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Case Number 06439

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Iron And Silk

Lionsgate // 1990 // 94 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // March 22nd, 2005

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All Rise...

Also the name of Judge David Johnson's favorite cologne.

The Charge

East meets West.

Opening Statement

Mark Salzman stars as himself in this movie based on the book he wrote himself. Got it?

Facts of the Case

Mark Salzman always dreamed of visiting the Orient. The Chinese culture intrigued him (read: "I love me some kung-fu movies!"), and when the opportunity arose for him to accept a teaching position in China, he seized it. So off he went to Asia, with a degree in Chinese Literature, a solid handle on the language, and a host of super-cool kung-fu moves he picked up in America.

Enamored with his new surroundings and thinking he's pretty awesome, Mark begins his stint teaching English to Chinese English teachers. The students welcome the foreigner—a rare sight in the early '80s, as depicted in the film, when this story took place—and after a few cultural hiccups, Mark embraces his classroom. Meanwhile, he decides to pursue his true passion: the martial arts. Through a few pulled strings from one of his pupils, Mark scores some miraculous face time with the legendary Quingfu Pan (playing himself), a vaunted instructor of wushu. Mark convinces Pan to take him on as a student. At first elated when Pan agrees, Mark soon discovers he's got a long way to go. "What you learned is garbage," Pan says. "You have to relearn everything."

So Mark's got a rewarding job, admiring students, a kick-ass martial arts teacher, and the potential affection of an attractive girl named Ming (Vivian Wu, Blindness)—what can go wrong? Well, it doesn't take long before Mark's Western ways conflict with the staunch culture of Communist China, and some antiforeigner sentiment begins to crop up.

The Evidence

The best way to describe Iron and Silk, I think, is "quiet and personal." There's not a lot of high drama on display here. Mark Salzman's biography as put forth on film is a life of curiosity and new experiences. The lone conflict emerges when the Chinese government becomes resistant to what they perceive as Salzman's dissemination of Western values. The government reacts by shutting him out of facilities and barring him from his master's dojo.

There are no assassination attempts, or wild getaways, or hot seductions of female Chinese spies to gather classified intelligence. Nor does there need to be. This isn't a film of an outrageous, hard-hitting story. This is the journey of a man to a foreign place, to a culture he has only read about. The interesting bits of the movie come when these two cultures meet for the first time, such as when Mark learns that his students, out of sheer respect, cannot bring themselves to call him by his first name; "Teacher Mark" is as close to casual as his students dare to tread.

Surprisingly, the facet of the film that grabbed me the least was Mark's training sessions with the wushu master. Yes, this was interesting in that training-montage kind of way, but it didn't really teach me anything, except, you know, the obvious teacher-is-god/pupil-is-naïve-scum dynamic that Pat Morita and Ralph Macchio ingrained in me a long time ago. There is some fun interplay between Salzman and Pan, and their relationship serves as an adequate foil to the pressure Mark faces from the Chinese government, but overall this wasn't the most engaging element of the film.

Finally, the romance between Ming and Mark is more or less platonic. It's so understated, and Ming acts almost as a liaison between Mark and this new culture, that the on-air chemistry is limited. But that's okay.
Iron and Silk is an unpretentious, honest little film about regular people from drastically different cultures intersecting for the first time. There are no scary villains or "gotcha" moments. It's a sweet movie, grounded in realism.

Lions Gate has given this disc the rat's ass treatment, as in "who gives a." The full-frame transfer is shoddy—dirt and grain abound—and the minimalist Dolby stereo mix is hollow and withdrawn. Not an ounce of special features can be found on this disc.

Closing Statement

A decent, unassuming little movie, Iron and Silk offers a real-life peep into the tensions between foreigners and strongly rooted traditional culture. Lions Gate, though, did no one any favors with this barebones, lamentable presentation.

The Verdict

Not guilty, though Lions Gate should get a front kick to the throat for the shabby disc.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 60
Audio: 70
Extras: 0
Acting: 85
Story: 85
Judgment: 78

Perp Profile

Studio: Lionsgate
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
• Drama

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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