Man with the Iron Fists, The (2012)

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The Man with the Iron Fists (2012)Starring RZA, Russell Crowe, Rick Yune, Lucy Liu, Jamie Chung, Cung Le, Dave Bautista, Byron Mann

Directed by RZA

Distributed by Universal Studios

As far as directorial debuts go, The Man with the Iron Fists is a rather remarkable achievement by RZA, who demonstrates here his lifelong love affair for the kung fu classics and martial arts movies which has inspired both his music and his now-burgeoning film career.

And while Iron Fists isn’t nearly as flawless as the films that may have served as inspiration for it (Five Deadly Venoms particularly), the flick delivers on so many other levels that makes it easy to overlook the flaws and just enjoy getting caught up in RZA’s stunning modern kung fu epic that left this writer both enamored and entertained from start to finish.

Besides co-writing and directing, RZA also stars as our titular character who’s known as “The Blacksmith” at the start of the tale; we learn that he woefully spends his time making the world’s deadliest weapons for bloodthirsty killers as a means to buy freedom for him and his prostitute girlfriend, Lady Silk (Jamie Chung), who both yearn to escape their respective jobs from hell and start a new quiet life together.

Of course that plan gets put on hold as soon as a band of merciless warriors, assassins and a British soldier/opium addict show up in Jungle Village on the hunt for a legendary gold treasure that has recently arrived as part of a convoy. But once the gold gets into the wrong hands (and The Blacksmith loses his), that’s when the Man with the Iron Fists must step in to save the day, rescue the treasure and restore peace to his small village.

What makes the The Man with the Iron Fists a highly effective slice of kung fu bliss is that storytellers RZA and Eli Roth did some serious homework before production and it shows. The insane attention to detail that was paid on this project – from the myriad deadly weapons to the lavish art direction to the gravity-defying fights to even the various warrior clans – elevates their story and should no doubt keep the classic fu fans out there riveted from start to finish. It’s not nearly as boisterous a film as the trailers may lead you to believe; RZA and Roth also work in a lot of quieter, subtle moments that make for a nice balance alongside the insane action set pieces.

The eclectic cast members of Iron Fists are all mostly great as well across the board; Russell Crowe, as expected, pretty much steals the show as Jack Knife in what is his best performance in well over 10 years; Lucy Liu plays to her strengths as Madame Blossom, the no-nonsense proprietor of Jungle Village’s local whorehouse who exudes confidence and intelligence in a performance similar to her work in Kill Bill. Rick Yune (The Fast and the Furious, Die Another Day) portrays another protagonist in Iron Fists and once again proves that this guy should be working more and makes for a great foil to the nefarious Silver Lion (Byron Mann) and Bronze Lion (Cung Le), who are out to capture the gold and destroy everything in their path.

Oh, and speaking of Mann’s performance as Silver Lion, he gives Crowe a run for his money in the charisma department in Iron Fists as his “Duran Duran meets Prince” persona is just cheeky enough without ever venturing into over-the-top territory.

Dave Bautista also pops up as the unstoppable killing machine Brass Body, and while he’s not given that many lines (the actor is the first to tell you that his strengths are playing more on the strong and silent type), he’s a monstrous beast of a presence on screen and a formidable foe for RZA’s hero to square off against during the film’s climax. After this and Scorpion King 3, I’d like to see him doing more in the action world down the line.

Unfortunately though, it seems like RZA may have been just a bit too preoccupied with the production of The Man with the Iron Fists because as an actor he never feels like he’s really comfortable in the skin of his hero. His stoicism just plays it too straight for this world, and much of film’s lag in the second act comes from when we have to follow his character for an extended time. That’s not to say his performance was bad, it just felt rigid, and if given the chance to come back for a sequel, here’s hoping he gets to loosen up a bit for round two.

