The Man with the Iron Fists (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

The Man with the Iron Fists (2012)

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Anyone with a passing knowledge of the RZA's career knew that The Man with the Iron Fists was an inevitability. When you spend the better part of your discography extolling the virtues of Tiger Style and pondering whether Toad Style's near-invulnerability could indeed defend against the Wu-Tang Sword, the only thing surprising about making the jump to film is that he didn't do it sooner.

Of course in this post-Kill Bill world, the bar for pseudo-grindhouse kung-fu deconstructions has been raised. So how does a man with iron fists fare against such competition? The answer is a resounding... maybe.

The RZA (in an acting, directing, writing, and scoring quadruple threat) is the titular iron fisted man who works as a blacksmith, building weapons for the various gangs that vie for control of Jungle Village. When news gets out that a shipment of gold will soon be passing through the village, every killer, mercenary and lowlife wants a piece of it. What unfolds is a story of revenge, betrayal and schemes within schemes. As the clans meet in Jungle Village and the body count rises, the blacksmith tries to flee with the woman he loves, but can he ever truly escape the cycle of violence?

Quarter circle forward, low punch.

That's what the trailers seemed to promise at least. The final product... well, that's a little different. What plot we do get in the film comes mostly from the RZA's narration explaining who the guys we just saw fighting were, or talking about some fight that happened off-screen. Anyone who's passingly familiar with the kung-fu genre shouldn't have too much trouble filling in most of the gaps, but there are handful of scenes where plot points are introduced and never really explained or concluded.

But I'm willing to forgive the (numerous) plot inconsistencies because it's only really there as a vehicle to bridge the various fight sequences, which do their damnedest to throw in as many kung fu cliches as possible. We've got wire fu. We've got extreme gore. We've got moves that conveniently ignore the laws of gravity, physics and pretty much all conventional wisdom. There's some very solid cinematography in there, and even if there isn't any symbolism or deeper meaning to it beyond "guys punching dudes," it's still pretty to look at.

The Man with the Iron Fists doesn't so much have characters as it has caricatures. You've got a good spread of your kung-fu film staples in there, complete with the cheesy superhero naming motif. Names like Bronze Body, Silver Lion, X-Blade, and Jack Knife do little to develop characters beyond describing their particular fighting styles. Similarly, the performances given by these characters live up to the single-minded extremeness of their naming conventions. Dialog rarely consists of anything but the RZA's exposition or the cliched smack talk you'd expect from a film of this caliber.

If there's a stand-out here, it's Russell Crowe playing the drunken, lecherous Jack Knife. He's a man who's spends 80% of this screen time pleasuring prostitutes, and the remainder of it slicing people with a knife that is ridiculous even by kung fu standards. And, yes, I'm including the Flying Guillotine in there. Some people might not like seeing well known actors "slumming" it in films like this, but I always get a kick out of it. There's something really fun with seeing an actor known for more serious rolls just cut loose and enjoy the insanity. If nothing else, Russell Crowe looked like he was enjoying the hell out of himself in this film, and that's worth something in my book.

Number of fucks given in this scene: Zero.

The most disappointing acting in the film? Lucy Liu, actually, who did a decent enough job (essentially) reprising her role from Kill Bill, but just seemed bored as hell doing it. A somewhat surprising second goes to the RZA, who didn't turn in much of a performance, either. Sure his character was meant to be the methodical, monkish type, but all too often he seemed less "lost in thought" and more just straight-up lost. That could be written off as a lousy performance, or inexperience in the acting or directing departments, but there might actually be another reason.

Rumor has it that The Man with the Iron Fistswas originally a 4-hour epic and that RZA wanted to cut it into two separate films, but co-writer/ producer Eli Roth instead had the film cut down to 90 minutes. Is there any truth to this rumor, or is it just a convenient way to explain away sloppy writing? It's hard to say, because despite the one-note characters and focus on splatters over story, there are moments when you can almost catch a glimmer of something deeper just below the surface.

And there are moments where the beats are just off; scenes that seem to end too quickly, narration and dialog that seem to come out just a bit too fast, as if the editor was watching the clock and shaving off seconds. If the rumors of an extended, more complete version are true, I'd like to see it. The film as is almost feels like the Cliff's Notes version. Of course judging from the early reviews coming in, I'm guess we aren't going to get a Director's Cut DVD release any time soon.

This scene does look familiar. Is it from "Inherit the Wind?" "The Crying Game?" "Milo and Otis?" Oh, I give up...

The Man with the Iron Fists is dumb as hell; It's a big goofy video game of a film that revels in its own sex and bravado. It's an adolescent hyper-violent power fantasy that doesn't pretend to have a message beyond “how cool would it be to see a bunch of Mortal Kombat-type dudes kick the shit out of each other?” There's a weird sort of honesty in this sort of film making, and I can dig that.

At the same time, it exists in a sort of artistic limbo. It comes off as a schlocky grindehouse homage, but there are those moments I can't tell if The Man with the Iron Fists biggest flaw is an inexperienced director or a brutal editing job. But I'd like to know. It's a film that I really want to like, and maybe someday, if the rumors are to be believed, I'll find more of a reason to.

Fun Spellchecker Fact: Possible "correct" spellings for "kung fu" included "gunk fu," "lung fu," and "king fu." It's like I wrote a Joe Bob Briggs review without even trying.

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Posted by Jacob

Comments (3) Trackbacks (0)
  1. I appreciate the man with the mater of the flying guillotine shout out. Good review. Notably I heard the soundtrack was half decent and had at least one original Black Keys song entirely designed for the movie. I’m a huge fan of the Black Keys so their presence, along with your not-hate, will probably tip the scales in favor of me seeing this movie.

  2. Yeah, it’s a pretty “alright” film. I’m really hoping they release an extended edition. Hope you like it, thanks for the comment!

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