Friday, January 11, 2013

The Man with the Iron Fists

Directed by RZA.

2012. Rated R, 95 minutes.
Dave Bautista
Cung Le
Byron Mann
Daniel Wu
Zhu Zhu
Gordon Liu
Andrew Ng

Zen Yi (Yune) is away getting married when he gets word that his father has been killed. Right away, he decides to head home to Jungle Village and exact his revenge against the Lion clan. Ah yes, the most tried and true plot of martial arts flicks. Englishman Jack Knife (Crowe) is in the area in hopes of finding gold. All of the warring clans get their rather heinous weapons from the local blacksmith known only…Blacksmith (RZA). Okay, fine. Whether it’s time for lovin’ or fightin’ everyone congregates at the local house of ill repute run by Madam Blossom (Liu). Bad narration, cheesy dialogue and gory martial arts goodness ensues.

If you know anything about the brains behind this operation, it makes perfect sense for this movie to turn out precisely as it does. The Man with the Iron Fists formed in the mind of its writer and director the RZA (pronounced Riz-uh for the uninitiated). He’s also one of the people most responsible for giving us one of the greatest groups in hip hop history, The Wu-Tang Clan. They built a mythology surrounding themselves in which 70s and 80s martial arts movies play a huge role influencing both the music they created and philosophies they espoused. This movie is nothing short of an unabashed homage to those films. Though RZA struggles in his acting role, as director he gives us a visual treat chock full of Shaw Brothers inspired madness.

Another major influence is the work of producer Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, for which the RZA provided the score along with QT pals Robert Rodriguez and Eli Roth. As a result “…Iron Fists” achieves a look and tongue-in-cheek feel of movies by all three. It lacks the depth and quality of their work but its apparent reverence for the genre that inspired it at least puts it in the same vein. Roth was even brought in as a co-writer on the screenplay. He’s been credited mostly with chopping the movie down from a four hour, two part behemoth down to its fighting weight of just over 90 minutes. Thank goodness.

Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu seem to be having great fun hamming it up. Crowe does everything except twirl his moustache between his index finger and thumb. Meanwhile, Liu revisits her Kill Bill days. Big, bad wrestler Bautista effectively stomps around the set knocking over things and people alike while grunting his lines. His character is heavily influenced by both Toad from the genre classic Five Deadly Venoms and Colossal of the X-Men. This is a perfect blend of old school kung fu flick and comic book sensibilities. This lends authenticity to the hokeyness that is Iron Fists. It would have been perfectly at home in either of the two places where the RZA saw most of those martial arts pictures during his formative years, either in a grindhouse theater on Manhattan’s 42nd Street or at 3 o’clock every Saturday afternoon on Channel 5 (WNEW, back then). At least, that’s where me and all my friends saw them. The plots were always simple, the acting and dialogue was almost always bad and the fighting was always exhilarating.

If you go into …Iron Fists expecting anything other than a zany kung fu flick you’ll be sorely disappointed. A sharply written plot and Oscar-worthy performances are not found her. To be honest, don’t even expect it all to make sense within its own context. Things get convoluted, at times. All of these together normally add up to a very bad movie. However, the blood splattering action makes it a package just too cheesy to resist. If you’re like me, a heavy nostalgia takes over. Before you know it, you’re having a grand time watching a rotten movie. That’s right, it’s so bad it’s awesome!

MY SCORE: -10/10

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