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The Man With The Iron Fists Review: Come On And Bring The Ruckus

By TK | Film Reviews | November 5, 2012 | Comments ()


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The opening two minutes of The Man With The Iron Fists features an intense martial arts battle that culminates in one man flip-kicking another, and then literally tearing his opponent's arms off.

Are you still here?

If you are, I'm assuming that means you're intrigued, but you're in the middle of something and can't make it to the theaters quite yet. So I suppose we can talk about the movie a little more. The Man With The Iron Fists is the quirky, bloody passion project of RZA, nee Robert Fitzgerald Diggs, the wildly talented leader of the infamous Wu-Tang Clan. RZA co-wrote the script with Eli Roth, both directed and starred in it, and wrote the music to it. It pretty much features his stamp on every blood-soaked frame. This is, for the most part, a good thing. Although the story itself feels emotionally empty at parts, it moves at such a brisk pace that one can (mostly) forgive its occasionally lazy writing in favor of the sheer joyous mayhem of the project.

The film is an homage to the martial arts flicks of old, films that RZA and his fellow Wu members have been lifelong fans of. It's a ridiculous, off-the-wall splatterfest featuring plenty of wire work, absurd weapons, flying punches and kicks, and a hint of the supernatural to tie it all together. RZA plays a nameless blacksmith in a tiny little hamlet called Jungle Village, forced to make elaborate, wicked-looking weapons for the warring factions that vie for control. When the leader of the Lion Clan is murdered, it sets off an all-out war between the new leader of the clan, Silver Lion (Byron Mann) and his hulking, invincible henchman Brass Body (Dave Bautista of MMA and WWE fame), the local brothel mistress, Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu), the son of the slain Lion Clan leader, Zen-Yi aka The X-Blade (Rick Yune), and a mysterious Brit named Jack Knife (Russell Crowe). Caught in the middle is the poor Blacksmith, who only wants to save enough money so he can run away with the hooker with the golden heart, Lady Silk (Jamie Chung).

There's a bit more to the story, in that there are other players who wade into the fray, but that's the gist of it. The Man With The Iron Fists is 75 minutes of bloody carnage and whip-clever one-liners, interspersed with 20 minutes of flashbacks and plot. That's about all you really want out of it, and I must admit -- shallow as it may be, it's a hellacious amount of fun. The action choreography is impressively orchestrated, albeit at times over-edited. The editing is a bit spastic at times, and there's a touch too much slow-motion for my tastes, yet it's still pretty indicative of the genre that they're trying to emulate. What makes it ultimately satisfying is a wickedly grim cheekiness and an absolute dedication to being as beautifully, chaotically bloody as possible.

That bloodiness is symptomatic of the film's spectacular color palette in general. It's a gorgeous film, resplendent with lavish costume design (particularly Liu's Pink Blossom Brothel employees), and a meticulous, lovely attention to detail. Similarly, the sets are quite stunning, even when they're a little artificial at times. The entire film is shot on location in China, and the stunning local scenery contributes to give the film an often magical, ethereal air to some of its locales.

But what makes it the most fun are the performances. RZA is, unfortunately, a rookie among pros here. He gives it his all, but his performance is unescapably wooden and emotionless, and not, I fear, deliberately so. Instead, he has the sort of flat line delivery that comes when non-actors are rushed into acting. The feel is not unlike that of Gina Carano in Haywire, a performance that is undercut by the excellence of the others around him. Liu is basically replaying her O-Ren Ishii role from Kill Bill, though with a bit more coy sassiness. Byron Mann's Silver Lion is perhaps the most gloriously over-the-top, hilariously menacing villain you've seen in a while. With magnificently moussed hair, he's a wickedly clever psychopath with a delightful 80's flair and a penchant for wholesale butchery. Rick Yune (Ninja Assassin, Snow Falling On Cedars) is suitably noble as the betrayed Zen-Yi, but it's ultimately Russell Crowe who wins the day, cast-wise. Crowe's Jack is an absolute joy to behold, a lethal, laconic Lothario with an insatiable sexual appetite (he basically plows through Madam Blossom's entire roster) matched only by his clever repartee and shockingly brutal fighting style. Crowe appears to be having the time of his life, elegantly twirling his mustache while cuddling young ladies and gutting his opponents without blinking.

