The Man With The Iron Fists is RZA’s fifteenth or so film as an actor and his first as a director, and after watching it, I’ve concluded that the man can do neither. Its opening credits claim that Quentin Tarantino presents it, but it could very well have been directed by him, because RZA doesn’t seem to have any idea whatsoever. … Iron Fists shows no originality, no coherence, no quality acting, and no real drive to the story. Apart from a few beautifully composed shots, the movie is a mess.
Here we have an African American man directing an ancient Chinese kung-fu movie spoken in english (with American accents no less). The African American man also acts in it (as its main character no less), but I’d much rather watch Daniel Radcliffe wearing a mankini and staring at a wall for two hours than to have to stomach RZA’s face, which has this perpetual look of vacant bewilderment on it, as if his facial muscles are only capable of expressing one emotion. He plays a blacksmith (a “clever” pun because he’s black and his last name is Smith) who escapes from slave-ridden America, crashes onto Chinese shores, and is subsequently raised by monks. What does he do after living a life of peace and spiritual enlightenment? He makes dangerous weapons for violent clans. Well done monks.
He lives in a place called Jungle Village, a village run by the Lion Clan (another pun, this time about lions being the king of the jungle, which in itself is a fallacy). The leader of the clan, Gold Lion, is killed, and his subordinates, Silver and Bronze Lion, usurp the throne. Why? Because the emperor is having gold transported through the town and the greedy young Lions want it all to themselves. They steal the gold and hide it in the local brothel, run by Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu) who has her own plans for the loot. Meanwhile, Zen Yi (Rick Yune), Gold Lion’s son, rides for Jungle Village seeking revenge. Oh yes, and Russell Crowe has a part too, as a drunk prostitute-loving emissary of the emperor who only has two functions: nursing an injured RZA back to health, and killing the advisor of Silver Lion; a mysterious hooded figure with a horribly hammy American accent. All I want to know is: how does he see anything with that hood covering 80% of his face?
And that’s just one of the many problems plaguing this film. RZA seems more intent on making out with Jamie Chung and creating visually stunning fight sequences than giving us any sort of character or event to connect with. Do we really care if Zen Yi gets his revenge, or if Blacksmith defeats Brass Body (played by Dave Bautista with none of his tattoos concealed)? The answer is no. Every push in the story leads to a fight scene that’s meant to trigger some form of nostalgia for the traditional fight scenes of old. And even that barely succeeds.
The hesitation with which RZA emotes on screen is reflected in the hesitation he has off screen and behind the camera. I’m trying not to sound distasteful here, but how can you have a brothel as one of your key locations and not show any form of nudity (or at least imply that the prostitutes are nude)? You’ve already been slapped with an R rating for violence; what do you have to lose? Are you trying to come off as decent? Because all it’s doing is making you look careless with your attention to detail. I’m not saying that nudity must be shown, but authenticity is always key to believability.
Anyway, to sum up this movie’s shortcomings, there’s a scene just after Blacksmith gets both his arms chopped off by Batista: he’s recovering under Russell Crowe’s care and he says that he’s going to make his greatest, most dangerous weapon yet. One would think that a giant axe, or some sort of ancient bazooka would come into play, but no, he goes one better. He makes a set of iron fists that replace his missing limbs. What are they good for? Absolutely nothing. Is this really his greatest weapon, and is this really where the movie gets its title from?
Best Moment | It’s just one shot: Zen Yi comes up against a few baddies and he makes quick work of them by slicing and dicing and sending them flying into the air. The result is a beautifully composed shot of flying bodies, swirling blood, and a triumphant Zen Yi posed in the middle.
Worst Moment | The Gemini Stance. Search for it in the movie. It doesn’t last long, and it makes no sense whatsoever.