The Man With the Iron Fists
dir RZA
scr The RZA, Eli Roth
prd Marc Abraham, Eric Newman, Eli Roth
with RZA, Russell Crowe, Rick Yune, Lucy Liu, Dave Bautista, Jamie Chung, Byron Mann, Daniel Wu, Cung Le, Zhu Zhu, Gordon Liu, Pam Grier
release US 2.Nov.12, UK 7.Dec.12
12/China 1h35
The Man With the Iron Fists
Heavy metal: Bautista and RZA

crowe yune liu
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Man With the Iron Fists Working with geeks Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth, RZA tackles the 70s-style kung-fu action genre with plenty of energy and imagination. But the film is simply too silly to work with modern audiences, especially since the action isn't clear enough to properly enjoy.

In 19th century China, Jungle Village is the peaceful home of a Blacksmith (RZA) who is saving up to buy his girlfriend, Lady Silk (Chung), from the brothel's Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu). But their fate is caught up with the Lion clan, when the patriarch is murdered by Poison Dagger (Wu) and the swaggering Silver Lion (Mann) challenges Zen Yi (Yune), the rightful heir. Zen Yi is a fearsome blade-wielder, but Silver Lion's brutal henchman Brass Body (Bautista) is even nastier. Meanwhile, bloated Englishman Jack (Crowe) is quietly picking sides in the coming war.

The title refers to Blacksmith's self-forged new hands after he gets in trouble with Silver Lion for helping Zen Yi. Yes, the plot is rather fantastical, as are the battles, which are full of classical wire work as well as whizzy digital effects. Plus a steady stream of colourful characters who mostly end up in puddles of blood. All of this creates a hyperactive vibe, with luridly designed sets and a deafening vintage soundtrack that includes a few RZA raps.

And nothing about it makes any sense. Fans of the Shaw Brothers will probably enjoy the retro storytelling, with heroes and villains taking each other on in increasingly messy ways, while Blacksmith, Jack, Zen Yi and Madam Blossom try to prevent the snarling baddies from destroying the village. But without a hint of chemistry between the various couples, there are virtually no emotional stakes. So the plot feels merely like an excuse for the cheesy carnage.

As the mayhem continues, RZA generates a certain charm. We laugh at the gimmicky silliness in each character's special skills and gadgets, and the fight choreography is elaborately acrobatic, offering the actors continual opportunities to strike hilariously camp poses. We even get to see an attempt at an emotional back-story for the ex-slave Blacksmith. But nothing engages us beneath the surface. The movie is enjoyably loud and sloppy, but we're never sure if we're laughing at it or with it.

cert 18 themes, language, sexuality, strong violence 3.Dec.12

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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall