by Matt Smith
I don’t know if it’s actually a good movie or not. I know I liked it.
Co-written and directed by the Wu Tang Clan’s RZA, The Man With The Iron Fists spins a simple tale of the lust for power and riches in a mythic ancient China. The action takes place in the corrupt Jungle Village, where all the competing clans have animal names (the Wolf Clan, the Lion Clan, the Black Widow) and everyone’s out for a shipment of gold the emperor is shipping through the country.
Along with the various players in the clans, a couple of outsiders have found their way into the village: the blacksmith, Thaddeus (RZA), and the emperor’s emissary, Jack Knife (Russell Crowe). These are a couple of real bad dudes when it comes down to it, and they’re in the business of honor and vengeance. The gold only plays a part in their interests because of all the villains gathered in town to steal it for themselves.
The tone of the film is somewhere between Tarantino-esque referentiality and genuine reverence for the source material, which is no doubt the dozens upon dozens of 60s and 70s kung fu flicks RZA took in throughout his youth. The influence of those films on hip hop culture and African American cinema of the 1970s in particular is yet to be satisfactorily dissected, though a couple of pretty fab essays can be found here (http://www.postroadmag.com/Issue_2/Criticism2/Criticism2.html) and here (http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/filmblog/2012/jul/18/bruce-lee-films-black-audiences). This melange of influences – kung fu cinema, blaxploitation, ultraviolence, and hip hop – all show up to various degrees in The Man With The Iron Fists, and it’s all the more enjoyable for it, because otherwise it’s kind of a mess.
The one thing that kept drawing me out of the film was its narration, which is a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing to the film because the characters are so poorly drawn that many are basically just sketches of human beings, filled with no motivation of their own, and the narration provides us with that. It is a curse because it facilitates the laziness of the screenplay and its lack of narrational motivation within the diegesis itself. RZA constantly interrupts action in order to describe exactly what someone is going to do and why. While this is somewhat reflective of its origins in poorly- (and cheaply-)translated and dubbed 70s fu films, it is nonetheless something I just couldn’t get around.
The fights are the main reason anyone goes to a martial arts picture, however, and they are a lot of fun. So fun that I actually went back and watched several of them again. And they were fun then, too. This likely has a lot to do with the Unrated cut of the Blu ray disc. I can’t imagine this much bloodletting in the theatrical cut with an “R” from the MPAA. But maybe it’s not that much more.
Not the best thing I’ve seen recently, but very enjoyable and recommended for a lazy summer afternoon. If you’re a fan of violent martial arts action cinema from the 70s, this will be your bag. RZA needs to keep doing this type of thing, and I’m sure he will. Hopefully next time he’ll throw in a bit more character development and far less narration.
2.5 out of 5