(2012)3Jeremy WheelerThe Man With the Iron Fists is a loving tribute to the Shaw Brothers era of kung fu flicks, backed with solid hip-hop beats and digitally aided modern grotesquery. RZA's directorial debut is a fun-as-hell trip down the memory lane of Saturday martial-arts matinees as he steers an impressive cast of stars from the East and West through a tale about clans vying for power and the almighty dollar -- or in this case, gold. Russell Crowe adds much-needed scenery chewing to the proceedings, channeling some of RZA's fallen comrade Ol' Dirty Bastard in the process. Admittedly, the film will mostly play to fans of the genre because it was made for them, which in no way is a knock on the movie; it's just a plain fact.
The "Man" in question is Blacksmith (played by the director), a former slave who supplies weapons to the different warring factions in China's Jungle Village. When Gold Lion, the leader of the Lion tribe, is killed by his lieutenants Silver Lion and Bronze Lion over a shipment of gold to be delivered to the emperor, it sparks a feud in the village. Although Blacksmith's goal is to collect enough money to run off with his true love (Jamie Chung), a prostitute at the local whorehouse, that plan runs amuck when Gold Lion's son, Zen Yi (Rick Yune), arrives in town seeking vengeance. Along for the ride are Lucy Liu as Madame Blossom, the head of the local lavish brothel, and Russell Crowe as the mysterious Jack Knife, a killer with a taste for women and booze.
RZA, with the help of co-writer and directorial mentor Eli Roth, cooks up a potboiler of a scenario -- one that's typical of the kung fu and Western genres. The musician channels old-school tricks of the trade by utilizing split screens and making sure that many of the voices have an over-the-top dubbed inflection, which only adds to the good times. As far as violence goes, the picture amps up the red stuff, mostly through digital trickery -- that might hit a sour spot for some, yet even they will appreciate its liberal use in the film. Movie magic certainly aids David Bautista's character, whose body morphs into solid brass, making him a formidable opponent for Blacksmith. Other highlights include Byron Mann, who turns in a gleefully villainous performance as Silver Lion. This RZA passion project brings together his loves and hints at talents we have yet to see. For now, kung fu fans will be happy that Iron Fists exists and is just as entertaining as they hoped it would be.
When the population of a village in rural China must defend themselves against a formidable enemy, a local blacksmith (director/star/co-writer RZA) forges the weapons they need to emerge victorious from the bloody battle to come. Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu co-star in this period action thriller co-written by famed horror director Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel).