantino posse, he’ll only handle it better in the future.

Grade: A-

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One Response to “[Review] – The Man with the Iron Fists”

  1. BigBear85 November 11, 2012 at 11:34 am #

    I saw this film this weekend and immediately came home and podcast about I felt it was probably the best kungfu film in a decade. I mean so many boast about paying tribute to the genre but this doesn’t rather flawlessly if you think of the shaw brothers stuff.

    I think this movie is blessed by the same thing cabin in the woods was blessed by the people behind it love the genre and love there work and the actors are having a blast. Russell Crowe is the best example of this, I mean his introduction into the film and his dialogue with Crazy Hippo was wonderful all in all i agree with you and recommend this movie whole heartedly.

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