The Score: "In 'Man W/ The Iron Fists', Bones Shatter, Eyeballs Go Flying, Throats Are Shredded"

Friday, Nov 2, 2012 2:55PM

Written by Cyrus Langhorne

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  • The Man W/ The Iron Fists
  • RZA, Russell Crowe
  • November 2, 2012
Indie Wire B-
Crave Online 8.5/10
Hollywood 3 out of 5
Hit Fix B
Screen Rant 2/5

Moviegoers missing the days of action-packed kung-fu flicks made popular by the late Bruce Lee or even Jackie Chan should look no further than The Man with the Iron Fists this weekend, a film which pays homage to the genre.

Directed and co-starring Wu-Tang Clan's RZA, the rapper-turned-actor's newest film project proves just how much Hollywood talent he really has.

"I'm the baddest man alive," goes the chorus for one of the many hip hop songs in "The Man With The Iron Fists," the directorial debut of RZA. The director is actually the subject of the song, as he plays the title character, a blacksmith seeking revenge for being wronged by a group of villains who sweep into China's rowdy Jungle Village. But at a certain point, you have to wonder: why is he so bad? RZA, who has logged hours within the supporting casts of "American Gangster," "Ghost Dog: Way Of The Samurai" and "Due Date," plays the taciturn weapons maker with the same dour expression that suggests a dullard, which RZA certainly doesn't seem to be. (Indie Wire)

As heard on Wu albums and expressed in his rhymes, RZA places heavy emphasis on paying tribute to kung fu flicks in Man with the Iron Fists.

It's no wonder that this film was produced by Quentin Tarantino, who did something similar with his own Kill Bill. The Man with the Iron Fists, though, unlike its stylistic forebear, seems to play less as an homage to very specific kung-fu flicks from the '60s and '70s (there are online rundowns of every single visual reference in Kill Bill ), and more like a modern tribute to kung fu flicks. In a way, Iron Fists take a bolder step than most action films, trying to update a moribund genre with big steaming scoops of ridiculous awesomeness. It occupies a middle ground between the '70s-obsessed eye of Tarantino, and the bold magical silliness of Big Trouble in Little China. (Crave Online)

Rather than merely focus on RZA, the film takes viewers in a multitude of directions through its ample supply of featured characters.

The manic script for Iron Fists, written by RZA and Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel) interlocks a handful of colorful characters with varying degrees of success: The Blacksmith (RZA), a freed slave who hopes to earn enough bucks to whisk his love, prostitute Lady Silk (Jamie Chung), away from the Pink Blossom brothel; Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu), the brothel's owner (and local mobster); Silver Lion (Byron Mann), a murderous gangster out to overtake the city with the help of his magical metallic underling Brass Body (Dave Bautista); Zen Yi a.k.a. The X-Blade (Rick Yune), whose father was killed at the hands of Silver Lion and now seeks revenge; and Jack Knife (Russell Crowe), a mysterious British gunslinger taking residence at the Pink Blossom who may have ulterior motives. Iron Fists bounces between the plot threads without much worry -- you never really know who is doing what or why. But if characters say what they're thinking with conviction, then beat the daylights out of their opponent, it's supposed to suffice. More often than not, it does. (Hollywood)

Rather than take a subtle approach, Man with the Iron Fists gives moviegoers endless amounts of blood and gore mixed in with storytelling.

Which brings us to the violence, and there is a lot of it. "The Man With The Iron Fists" is unapologetic about the mayhem. Bones don't just break, they shatter. Eyeballs go flying. The weapons the Blacksmith makes do terrible things to people. Throats are shredded. There are a lot of things that could serve as precedent to this film, a lot of influences sort of bouncing around in there, and while you might be able to try to play "name that influence" as you watch, that would defeat the fun of it. Yes, the RZA is a fan, and he is paying tribute to the films he loves, but he's not trying to be clever or post-modern here. There is a sincerity to "Iron Fists" that is pretty winning even when other things about the film don't work, and it's that careful avoidance of the wink that makes it work. The RZA is at his strongest in the film when it comes to the directing of the action, and when people start fighting, you can almost feel him behind the camera, pulse quickening, overjoyed at the idea of staging these fights with the help of Corey Yuen. The fights, as with many martial arts films, really are the reason to see the film, and there is a sense of pure creative abandon to those scenes. (Hit Fix)

While visually appealing to most, some movie critics found technical problems in RZA's content.

The movie takes itself way too seriously for what it is (a silly action flick) and attempts several "twists," all of which fall utterly flat, as the "revelations" tend to confuse more than surprise. Instead of character development or foreshadowing, we're given heavy-handed exposition drops and awkward flashback sequences that feel totally at odds with the other portions of the film (see: The Blacksmith's slavery-drama backstory). This problem extends to other areas, and Man with the Iron Fists feels, in total, like a mismatched pastiche work. The hip-hop soundtrack often rips you right out of the film, as it's completely incongruent with the imagery and atmosphere (I say this as a personal fan of many of the featured musicians). The dialogue is similarly problematic, oscillating between overly-dramatic martial arts platitudes and crude modern slang terminology. In short: the movie can't decide exactly what it wants to be, and that confusion is perennially apparent as you watch it. (Screen Rant)
Not every moment pops -- unlike Liu and Crowe, RZA doesn't exactly light up the screen when given the freedom to go crazy. Blacksmith is a muted, mumbling character who doesn't throw himself into a fight the way a kung fu movie demands from its lead. Behind the camera, the fight scenes are choreographed similarly to how the movie is structured: randomly, with the occasional inspired moment. But the inventiveness of the mechanics keeps Iron Fists working. A scene with two twins using contortion to throw and kick and punch their way through hoards of bad guys is a joy. Seeing Crowe (obviously not an expert in martial arts) lay down a few moves is pure fun too. The Man with the Iron Fists isn't as expertly crafted as Tarantino's Kill Bill, but it has more mind-boggling oddities. RZA unleashes his passion into the film, so even when the story or action isn't working, something else on screen is. (Hollywood)

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