For a first-time film maker, RZA has assembled a surprisingly enjoyable, if emotionally insubstantial picture. It's helped by the fact that he has some serious talent backing him, both in front of and behind the camera. Taking notes while observing on the set of Kill Bill, sharing writing duties with Roth, and working with renowned composer Howar Drossin on the soundtrack (which is absolutely killer, by the way), he's certainly got enough support. Yes, the film isn't particularly deep, nor is his performance very memorable. But he's crafted a lovely, clever, breathlessly paced and spectacularly violent film that, if you're a fan of the genre, is a loving and worthy homage to its inspirations.



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • My man Crowe never disappoints. MWTIF is not my cuppa but I will see it for him. And by the sound of this review, I will enjoy it.

    Love RZA, loved his arc on Californication. Even though my kids had to tell me it's pronounced 'Rizza' not R Zee Ay.

  • BWeaves

    Who is this person?

  • TheAggroCraig

    I mostly enjoyed it, but I really liked the line at the end when Crowe says to RZA, "Thanks, I haven't that much fun [however long]". He clearly had himself some fun while making this movie. And I'm glad you mentioned the soundtrack. I thought that was the strongest aspect of the whole thing.

  • RZA is one of the coolest dudes in the world and I love each and every one of his wooden performances, intentional or not.

  • Groundloop

    That's what she said!

  • There we go! I was wondering how long that'd take. (that's what she said too)

  • lowercase_ryan

    Yes please.

  • RZA doesn't act in this movie. He mumbles lines in a monotone narration while old Wu-Tang Clan songs play in the background. His wooden performance is such a distraction that even his voice overs make it very hard to focus on some well-choreographed fights. The plot also has more separate threads than a granny square quilt only without any binding to hold it all together.

    It's pretty and has good fights. It's also vacuous and too sincere--sans Lucy Liu, Russel Crowe, and Byron Mann camping it up big time--to swing around to cult/so bad it's good status. If this was a big budget Hollywood action film, there would be no mercy for this level of incompetence.

  • Great to see that criticism with explanation is discouraged around here. I'm so sorry that expecting a cohesive through line is upsetting. I've been looking forward to this since I first heard about it. I love this genre of film. This was a bad example of it.

  • Ghisent

    Dude. It was two downvotes. Settle down, they weren't exactly storming the gates with torches and pitchforks.

  • TherecanbeonlyoneAdmin

    I was. But then that tends to be my reaction to everything I don't like or agree with. You should see it when my wife makes fish. The fire department has my address in the truck.

  • Snath

    And your wife has a padlock on the inside of the closet?

  • Sean

    Exactly what I thought as well. RZA barely spoke English. And has no concept of how to act. I personally would have liked to see the whole movie be about Russel Crowe's character.

  • Quatermain

    I went to see this yesterday and it was well worth the five bucks I spent to see it. It reminded me of when I was younger and the local UHF station(remember those)used to play 'Kung Fu Theater' on Saturday afternoons, hosted by a guy who looked and acted like Pai Mei from 'Kill Bill'.

  • L.O.V.E.

    In other words, its best to get drunk and/or high before going to see this.

  • Nothin' wrong with that! Funnily enough I got drunk before, and during, Skyfall and it didn't help that none. Well that was a complete tangent.

  • TherecanbeonlyoneAdmin

    I am so totally stoked for this mostly because no one has made a good chop-sockey flick in too damn long. Not to mention that it looks beautiful and fun as all hell. Shit, it had me sold when RZA released The Baddest Man Alive with The Black Keys.

  • Snath

    I fucking love that song.

  • Fredo

    Reading this, I went "this doesn't sound like something Dustin would like. This sounds more like a TK review." Went back up and sure enough, it's TK to the rescue.

    I'm betting this movie will have to make all its money between now and Thursday morning as anyone even remotely interested in it will choose to see Skyfall starting Friday. That said, it's the kind of late-night, popcorn fare that ought to be a blast to watch with the right audience.

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