You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Man With the Iron Fists

As endearing as it is exhausting, "The Man With the Iron Fists" bears strong resemblance to a hyperactive puppy: sloppy, scatterbrained, manic and migraine-inducing, but possessing an earnest sense of excitement.

Cast:
The Blacksmith - RZA
Jack Knife - Russell Crowe
Bronze Lion - Cung Le
Madam Blossom - Lucy Liu
Zen-Yi/X-Blade - Rick Yune
Brass Body - David Bautista
Lady Silk - Jamie Chung

As endearing as it is exhausting, “The Man With the Iron Fists” bears strong resemblance to a hyperactive puppy: sloppy, scatterbrained, manic and migraine-inducing, but possessing an earnest sense of excitement. Working with actors, a crew and resources of a far higher caliber than his level of filmmaking expertise would seem to countenance, first-time writer-director-star the RZA turns in a postmodern martial-arts experiment that’s equal parts Shaw Brothers, Adult Swim and amphetamine-fueled student film. For an utterly bonkers vanity project, it’s more fun than it ought to be, and should bring a small yet sufficient ruckus to the B.O.

If any figure from hip-hop’s golden age was going to make the leap from rhymes to reels, the Wu-Tang Clan’s founder, rapper, producer and overall shogun certainly seems the most obvious. Leading eight of his disparate compatriots to phenomenal success in the 1990s, RZA served as the great Staten Island collective’s unquestioned auteur, composing all its early music, maintaining a consistent aesthetic and mythology, and ably stage-managing a large group of eccentric, unpredictable talents.

Yet translating this relevant experience to film is hardly a seamless switch, even when the subject matter is as compatible as it is here. Assisted by mentor Quentin Tarantino (for whom he scored “Kill Bill,” and who gets a “presented by” credit here) and co-scripter Eli Roth, RZA at times seems too excited to be behind the camera.

A giddy prologue sets a grainy kung fu throwdown to the Wu-Tang’s “Shame on a Nigga,” whereupon RZA’s voiceover lays out a rather simple premise in nearly incomprehensible fashion. Set in a 19th-century Chinese hamlet where, naturally, all relevant business, banking and governance are conducted at the local brothel, the film concerns a humble, escaped-slave blacksmith (RZA), who dreams of whisking his girlfriend (Jamie Chung) away from her obligations with the local madam (Lucy Liu).

Things are complicated by the arrival of a gaggle of unsavories seeking a treasure of some sort, most problematically a sinister crime lord (Cung Le) and his hulking thug (David Bautista), with eyes on the Blacksmith’s girl and a brass body capable of dispensing severe punishment. But help arrives from a mysterious, knife-toting British hedonist (Russell Crowe) and a be-daggered mercenary (Rick Yune) out to protect his own neck.

For the first half-hour, nearly every shot seems to contain a dramatic reveal or zoom; things are frenetically mashed together with scarce lockdowns or breathers to establish a concrete sense of space or mood. The finished film was apparently chopped down from a four-hour initial cut, and RZA’s urgency to incorporate all his favorite footage at the expense of coherence or pacing is obvious and overwhelming.

Yet the stewy, overheated enthusiasm eventually proves contagious, and by the time the pic finally finds its groove toward the end — subdividing the screen into comicbook-like panels and splashing slow-motion rivers of blood in graceful patterns across the camera — an anything-goes midnight-movie mood triumphs.

Though he’s notched memorable supporting roles in the past, RZA is too withdrawn an onscreen presence to carry the film, even when he’s outfitted with the titular bodily modification. Fortunately, he’s supported by a fierce assembly of rock-solid pros who let loose with high degrees of good-humor: especially Le, who speaks English in a hysterical approximation of the clenched-jawed dubbing of vintage kung fu pics, and Crowe, who smirkingly goes for broke to an extent that viewers haven’t seen from him since, well … ever.

Though the script is of tangential importance here, its inability to stick to a consistent tone can be groan-worthy, especially when RZA’s voiceover breaks from its zenlike contemplativeness into lines like “These motherfuckers had a Gatling gun and more bullets than China has rice.” The score from RZA and Howard Drossin is wonderful, with touches of Ennio Morricone and found sound, even if the film’s reliance on anachronistic soundtrack music from Isaac Hayes and Kanye West can distract.

The Man With the Iron Fists

Production: A Universal release and presentation of a Strike Entertainment/Arcade Pictures production. Produced by Marc Abraham, Eric Newman, Eli Roth. Executive producers, Tom Karnowski, Thomas A. Bliss, Kristel Laiblin, Doris Tse. Directed by RZA. Screenplay, RZA, Eli Roth, from a story by RZA.

