The Man With the Iron Fists (2012)

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“You can’t spell Kung Fu without F and U.”

Directed by RZA
Starring RZA, Russell Crowe, Byron Mann, Lucy Liu, Cung Le, Rick Yune, David Bautista, Jamie Chung

Hardworking blacksmith Blacksmith (RZA) makes weapons for different warring kung-fu clans in Jungle Village, staying out of the conflict and trying to save up to take himself and his love interest, Lady Silk (Jamie Chung) out of this den of vice. But when the vicious Silver Lion (Byron Mann) takes control of one of the clans and decides to wipe out everyone else, our hero is drawn into the fighting and gets all mutilated. Together with the son of the murdered clan leader (Rick Yune) and a drunken European mercenary (Russell Crowe), he has to build himself some robot hands and go kick bad guy ass.

What’s wrong with it?

RZA and his compatriots in the Wu-Tang Clan love the ridiculous old Kung Fu movies of the 70s, so the Abbot decided to make a movie that has the elements of those movies that they enjoy, plus lots of swearing and amped-up weirdness. That sounds like an amazing premise, but somehow it just feels …

… well, for starters, in conventional terms it’s just shitty and dumb. It doesn’t have any characters you could care about. But even within the frame of it being a craptacular kung fu movie, it has a fundamental problem, which is that RZA can’t act or do kung fu. The stars of bad old kung fu movies couldn’t act because they were selected for their martial arts prowess, but RZA doesn’t even have that excuse.

What’s right with it?

It is still goofy fun. There are a lot of ridiculous, over-the-top action sequences, crazy gimmicky kung fu weapons (a la the Flying Guillotine), and so on. It would probably be really enjoyable if you watched it in ten ten-minute bursts.

How bad is it really?

It’s OK. It could have been a lot better if RZA had been replaced with a more charismatic lead (that is, anyone), but on the other hand it’s RZA, and part of the enjoyment comes from knowing that. Russell Crowe is not great, prostitute-assassins are cringeworthy … but it’s not terrible. It is a good, light-hearted, beer-and-popcorn action movie that goes on too long (at 95 minutes, mark you) and hits some wrong notes.

Best bit (if such there is)?

The early battles between X-blade (Yune) and Silver Lion’s followers are pretty enjoyable. Also RZA’s deadpan delivery has the effect of making his voiceover narration and many of his lines unintentionally hilarious.

What’s up with…? 

  • Could RZA just not stop rhyming long enough to record his dialogue? “When it comes to money / things get funny”? I guess that’s the kind of hip-hop gold you just have to get recorded when it strikes you lest it vanish again.
  • The long, involved backstory in which RZA is a slave who escapes, gets shipwrecked, is rescued by Shaolin monks, leaves the monastery … I mean, it’s actually really interesting to see how this kind of material gets incorporated into the kung fu canon, but on the other hand it does sort of stop the movie in the middle.
  • Byron Mann? I mean, in general.

Ratings

Production values Not bad, actually: if there are some cheap moments in the fights and effects, that’s only in keeping with the genre. 8
Dialogue and performances Oh no. Oh lord no. Many rappers make good actors — the charisma of someone like Method Man or Snoop Dogg translates well to the screen. RZA, not so much. 16
Plot and execution Surely you jest. 14
Randomness Everything proceeds logically from the premise, but the premise doesn’t make any sense at all. 15
Waste of potential “RZA is spending a shitload of money on making an homage to the Shaw Brothers!” “Yay!” “And he’s cast Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu and himself!” “Oh for fuck’s sake.” 15

Overall 68%

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