Longtime fu fans out there will absolutely go nuts for what RZA has skillfully created in The Man with the Iron Fists: a love letter to films like A Touch of Zen, Shogun Assassin and the aforementioned Five Deadly Venoms. Iron Fists is best when RZA steps back and lets his co-stars and the insane action by legendary choreographer Corey Yuen take over. His sometimes too-serious approach drags the story a bit in the middle act, but once things pick back up for the final epic showdown, that’s when The Man with the Iron Fists really shines.

Casual action fans might be turned off by the film’s more subtle nature, but for those who grew up on a steady diet of kung fu movies, The Man with the Iron Fists is everything you’d want in a modern fight flick and more.

4 out of 5

Discuss The Man with the Iron Fists in the comments section below!

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  • Terminal

    Did you really describe this film as “subtle”? Seriously? This made “The Expendables 2” look restrained. “The Man with the Iron Fists” is abysmal pseudo-Tarantino slop. We don’t even focus on the hero’s journey until 49 minutes in to the movie. Everything before that is badly staged fighting and filler.

  • kiddcapone

    I disagree. This review is way too forgiving for the films shortcomings.

    I LOVE martial arts films. My personal favorites include: Five Deadly Venoms, Chinese Super Ninjas, Master Killer, and Shogun Assassin.

    I couldn’t wait for this film, but I left totally underwhelmed. The characters were cool but it didn’t tell a cohesive well presentated story.

    Here’s my biggest problem: There’s too much shit going on. It’s overkill. There is not one single stationary shot of a fight scene in the entire fucking movie. NONE. It’s quick edits, comic book style panes, and zero development of any character.

    I love Wu Tang, I like RZA, but this film clearly suffers because of a first time director. I understand, it’s your first shot and your doing something you love, but you need to be able to hold back when necessary. Clearly, RZA wanted to make this movie since he was a kid and he didn’t hold back by throwing in everything possible including the kitchen sink. But it’s overkill, overdone, and under developed. There’s so many cool things going on but none of them end with a satisfying conclusion. It feels like watching a copy of better movies just done poorly.

    There wasn’t one single sustained choreographed fight sequence in the entire film. As quick as they start, they quickly are reduced to 3 different views on the screen at the same time, and then it’s over before you’re fully into the scene. It sucks. I LOVE these type of movies, obviously so does RZA, so does Tarantino, so how could they not see the same flaws?

    The Man with The Iron Fists: 2/5

    • nonserviam03

      I fall somewhere in between you and this review. I agree with a LOT of what you said, but I can forgive a lot of it. There’s definitely too much going on, the plot is pretty convoluted, and the characters are woefully underdeveloped, but the movie is fun and stylish, and when it starts to head into the third act things do start to simplify and tie together. The second half of this movie is a hell of a lot more cohesive than the first.

      I wanted it to be a lot better, but I still enjoyed it, and I do look forward to seeing RZA get better as he continues to make movies.

      I’d give it a 3/5

      • kiddcapone

        You didn’t think it was TOO stylish? It became distracting. It’s like every scene was filled to the max with props, scenery, and nameless characters.

        By far the coolest fight scene and characters were the Gemini Twins and the whole thing ended way to quick. There wasn’t one single mega-fight scene that pulls you in and knocks you on your ass. Perfect example: The Raid. Now that movie had some fucking fight sequences. That entire fight at the end with the brothers against mad dog was un-fucking-real. I couldn’t stop smiling. It made me want to stand up and cheer. This one had nothing but Tarantino like quirky sequences and fight scenes thrown in like they were an afterthought.

        They threw in some goofy backstory scene to explain RZA which makes zero sense considering he never once used any kung-fu. He was trained by monks but can’t fight? All he did was punch with his iron fists and not much more.

        • nonserviam03

          I didn’t think it was too stylish at all. The movie was incredibly tongue-in-cheek, and it didn’t really seem like it was trying to BE a great kung fu movie as much as it was trying to be an over-the-top send off to them. If we were to speak of this in terms of zombie movies, The Raid would be Zombi 2 and this would be Dead Alive. Similar material, but executed in a radically different way.