RZA’s ‘Iron Fists’ is a weak first feature
Published: Sunday, November 11, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
A mixture of Kung Fu choreography and hip-hop culture, The Man With The Iron Fists can be praised for its stylized gore and interesting use of color correction, but not much else. The whole film seems strung together by incomprehensible scenes of violence with little regard to plot structure. It is almost shocking that a film like this was endorsed by someone as brilliant as Quentin Tarantino—the whole thing can be deemed as amateur work at best, a shoddy tribute to Tarantino’s stylized violence, but without the witty dialogue that makes his movies so memorable. Instead, we were given one cheesy “facepalming” line of dialogue after another.
RZA wrote, directed, and starred in this movie. It was his debut feature, and a failed one at that. He is well known for his contributions to the hip-hop music industry as the leader of the Wu-Tang Clan and has done soundtrack work for many films, including Kill Bill, where he spent time analyzing Tarantino’s directing work in preparation for his own feature. With the assistance of Eli Roth, RZA wrote The Man With The Iron Fists, and Tarantino lent his name to the movie with a “presented by” credit—which is surprising, to say the least.
Delving into the movie’s storyline, the main character—or so we assume—is a blacksmith (RZA), whose job is to create elaborate weapons for warriors and assassins in a village in feudal China. There is also one warrior named Zen Yi (Rick Yune) whose father is killed by the Silver Lion (Byron Mann), a traitor and leader of a group of warriors, and he makes it his life mission to avenge his father’s death. Meanwhile, Madame Blossom (Lucy Liu) is the owner of an extravagant brothel, and just loiters there until she and her girls decide to join the action. For some reason, an outspoken Englishman, Jack Knife (Russell Crowe), is there as well and he befriends the blacksmith and assists with much of the gruesome killing. Other characters include a nearly indestructible man named Brass Body (Dave Bautista) and the blacksmith’s love interest, Lady Silk (Jamie Chung), who help motivate the action and cause more of a ruckus onscreen. Have you finished reading this paragraph and still can’t understand the synopsis of the movie? That is exactly how the audience feels when leaving the theater after an utterly confusing 96 minutes.
One could say that this film has the potential of fitting into the “it’s so bad it’s good” genre, but there is trouble even giving it that status. The cinematography was surely interesting, but it is difficult to accept pointless violence, especially when the viewer has difficulty understanding who is enemies with whom and what each character’s intention is. The dialogue is so intensely cheesy and awkward that it makes the viewer feel embarrassed on behalf of the actors who had to actually say those lines and keep a straight face. For example, when someone from the Lion clan of warriors is about to kill a member of the rivaling clan, the Wolf clan, he says: “Looks like you really were just a sheep in wolf’s clothing.” Seriously?
One thing RZA did well was to incorporate hip-hop music into Kung Fu fighting sequences. This cultural synthesis was the film’s differential point, and the music fit in outlandishly well with the action. This is not surprising, as RZA’s strong creative talent lies in music. There was also an interesting use of color correction during some of the sequences, which made the film’s cinematography notable. The set design and scene setups had a striking use of color. Some parts were done in black and white with one small splash of color on certain details—like blood or a lamp—and this accentuated the aesthetic appeal of the feature. Despite these redeeming qualities, this film can only be recommended to those looking for stylized gore with blood gushing everywhere—an onscreen chaos that gives little to no regard to suspension of disbelief.