×
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.

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 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

  • Game of Thrones Season 8 Production

    'Game of Thrones,' Netflix VFX Among Those to Be Featured in SIGGRAPH Production Talks

    VFX pros behind the final season of “Game of Thrones,” the blockbuster film “Avengers: Endgame,” Pixar’s upcoming “Toy Story 4,” last year’s Oscar-winning “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Netflix series, including “Stranger Things,” and more will give SIGGRAPH 2019 attendees a behind-the-scenes look at their work during the conference’s Production Sessions. There will even be a [...]

  • Lionsgate Planning 'Hunger Games' Prequel Movie

    Lionsgate Planning 'Hunger Games' Prequel Movie

    Lionsgate has begun working on a “Hunger Games” prequel movie, based on a forthcoming novel from writer Suzanne Collins. “As the proud home of the ‘Hunger Games’ movies, we can hardly wait for Suzanne’s next book to be published. We’ve been communicating with her during the writing process and we look forward to continuing to [...]

  • Siberia Keanu Reeves

    Saban Films Turns 5: How the Indie Studio Grew While Rivals Faltered

    Saban Films doesn’t make the most noise. It doesn’t have the splashiest premieres or parties. But the indie film label just quietly did what many of its early rival failed to pull off. It celebrated its fifth anniversary at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. “We stuck to our plan,” Saban Films founder Bill Bromiley told [...]

  • Emanuel

    Film Review: 'Emanuel'

    Mass shootings continue to be a shameful stain on contemporary American history. They strike at such a frequent rate that the way they occupy news cycles before losing the public’s short-spanned attention has become appallingly routine. With his somber documentary “Emanuel,” released by Fathom Events in theaters for two nights only (June 17 and 19), [...]

  • Men in Black International

    Box Office: 'Men in Black: International,' 'Shaft' Add to Summer Sequel Slump

    As “Men in Black: International” and “Shaft” join the growing list of under-performing sequels this summer — an ignominious group that includes “Dark Phoenix” and “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” — worries of franchise fatigue are beginning to simmer in Hollywood. “Franchises that don’t up the ante or bring anything new into the fold are [...]

  • Song Ge

    Beijing Culture's Song Ge Urges Mainstream Directors to Toe Government Line

    The publicity-shy chief of Beijing Culture, which has backed such Chinese mega-hits as “Wolf Warrior II” and “The Wandering Earth,” openly urged film directors Monday to stick to material pleasing to the Chinese state, for the sake of their investors. “If you’re shooting an art house or smaller budget films, it’s no problem — say [...]

  • Iran presentation at Shanghai film festival

    Shanghai: China-Iran Heading Towards Co-Production Treaty

    “China has signed co-production agreements with 22 countries. Similar agreements between Iran and China are in the works, and will be signed by the end of this year,” said Miao Xiaotian, GM of the China Film Co-Production Corporation on Monday. Miao was speaking at the Shanghai International Film Festival, which is hosting a six-title Focus Iran section [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content