Crew: Camera (color/B&W), Chan Chi Ying; editor, Joe D'Augustine; music, RZA, Howard Drossin; music supervisors, G. Marq Roswell, Carter Little; production designer, Drew Boughton; costume designer, Thomas Chong; art director, Horace Ma Kwong Wing; sound (SDDS/Datasat/Dolby Digital), Steve Chan Wai Hung, Huang Xun; supervising sound editors, John Marquis, Odin Benitez; re-recording mixer, Jonathan Wales; special effects supervisor, Arthur Lau Wai Kit; visual effects supervisors, Don Ma, Thomas Tannenberger, Olcun Tan, D.J. Shea; visual effects, Centro Digital Pictures, Gradient Effects, Post Matters; martial arts choreographer, Corey Yuen; assistant director, Thomas Chow Wai Kwan; casting, Zoe Thompson, Mike Leeder. Reviewed at Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, Oct. 29, 2012. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 95 MIN.

With: The Blacksmith - RZA
Jack Knife - Russell Crowe
Bronze Lion - Cung Le
Madam Blossom - Lucy Liu
Zen-Yi/X-Blade - Rick Yune
Brass Body - David Bautista
Lady Silk - Jamie ChungWith: Pam Grier, Daniel Wu, Gordon Liu, Andrew Lin, Grace Huang, Jin Au-Yeung.

More Film

  • Banijay Ups Scripted Output with Tom

    Banijay Group Ramps Up Scripted Output with Drama Projects From Tom Fontana, Radu Mihaileanu (EXCLUSIVE)

    As endearing as it is exhausting, “The Man With the Iron Fists” bears strong resemblance to a hyperactive puppy: sloppy, scatterbrained, manic and migraine-inducing, but possessing an earnest sense of excitement. Working with actors, a crew and resources of a far higher caliber than his level of filmmaking expertise would seem to countenance, first-time writer-director-star […]

  • 'Angels Wear White' to Open Singapore

    'Angels Wear White' to Open Singapore Film Festival

    As endearing as it is exhausting, “The Man With the Iron Fists” bears strong resemblance to a hyperactive puppy: sloppy, scatterbrained, manic and migraine-inducing, but possessing an earnest sense of excitement. Working with actors, a crew and resources of a far higher caliber than his level of filmmaking expertise would seem to countenance, first-time writer-director-star […]

  • Ricardo Darín, Patagonik, Disney Set Juan

    Mipcom: New Ricardo Darin Production Co Teams with Patagonik, Disney, FilmSharks on Juan Vera’s ‘Love at Last Sight’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    As endearing as it is exhausting, “The Man With the Iron Fists” bears strong resemblance to a hyperactive puppy: sloppy, scatterbrained, manic and migraine-inducing, but possessing an earnest sense of excitement. Working with actors, a crew and resources of a far higher caliber than his level of filmmaking expertise would seem to countenance, first-time writer-director-star […]

  • Busan: Director Chowdhury Sets 'Rickshaw Girl'

    Busan: Director Chowdhury Sets 'Rickshaw Girl' for March Shoot

    As endearing as it is exhausting, “The Man With the Iron Fists” bears strong resemblance to a hyperactive puppy: sloppy, scatterbrained, manic and migraine-inducing, but possessing an earnest sense of excitement. Working with actors, a crew and resources of a far higher caliber than his level of filmmaking expertise would seem to countenance, first-time writer-director-star […]

  • Mipcom; Wings Media Signs 10-Film Deal

    Mipcom: Wings Media Signs 10-Film Deal With Shellhut, Tiny Island

    As endearing as it is exhausting, “The Man With the Iron Fists” bears strong resemblance to a hyperactive puppy: sloppy, scatterbrained, manic and migraine-inducing, but possessing an earnest sense of excitement. Working with actors, a crew and resources of a far higher caliber than his level of filmmaking expertise would seem to countenance, first-time writer-director-star […]

  • Jeffrey Katzenberg Hand Imprint Ceremony

    Jeffrey Katzenberg: Harvey Weinstein Is a Monster, But Didn't Act Alone

    As endearing as it is exhausting, “The Man With the Iron Fists” bears strong resemblance to a hyperactive puppy: sloppy, scatterbrained, manic and migraine-inducing, but possessing an earnest sense of excitement. Working with actors, a crew and resources of a far higher caliber than his level of filmmaking expertise would seem to countenance, first-time writer-director-star […]

  • Jack Gao Departs Wanda Group, Legendary

    Jack Gao Departs Wanda Group, Legendary Entertainment

    As endearing as it is exhausting, “The Man With the Iron Fists” bears strong resemblance to a hyperactive puppy: sloppy, scatterbrained, manic and migraine-inducing, but possessing an earnest sense of excitement. Working with actors, a crew and resources of a far higher caliber than his level of filmmaking expertise would seem to countenance, first-time writer-director-star […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content