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The Man with the Iron Fists (2012)

November 10, 2012

MY CALL:  This movie shouldn’t have been written AND directed AND scored AND starring Rza.  However, the movie was still loads of fun and Rza has definitely proven that he has great cinematic vision.  Expect many filmmaking imperfections, but enjoy the fun ride.  [B-]  IF YOU LIKE THIS WATCHShinobi: Heart Under Blade(2005), Croughing Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Elektra (2005), The Warrior’s Way (2010) and Bunraku (2010)…all very stylistic with cool combat.

Thaddeus (director Rza) is a gifted blacksmith whose talents are contracted by local warring clans.  He is pure of heart and wants nothing more than to purchase the freedom of his courtesan wife Lady Silk (Jamie Chung; The Hangover 2, Sorority Row) from the brothel madame Blossom (Lucy Liu basically reprising her Kill Bill role; The Tournament, Kung Fu Panda 2).

Thaddeus becomes mixed up in a plot to steal a large shipment of gold.  The main villain is Silver Lion (Byron Mann), who betrays the Lion clan leader with the help of Bronze Lion (Cung Le; Dragon Eyes, Pandorum).  Zen Yi (Rick Yune; Ninja Assassin), the son of the murdered clan leader, sets out to stop Silver Lion with his armor of retractable blades.  Also in the mix is Jack Knife (Russel Crowe; Robin Hood, The Next Three Days), the most interesting and charismatice character (outside of combat) with an interesting taste for bachelor party shenanigans (i.e., Asian call girls, liquor and opium).

Russel Crowe as Jack Knife, rounding up his entertainment for the evening.

The fighting in the movie was a mixed bag that will largely disappoint martial arts movie fans.   As the oddly bewigged lion clansman, Cung Le was sadly under-utilized.  He never gets to looks good or show off.  Not even in his finale fight against Lucy Liu.  The choreography presents a mix of very cool and very silly kung fu combat maneuvers.  Sadly, by and large the action is filmed way too close-up.  For me, the combat highlights should all be credited to Bautista’s Brass Body.  He seemed to have the coolest scenes, obviously the coolest F/X because of his ability, and some of the most fun choreography that was filmed so that we could actually see it.

Despite my complaints about much of the action, the kung fu theater feel was maintained undeniably well.  Rza captured that tone perfectly.  There was also a festive display of spewy-fun gore.

The dialogue is dreadfully dry (except for Crowe’s delivery).  Rza, God bless him for trying, can’t act or effectively narrate.  His character was not only understated, but lacked the lines to justify his purpose.  It seems that Rza was going for a mood-driven film with stylized combat like Bunraku or The Warrior’s Way.  I could see his goal, but his meant-to-be-poetic blacksmith character was clearly the weak link in synthesizing this quasi-arthouse-ful conceptual grace.  Rza tries to use a Shaolin Temple training flashback to corroborate Thaddeus’ focus and combat ability.  Still, I found him to have zero combat credibility when facing Iron Body—a character who actually earned my respect on screen.

The score (also by Rza) was cool during the first scene (a fight scene). But I noticed less effective use of music later in the movie. I’m not hating, it was a neat score. But this was disappointing as I expected to have some awesomely rap-scored fight scenes, but some of them had combat volume drowning out the music, rendering it ineffective even at times that louder music would be appropriate.

Director Rza—of the Wu Tang Clan—was always a devout fan of Hong Kong cinema’s kung fu theater.  While his direction is clearly fledgling and his scoring ability nothing to his own rapping talent, his passion for classic kung fu movies manifested the greatest strength of this film: the kung fu theater “feel” of it all.  His excellent theatrical homage includes some classic kung fu movie components such as the iron body (brass body in the movie) focus style, techniques that are named after characters (e.g., the Gemini stance), the betrayal of one’s master and the revenge that follows, the house of mirrors fight (which was unfortunately brief), traps and poison darts, fighters exploding from the ground in ambush and semi-flying combat maneuvers.  Perhaps the most fun was when all of the brothel whores turn out to be ninja-savvy combat-chic assassins.  Rza also covered the bases of kung fu weaponry, including bladed fans, bladed sleeve extensions, chain-fighting, various blades and good-old kung fu.

This movie shouldn’t have been written AND directed AND scored AND starring Rza.  However, the movie was still loads of fun and Rza has definitely proven that he has great cinematic vision.  I’d like to see him collaborate with more experienced film makers before attempting another solo venture like this.  But I am so glad that I got to see it anyway, imperfections and all.  This was a good debut considering his complete lack of experience since yet more experienced hands have failed to produce such entertainment time and time again.

I also hope to see more of David Bautista.  He worked really well in this!

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