We all know the basic storylines of those old martial arts movies. Bad things happen to Heroes, so Heroes travel to Village to Fight Bad Guys. Such is the storyline of The Man with the Iron Fists, though with a healthy dose of rap music and sex. There’s also plenty of other nonsense such as a suit of blades and some nonsense about a gold transport. Actually, the story doesn’t make any damn sense. It’s a matter of sticking with the ride and basking in the “so bad it’s good” mentality. Really, that’s all there is. After the leader of a clan is assassinated, his subordinate seeks to capture a cache of gold so he can lock himself up in the palace. Obviously, Republicans existed back then. ZING! It’s up to the RZA, Russel Crowe, and a guy named X-Blade that nobody cares about to save the day.
Russell Crowe is outstanding here, absolutely stealing the show as Jack Knife, a mercenary with a knife gun with a blade that spins like a drill. You can’t argue with that. The film erupts with energy whenever he’s onscreen, and while the actual character of Jack Knife makes no sense, Crowe’s chemistry with the rest of the cast make it easy to forget that there’s no reason for his character to exist.
RZA’s soundtrack is excellent, blending contemporary imagination with period style for the same recipe that made the Wu-Tang Clan such a unique group. At first, it’s a little weird to see dudes doing martial arts to the song “Shame on a N****a”, but it’s best to just roll with it.
It’s not until the final half hour that the movie finally finds its visual imagination and lets loose with the insanity it had been fumbling to find for the rest of the film. Split-screen action and slow motion perfectly frame such wild antics as dudes getting their heads punched off, and one minor character getting punched so hard his eye pops out of his head. It doesn’t matter if you hate RZA, that’s pretty awesome no matter which way you slice it.
And in the sequel, he’s in a comic book and shoots pink stuff. I think. This came up in a Google search.
Well, shit. I was going to make a joke about RZA and how he hasn’t done much acting, but actually he has been in several films and I just didn’t recognize him. He still sucks, unfortunately. The majority of the acting is equally forgettable, save for Russell Crowe and the pair of villains played by Byron Mann and Daniel Wu hamming it up as if their lives depend on it. This trio make things entertaining, but Lucy Liu failing to live up to her role in Payback and Rick Yune (otherwise known as That Guy with Diamonds in His Face from That One James Bond Movie Nobody Liked) sleepwalking his way through the picture make for a boring set of heroes. Dave Bautista as Brass Body is pretty tasty-looking, but he couldn’t act his way out of a cardboard box. However, what he can do is turn his body into metal and kill the shit out of just about anyone, so let’s keep my comment between you and me.
Like this, except with less teenage angst and more your face splattered across the walls.
Apparently, the original cut of the film was four hours long. Then it got cut to 90 minutes. This is painfully obvious in the middle of the film, where the plot jumps between scenes with no connective tissue and no idea of where it’s going. Characters and plot threads are introduced and dismissed at the breakneck pace of a wuxia-obsessed 14-year-old that just mainlined Pop Rocks and Coke straight into his femoral artery. It’s a disaster, and it’s difficult not to imagine what would have been had RZA and Eli Roth gone with the original plan of breaking the film into two parts. At the very least, they could have kept another hour to avoid the abysmal hackjob that was the second act.
In fact, most of the editing (until that great third act, which is so different it may as well have been worked on by a separate party) is pretty bad. Weirdly, this is the worst in the first half of the movie, where the action is choppy and difficult to follow. If the early fight scenes aren’t filled with quick-cut, close-up cinematography, they are poorly lit to the point where it’s impossible to tell the characters from each other. It’s too bad, because the choreography is generally pretty great. But when everything is so dark and incoherent I’m actually bored, we have a serious problem.
OK, it’s not THAT bad…
While the movie does generally have an amusing sense of humor, there are still moments of poorly written dialogue ranging from the bad (“I always bring a gun to a knife fight’), to the stupid (“These motherfuckers had a gatling gun and more bullets than China had rice”), to the downright hilariously awful (“I thought your clan was dead!” “My clan is dead…I killed them!”). There’s also a fair amount of juvenile humor as well: there is a secret door in a brothel. How do you open the door? They keyhole is in a statue’s vagina. Because of course it is.
Looking back at The Man with the Iron Fists, it’s hard not to chuckle at the film’s ambition and charm. It does a pretty decent job of embracing the more mystical aspects of wuxia culture while retaining a relatively goofy sense of humor with some of the corniest lines of the year. As a motion picture, it doesn’t go all the way in following its cinematic influences and is difficult to follow during most of the early fight scenes. I wouldn’t recommend seeing it in the theater–wait for the planned director’s cut that will hopefully restore some of the RZA’s original vision. Essentially, the film is not quite what I would call a failure, nor is it a success. It’s bad, but not irritatingly so. It’s just not there yet.
“Derp I’m the RZA lol”
Take a Drink: every time someone dies an excessively nasty death.
Take a Drink: whenever you have no idea what the hell is going on.
Take a Drink: for each time you see someone having sex.
Do a Shot: every time your response to a line of dialogue or something happening in a scene is “Because of course…”