The Man with the Iron Fists – 2012
Directed by RZA
Starring Russell Crowe, Cung Le, Lucy Liu, Byron Mann, RZA, David Bautista, Jamie Chung
Screenplay by RZA and Eli Roth
The Man with the Iron Fists lumbers across the screen like the big time wrestler that decides he wants to be an ice skater. The skates are strapped on, and he is heading across the floor, but the thing feels like it’s headed for disaster. As if by magic or remote control, it avoids oblivion and instead finds a space right there in the place where average movies go to live…right next door to oblivion.
What we have is an earnest effort by what is a true fan of the film style that is the extremely gory kung-fu glorified by Tarantino. It lacks skillful direction, acting and dialogue, but who’s counting? In the end, even if all that stuff were a notch higher, no one is the wiser. RZA, who I am told is an incredible rap producer famous for his work with the Wu-Tang Clan. Even if I had never heard of him or any of his aliases (Prince Rakeem, The Abbot, Bobby Digital, Bobby Steels, the Scientist, Prince Delight, Prince Dynamite, Ruler Zig-Zag-Zig Allah), I can say his performance is somewhat one-dimensional, if respectable. His effort to piece together a story of a former slave, who happens to be the local blacksmith in a town rife with clan warfare comes together slowly, obviously and conspicuously as the lone black man in a city of thousands of Chinese.
That strange combination does not last indefinitely, however. We soon see a rather rotund Russell Crowe, as Jack Knife, waddle into town, take on two whores and kill an even fatter guy with a cool looking knife to obtain his third. This concerns no one, least of all the Madam Blossom, played with an ever increasing lack of nuance by Lucy Liu. I am not sure why Russell Crowe is in this film, but he gets at least one decent line in with all the huffing and puffing, after a particularly good kill:
“I always bring a gun to a knife fight.”
Okay, so it’s not that great a line. It is pure gold when compared to the clunker RZA and Roth make Liu exclaim:
“Power belongs to no one, until it is seized through sex or violence.”
Or this line that RZA saved for himself:
“When it comes to money, things get funny.”
They get funny, but not necessarily well written.
The rest of the players are present to dispatch hundreds of Chinese. Most of these guys are on the screen to be in the right spot where one weapon or another is discharged. Of the main Asian counterparts, Yune and Cung, they are opposite sides of the Old West paradigm. One side noble, the other scurrilous. Jamie Chung as Lady Silk is odd in her apparent disharmony with The Blacksmith, who seems smitten with her to the point of planning and paying for their escape from the town. It never seems like she’s on board with the plan.
The soundtrack to this film is pretty good, especially given the fact that most of the songs are out of place and time.
The movie comes together in the end, rising to just a bit better than average. Much of it won’t be remembered. And if it is, it’s 50/50 whether you will be laughing at it or admiring it.
(*** out of *****)