I love Kung Fu and martial arts films! I mean, you have no idea how much I love them. I love the Wu-Tang Clan, a hip hop group known for being entirely influenced by Kung Fu films. So when the leader of the Wu-Tang Clan directs a Kung Fu flick… naturally, I’m gonna be on it like white on rice.
The one thing you have to understand about The Man with the Iron Fists is that this film is not meant to appeal to the general audience. At least, I don’t think it is. If that was the intention, well then it might of failed miserably because half of the people in the theater I saw it in were shaking there heads and seemed confused. I, on the other hand, was pumping my fist and smiling with joy throughout a good amount of the film. This movie is a Kung Fu lover’s delight. You see how awesome The Avengers turned out? It was a fanboy’s dream come true. That’s because it was directed by Joss Whedon, a true fanboy of comics and superheroes. Well, not to compare this film with The Avengers but this was directed by The RZA, a man who is not simply just a fanboy of Kung Fu flicks but rather a man who has based his whole life and career around Kung Fu films and philosophy. Although this is RZA’s directorial debut, he brings an undeniable amount of passion, dedication and knowledge to this project. He has directed a genuine Kung Fu fantasy flick almost down to every last detail. It has the exact tone, the right camera angles, dialogue, silly acting, over the top characters and of course… gravity defying ass kicking.
Plot? Story? Ha, ha, ha! Yeah, you’re not going to get much of that here. It’s a typical and rather basic and cliched Kung Fu flick plot the involves a bunch of unsavory characters who are at odds with each other, out to find a forbidden treasure in a small village where a humble reluctant hero must rise up and defend the villagers. Yes, there are some subplots about revenge, honor and other stuff but pretty much, there’s not much to care about other than seeing some awesome ass kicking. To the average movie goer, that may not sound very appealing but to a Kung Fu film fan, that’s good enough. Usually, a basic setup is all we need. Now, a well written plot is always welcomed but we can get by with the bare minimum just so long as there’s plenty of epic ass kicking to make up for the lack of a good story.
In the ass-kicking department, the film does well. The fight sequences are fun, thrilling and bloody. The choreography is excellent and the camera angles are creative. It would have been nice to see more long take wide shots but what you see is what you get and it’s damn good. The movie has a great style to it, as well. Everything just feels cool. The sets are well designed and dazzling without being overly elaborate. The music is awesome. It’s a combination of score by RZA and Howard Drossin along with some Hip Hop thrown in the mix which of course seems out of place but not if you’re a Wu-Tang fan!
Now the film does have some significant flaws, even for a Kung Fu film. Those flaws start with some of the film’s characters. A martial arts film should always have a hero to care about even if the story isn’t the brightest. The RZA plays the central character know only as the Blacksmith. He specializes in forging weapons of death for anyone with the right amount of money to pay him. He would eventually do the right thing and become the film’s hero. He has a back story and plans for the future which involve him earning enough money to allow him and his prostitute girlfriend to run away and make a better life for themselves. The problem with the character is that he’s just not that interesting. He also lacks a significant amount of charisma to carry the story. It probably doesn’t help that his girlfriend, Lady Silk, is played by Jamie Chung, an actress who is known for her stunning good looks but also her bland acting abilities.
On the other hand, you have Jack Knife, played by Russell Crowe who’s so damn cool in the film. He is a rouge British soldier who is usually cool, calm and collected… mostly because he’s always high on opium. He is a charming and witty gentleman who would not hesitate to slice open your chest if provoked. You don’t get to know a whole lot about him but you sure do wish you could. Rick Yune plays Zen-Yi, the X Blade, who’s out to avenge the death of his father, the leader of the Lion Clan. He has some cool moves and he’s involved in some of the film’s coolest fights but he’s another uninteresting character. Then there’s Lucy Liu as Madam Blossom, the owner of the Pink Blossom brothel. Now, I love Lucy Liu. I think she’s sexy and she was terrific in this role. She turns into a full fledged bad ass at some point. She reminded me of O-Ren Ishii, her Kill Bill character. She has a commanding screen prescience in this film.
The film doesn’t have a central villain which is kind of a problem because I was never aware of who was the direct threat and who I should fear the most. There’s Silver Lion (Byron Mann), the man responsible for killing Zen-Yi’s father and taking over the Lion Clan; Brass Body, a mercenary who is capable of turning his body into metal and is virtually unstoppable. He is played pretty well by David Bautista. Then there are a few other mysterious villains all out for gold, death and destruction. There are also a few cool cameos from Pam Grier and Gordon Liu along with other well known martial artists but the main problem is character development. That’s usually not a priority for martial arts films but these characters had potential to standout more than what they did.
Another silly complaint I had with the film was, although it was always meant to be in English, some of the dialogue, especially some of the speeches Lucy Liu gives, seem a bit silly and would better be presented in Cantonese. That however, is a minor complaint because the dialogue is presented well enough to avoid eye rolling. At the midpoint of the film, the action dies down and exposition kicks in. That wouldn’t be a problem if I was invested in the story but I kind of wasn’t and I just wanted to see more ass kicking. Also the three final fights involve the Blacksmith, Jack Knife and Zen-Yi all going against their nemeses simultaneously in different locations. All of the fights are cool but seem very rushed and end abruptly.
I’ll say it again, The Man with the Iron Fists is not for general audiences. It’s purely meant for hardcore fans of Kung Fu films, those who are aware of how over the top things can get. The style and eye popping, blood gushing action may amuse some but this film would do little to convert anyone into watching more martial arts films seriously. That may be the film’s downfall in its theatrical release. It’s not destined to make a lot of money, which is a shame because I’d love to see a sequel. I think in time, this might become a cult classic but that might be my own optimistic way of thinking talking. The film is flawed even for a Kung Fu film but it’s a lot of fun. I got a major kick out of this film. Yeah, pun intended.
Big Gabe’s rating: 3.5 outta 5