The Man with the Iron Fists (2012)

Posted in Reviews by - July 27, 2014
The Man with the Iron Fists (2012)

RZA’s first film as director was never going to be a subtle affair. The Wu-Tang Clan rapper has built a career on promoting the motifs from his favourite kung fu films, and his own movie was almost inevitable after his work with Quentin Tarantino on Kill Bill and mainstream Hollywood’s subsequent ironic adoption of grindhouse culture. Like Tarantino’s geek dream, RZA’s film shares a similar brashness and vulgarity but with an added grotesqueness influenced, presumably, by torture porn maestro Eli Roth, who produced the film and worked with RZA on the script. The script here is absolutely dreadful, far removed from the sassy prose of Kill Bill.

RZA, like Tarantino, wears his inspiration on his sleeves (or, rather, his iron fists) and the resulting film is a muddled mash of influences, from modern wire fu to old Shaw Brothers yarns, to blood-dripping Samurai slashers, grisly gore and supernatural CGI nonsense. RZA throws everything into the mix and directs with the mindset of a hyperactive adolescent on a sugar rush, and the scale of the madness is impressive. There are small roles for massive cult names, people like Pam Grier and Gordon Liu (both former Tarantino cast members), and even cameos for fan favourites like Chen Kuan-tai and Leung Kar-yan. Corey Yuen is recruited for the fight choreography, much of which is steered by stonking big weaponry, from revolving switchblades to poisoned darts, throwing stars and suits of daggers. Heads are kicked clean off, eyeballs dislodged and blood splatters the lens, all presented with a feverish absurdity.

Because he’s calling the shots, RZA casts himself in the lead role. He’s obviously entitled to do that, but RZA is no leading man. His central performance is hopeless and, in an act of self-sabotage, he somehow manages to suck the life out of his own film. Luckily, he is supported by real actors, people like Russell Crowe who chews the scenery as a repulsive British gunslinger, and Lucy Liu, another Kill Bill reference, playing a brothel matron.

The story makes no sense. RZA is a blacksmith in turn of the century China, populated by mostly English speaking Asian Americans. He has his arms chopped off after harbouring a rebel involved in a clan war over some stolen gold. He then moulds a new pair of iron arms in scenes reminiscent of Chang Cheh‘s Crippled Avengers. His new arms are so powerful they can smash through walls and even penetrate the invincible brick-like body armour of professional wrestler David Bautista, who is recruited by the Tiger gang to help them in their general pillaging. Serious attempts are made to explain how RZA ends up in such a setting, but his vision of China is based solely on kung fu movies and has no place in the real world. It’s clearly futile to follow the film’s logic so best to just go with it.

For all its flaws – and they are considerable, and the less said about the role women play in the film the better – this is clearly a passion project for its director and star, and we can now all be thankful it’s out of his system.

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