It’s not very often somebody could possibly out-Tarantino Quentin Tarantino. But then again, when Quentin Tarantino is involved somehow by…’presenting’ the film, his influence is evident. The Man With The Iron Fists was directed by Wu-Tang Clan de-facto leader RZA. Its story was written by RZA. The screenplay was written by RZA and Eli Roth. RZA is 1 of the stars in the movie…and lastly, RZA created most of the film’s soundtrack (along with Howard Drossin, who did some themes for Sonic and Knuckles on the SEGA Mega Drive). Sounds like Tommy Wiseau, doesn’t it?
Right, this film is…stupid. Stupid beyond belief. But somehow…someway…I enjoyed it. I left my brain in the kitchen while I sat there and watched this. It more or less experiences the same curse that 2011’s The Three Musketeers had. It is evident that the film plays on a gangsta rapper stereotype. What is the stereotype? That black guys like kung fu movies. And for once, we’re seeing a film where such a fan got to make his own version of something he loves.
Was this film made out of love? Yes, it’s clear to me that RZA loved making this film, and in terms of the crew, he had some excellent people working for him. The set design is awesome, as are the costumes. It was actually shot in Shanghai and other parts of China, giving it a certain authenticity. The cinematography worked well, and the CGI had some great moments, even if the fake blood would probably have been done better with more practical effects.
Now, lets talk about the film itself. Between the writing, the acting and the characters, the characters are the best part. Some very interesting ones, such as Jack Knife, the British Soldier who liked Opium and had an absolutely amazing knife! It was like a weaponised vintage can opener! Very impressive, but unfortunately the character had to be played by Russell Crowe, who clearly isn’t english enough. If they gave this to Brian Blessed, he would be the greatest movie character ever.
There were loads of other interesting characters. Such as “Brass Body”, who was played by then-retired WWE wrestler Dave Bautista (Who will be playing Drax The Destroyer in Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy). He more or less played himself as a heel. Then you had animal-based clans, such as the Hyena Clan, Wolf Clan and the Lion Clan (who are the main focus). Silver Lion is the primarily villain (played by Bryon Mann, who was Ryu in Street Fighter The Movie), he has an amazing ’80s J-Rock hairstyle, and he killed the previous leader Golden Lion to become the new one (Something very ’80s about their clan as well). Then you have Zen-Yi or “The X-Blade” (played by Rick Yune), his weapon is his Road Warriors style upper body armour that shoots darts, has hidden knives and has spikes that spring out when laid upon. He is the other main protagonist, other than Jack Knife and RZA’s character the Blacksmith (Get it? Because he makes weapons), who happens to be known as the title character later on. Then you have other stars such as Lucy Liu as Madam Blossom, the brothel owner and unofficial Queen of the Village, and Jamie Chung as lady Silk, Blacksmith’s girlfriend…or lets say the girl he likes to visit at the brothel the most.
Now onto the story. I mention The Three Musketeers here, well this suffers a similar fate. It has everything necessary to be a likeable film…except for a decent story and foundation. There’s no real focus. No moral. Not much in terms of themes, character growth, change, mountains, quests, journeys or comedy. When RZA described all of the characters behind the scenes, they sound interesting. But there aren’t even indications to any of these character traits in the film! It is brainless fun, but without a structure that works. I read somewhere that RZA intended on making 2 films from this, after he created 4 hours worth of footage. But Eli Roth suggested simply having a 90 minute film. In my opinion, that was a bad choice. Because I thought the characters needed more development, and I’m sure there was a better story structure that could have come out of those 4 hours. On the other hand, it’s possible that even with 4 hours of footage, there’s still only 90 minutes of even remotely usable scenes that could develop our characters into a small crop for the audience.
The action scenes were thankfully part of what made this film fun. They were impactful, but also silly. They’re full of gimmicks, in weaponry (literally some of the best weapons I’ve ever seen in cinema) and in fighting stances (such as that of the Gemini killers. Their double team work was pretty awesome, and their joint stance is…unique), it also amused me when you see the Lion Clan literally using claws as weapons. The Martial Arts aspect contained a lot of twists, they look flashy, but provide no real meaning. Watch the fights in this film, and then watch the fights in Donnie Yen’s Ip Man movies – very different quality standards.
If you’re interested in seeing a successful blending of old eastern culture and western Hip-Hop, it was already done perfectly in Japanese anime. Samurai Champloo (by the creators of Cowboy Bebop), and Afro Samurai (title character voiced in english by Samuel L Jackson) are well worth a look. If you like really over the top, almost comical violence, stick to Tarantino’s movies, Robert Rodriguez movies, or anything by Stephen Chow.
In conclusion: Great cinematography (8/10), excellent location choices (10/10), excellent set design (10/10) fun and quality costume and weapon design (9/10). Some unique and interesting Characters that could have been worked on (7/10). The acting was fine, particularly from the Asian and Asian American actors, but not from Crowe or RZA. (7/10). The action scenes were very flashy and with a lot of tornado jumps and gorey violence. It was fun, but not on the same level of quality as Donnie Yen movies, or even Rikki-Oh. (7/10) The CGI was good (6/10). The music was the main characteristic in the western fusion, outside of everyone speaking english and an African American lead, and it was certainly an interesting choice, and made the film a different experience (7/10). The story needed a lot of work. Despite having interesting characters, there needed to be so much more than what appeared in the final product for me to really want more. It also needed a real build up, and a good mountain to climb. (1/10). It was juvenile compared to most Hong Kong Action movies and even Tarantino movies. But is it worth a look? Sure, though don’t take it seriously, you’ll just get really mad if you did. Overall: 72/100 (roughly **1/4 stars out of 5)