Universal // 2012 // 108 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // March 14th, 2013
You can't spell Kung Fu without F and U.
"Power belongs to no one, until it is seized through sex or violence."
Our story begins in Jungle Village, one of the most dangerous and exotic places in the world. There, you'll find such colorful figures as:
Zen-Yi, The X-Blade (Rick Yune, Ninja Assassin), who has come to avenge the death of his father.
Silver Lion (Bryon Mann, Catwoman), the man who ruthlessly murdered Zen-Yi's father.
Bronze Lion (Kung Lee, Pandorum), another deadly member of the famed Lion Clan.
Jack Knife (Russell Crowe, Gladiator), a drug-addicted soldier of fortune tasked with keeping an eye on a large gold shipment everyone seems to be after.
Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu, Charlie's Angels), the operator of the brothel where Jack Knife is staying and one of the most powerful figures in the village.
The Blacksmith (RZA, American Gangster), who makes powerful weapons for all of the village's most prominent warriors.
Lady Silk (Jamie Chung, Premium Rush), a local prostitute who also happens to be the Blacksmith's girlfriend.
Brass Body (David Bautista, The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption), an assassin who has developed the ability to turn his body in metal.
Soon, all of these individuals (and many more) will be wrapped in a complicated conflict. Who will survive this bloody war?
The best thing The Man with the Iron Fists has going for it is enthusiasm. It's clear that writer/director/composer/star RZA is in love with the kung fu genre, and his passion is evident in every frame of his directorial debut. He seems to take a great deal of inspiration from Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, aiming to offer a genre-hopping flick that celebrates kung fu movies while also transcending most of them. Unfortunately, RZA simply doesn't come close to matching Tarantino's skill as a writer or director, delivering an overstuffed movie that is alternately messy, muddled and monotonous. Sadly, enthusiasm can only get you so far.
RZA seemingly wanted to include everything he loved about kung fu movies into a single film. That's a nice idea in theory, but it leads to a movie that is juggling too many plates at once. There are so many central characters and subplots that almost nothing gets a chance to make much of an impression. One minute we're observing a love story involving the blacksmith, another minute it's a revenge saga, another minute it's a portrait of a quirky antihero...but almost all of these elements feel underdeveloped. It takes nearly an hour for the movie to explain its own plot. I'm not really opposed to that sort of thing if it's done well (Christopher Nolan's Inception comes to mind), but The Man with the Iron Fists is a movie that is actually harmed by its complexity. The lack of clarity tends to get in the way of the fun RZA is hoping to provide; if the story had been smoothed out and half the characters had been removed, we might have had a solid slice of B-movie fun.
The director co-wrote the screenplay with Eli Roth, so I'm not entirely sure which individual to blame for the cornball dialogue, but it's pretty painful. A sample.
Jack Knife (pointing to a room full of prostitutes): "What if I just
Madam Blossom: "If you damage my girls..." *grabs Jack Knife's testicles* "...I'll damage your boys."
Jack Knife: "That really hurts...in a pleasurable way."
Yeah, everyone talks that way the entire movie. It's difficult to tell whether it's a really terrible attempt at Tarantino-esque stylized dialogue or whether it's an effort to give the movie a "so bad it's good" element, but it just doesn't work. It doesn't help that most of the actors aren't in particularly good form. A good portion of the cast is comprised of individuals known more for their physical prowess than for their acting skills, so they understandably struggle during some of the dramatic scenes. However, even the pros like Liu and Crowe are off their game (though I have to say that Crowe at least seems to be having a grand time, which is nice to see for a change). RZA is essentially the film's leading man (to the degree that the movie has one), but his limited screen time and general flavorlessness in contrast to the rest of the cast makes him a bit forgettable.
Okay, so the story isn't good, the dialogue isn't good and the performances aren't good -- but hey, this is an action movie, so how's the action? Never better than passable, I'm afraid. There are a few nifty stunts here and there, but RZA tends to employ a lot of colorful visual flourishes (split-screen shots, wild filters, etc.) to mask the fact that he isn't a particularly exceptional action director. Like almost everything else in the movie, it's competent but never anywhere near as strong as it ought to be. I'll at least give RZA this: he's made a movie that is entirely his own and never feels like the work of some anonymous studio hired hand. If he's able to learn from this experience and cultivate stronger skills on a technical level, I can see him eventually delivering some unique entertainment. The Man with the Iron Fists consistently swings big, but it usually misses.
The Man with the Iron Fists (Blu-ray) offers a knockout 1080p/2.40:1 transfer. While the film's sets are never as convincing as those offered by the martial arts epics this film often imitates, what's here looks terrific. Detail is strong, colors really pop and blacks are deep. No complaints on a visual level. Meanwhile, the DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track may very well be the finest thing about this release, delivering a sonic thrill ride that delivers every kick and punch in immersive, attention-grabbing fashion. The film's soundtrack (while perhaps turned up a bit louder than it needs to be at times) is the most consistently satisfying element, delivering a series of swaggering, grin-inducing beats and melodies. A prominent number features a musical duel of sorts between RZA and The Black Keys, which more or less exemplifies the sort of genre-jumping the flick does musically and otherwise. Supplements include the (superior) theatrical cut of the film, three brief, forgettable featurettes called "On the Set with RZA" (5 minutes), "A Look Inside" (2 minutes) "A Path to the East" (2 minutes), some deleted scenes, MyScenes, a DVD copy and a digital copy.
The Man with the Iron Fists is likably sincere in its desire to entertain. It's too bad there isn't more to like about it.
Review content copyright © 2013 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Cut
* Deleted Scenes
* DVD Copy
* Digital Copy