Cinematic entertainment can be successful through one of two ways. The first is the traditional ‘masterpiece’ with intricate character development, a provocative plot, and a convincing amount of visuals that are realistic and pleasing to the eye. The second is a mindless soiree of visuals that exists strictly to appeal to our basic needs as humans. Between those, there are two sub-categories; those that fail and those that succeed. The Man with the Iron Fists is in the latter on both counts
The movie, directed by RZA, is a combination of both the exploitation movies and the Kung Fu movies from the 1970s. The plot is remarkably simplistic; the governor of the province is delivering some gold to help in a war effort. He recruits one of the village gangs – the lions – to deliver it safely though the tumultuous and often violent aptly named Jungle Village. However, the head of the lions gang, Gold Lion, is killed in a coup by his sons Silver and Bronze Lion as well as Poison Dagger. They have taken the gold that was supposed to be delivered and are making war with the other tribes. It is up to the governor’s emissary Jack Knife, played by Russell Crowe, the blacksmith, played by RZA himself, and Zen-Yi, played by Rick Yune, to stop them and recover the gold before the governor’s men destroy the entire town. It’s the quintessential definition of a “Kung Fu Movie” and, provided that it is a genre of film that you already like and have typical expectations of, this movie will not disappoint.
The stars of this movie are impressive to say the least; Lucy Liu, Jamie Chung, and former WWE champion Dave Bautista not only able to act quite well and accurately portray the characters, but each of them is used to the best of their abilities and is naturally incorporated into the film. Lucy Liu plays a sexy, sultry mistress who runs the best brothel in the province as well as being a skilled martial artist codenamed “Black Widow.” Bautista plays Brass Body, the muscle bound juggernaut for hire. With his history of relatively poor acting, he was given a part with minimal speaking, which only adds to his intimidating prowess and demeanor. The casting is superb!
At times, the fights scenes can get a little complicated as it becomes difficult to see who is fighting whom. With all of the animal tribes wearing similar garbs and colors, figuring out who is winning in a fight between the hyenas and the lions and the wolves can be virtually impossible. What’s worse, most of said fight scenes are completely non-related. It doesn’t even matter who wins the fight because the fight has nothing to do with the story itself. Although this is a relatively typical problem for action movies, it is still frustrating. The setting and the period for this movie remains ambiguous, preventing any of the typically pestering claims of, “that kind of technology couldn’t have existed” or “that’s not the way it happened in history.” Although frankly, if you came out of this movie and the only complaint were historical inaccuracies, then you weren’t watching the right movie.
The Man with the Iron Fists is the directorial debut for RZA, and it was an auspicious start to say the least. With a feel of ridiculousness and nearly a parody of such films as Afro Samurai or Kung Fu Hustle, this film does a lot for fans of both comedy and action and even a little sex. Although the movie doesn’t have the Kung Fu prowess of Legend of the Drunken Master, the visuals of Afro Samurai or most of the violence and gore that fellow screenwriter Eli Roth is known for, it does offer enough in some semblance of moderation to keep fans happy across the board.
This movie is one of the most memorably mediocre movies to come out of the 21st Century. It will be entertaining, but in very finite doses and is clearly not for universal enjoyment. Two stars out of four.
Watch the trailer.