The Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA co-writes, directs and stars in The Man with the Iron Fists, an entertainingly campy martial arts movie.
The Blacksmith (RZA), freed from a life of slavery in America, winds up in China where he forges weapons for the warring clans of Jungle Village — and a shipment of imperial gold seems to have brought out all those with fighting spirits. After the murder of their leader Gold Lion, the Lion clan’s new leader, Silver Lion (Byron Mann) is intent on getting the gold and on killing X-Blade (Rick Yune), Gold Lion’s son. Silver Lion seeks help in this endeavor from Brass Body (Dave Bautista), a man who, as advertised, can turn his body into un-harmable brass.
Jack Knife (Russell Crowe), an Englishman who also has some designs on the gold, arrives in town with his own nefarious plans — as well as a need for lots of company from the girls of Madam Blossom’s (Lucy Liu) bordello. Wolf and Rat clans make an appearance, as do the Gemini warriors (a husband and wife duo played by Grace Huang and Andrew Lin) who are guarding the gold and have a reputation as a deadly fighting pair.
There was more to the plot — the blacksmith has a girlfriend, Lady Silk (Jamie Chung), for example — but the plot is so secondary to what this movie is about that I actually have a hard time remembering it. Because this movie’s purpose is to give you an hour and a half of pure, un-muddied-by-story-or-characters butt-kicking. And not just literal kicking, though there is a lot of that. There is also: sword fights, a guy with iron fists fighting the brass body guy, Jack Knife’s spectacular gun-knife weapon, Lucy Liu’s knife fan, the synchronized henchmen-felling of the Gemini couple. The Man with the Iron Fists is maybe 7 percent about story, 22 percent about nifty costumes but the remaining 70 percent is all about not letting up on the hand-to-hand combat until a scene is soaked in wonderfully fake-looking stage blood which — all the better — is sometimes spurting fountain-style from some severed body part.
The Man with the Iron Fists feels like a fan fiction version of a Quentin Tarantino movie (he’s listed as a producer here) with a lot of his touches: an affectionate blend of Western and kung-fu movie motifs, a villain who is enjoying his villainy (here, Mann’s Silver Lion), ridiculous violence and a measure of absurdity — which here comes about halfway through the movie when we see how the titular man acquires his iron fists. These things aren’t as skillfully accomplished as in, say, Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies but RZA is clearly having a good time — enough so that we in the audience feel we’re sharing some of the fun. On my way out of the theater, I heard another movie-goer say it was one of the worst movies he’d ever seen. My immediate post-movie analysis was that I had just enjoyed a tasty junk-food action movie treat. The Man with the Iron Fists is the kind of movie where both of those statements can be true. B-
Rated R for bloody violence, strong sexuality, language and brief drug use. Directed by RZA with a screenplay by RZA and Eli Roth, The Man With the Iron Fists is an hour and 36 minutes long and is distributed by Universal Pictures.