The Man with the Iron Fists
Synopsis: An epic story of warriors, assassins and a lone outsider hero who all turn up at a fabled village in China for a winner-takes-all battle for a fortune in gold.
A ham-fisted homage to Hong Kong martial arts films.
This film resembles the grand final of a worst acting contest.
For all its aspirations for hardness (MAN…IRON… FISTS…), and aggressive action and sexual posturing taking place around a feudal-era Chinese brothel, The Man with the Iron Fists is as limp as last week’s wet noodles.
Written by RZA and Eli Roth with their buddy Quentin Tarantino’s imprimatur, the film’s plot and lightly sketched characters are deeply steeped in comic book cliché that makes Jack Kirby look like Leo Tolstoy. Allegedly, RZA has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Hong Kong martial arts films. Liking something however, is not the same as being able to replicate it.
If RZA likes the '70s era martial arts classics films from the Shaw Brothers Hong Kong studio so much, why try and spoof them? Sure… Some are ridiculous. But my guess is, that in realising that he couldn’t recreate what he loved, RZA turned to Roth with his well-known affection for blood-splattering dismemberments and beheadings and the pair decided the long gestating script could only be played for laughs. Not very funny laughs, unfortunately.
The actors certainly follow suit. No deadpanning here. This film resembles the grand final of a worst acting contest. And the nominees are…
Playing an Orson Welles-like (complete with slouch hat, cigar and matching waistline) English Captain named Jack Knife, Russell Crowe puts more effort into his muttonchops than his acting chops. Rick Yune (The Fast and The Furious) and Jamie Chung (Sucker Punch) clearly don’t understand the difference between modelling and acting. The sour Lucy Liu looks angry to feature in yet another lemon. Byron Mann (Streetfighter) chews up the scenery with a comically “evil” laugh. But at least Mann has his own voice. The badly dubbed WWF wrestler Daniel Bautista, it seems, couldn’t act without ADR assistance.
But because he takes himself so seriously, and having scored most of the hard-boiled clangers in the film’s film noir-style narration, my prize-winner is the underwhelming RZA who goes from mumbling Blacksmith to become… the man with iron fists.
RZA’s direction isn’t much better. The opening credits are promising: Several knife-flinging, assassins freeze frame mid-pirouette into colourfully painted credit titles. Effectively matched with Wu-tang Clan’s potent beats these credits are a dazzling invitation to a real kung fu party. But all the subsequent battles are merely mosaics of brief snippets. Kick. Cut. Punch. Cut. There’s not one long flowing fight scene. Each speeded up kick or thrust exists only by itself. It’s just a series of split-second action flicker cards shuffled together to hide the wires. Of course, the original martial arts movies did (and still do) rely on wires, trampolines and other tricks. But most of those actors with props were martial artists. They weren’t completely dependent on their accoutrements. The props were there to enhance their talents, not as a substitute for a lack of martial skills.
In the last 20 minutes, the film starts splitting the screen to replicate comic book panels, i.e. horizontal slices and triptych compositions. (Is RZA a fan of Marvel Comics’ “Iron Fist”?) This sudden visual gimmickry feels like a desperate director’s last-ditch attempt to jazz up a film that has too much faux style and not enough real action or dramatic content.
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