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November 3, 2012 | 12:00 p.m. CST
The Man with the Iron Fists was directed by RZA (pronounced “Rizza”), famed rapper from the Wu-Tang Clan. That should have been my first warning. I should have said, “Rappers aren’t directors. Nope.” But I didn’t.
The RZA is known for his unjustified obsession with Kung Fu. It’s pretty much what he raps about. And it’s pretty much what he directs about, too. This movie is a gut-spilling, screaming, knife-throwing, physics-defying work of Kung Fu cinema in it’s most absurdly grandiose. Which is sort of what you expect when Quentin Tarantino presents a film by a Kung Fu fetishist.
The plot of the film is confusingly simple. Some ambiguous “government shipment” of gold is being moved in China, and a bunch of warring tribes want to steal it. Also, Russell Crowe shows up as a gun-totin’, cigar-smokin’ rebel from Britain who somehow hears about this gold shipment from 5,000 miles away in time to arrive instantly. I guess news travels fast in the feudal ages. Our hero is a quiet blacksmith, unfortunately played by the always-sleepy RZA himself, who is a freed slave escaping persecution in what seems to be mid-1800s America. Yeah, I have no idea what time period this is supposed to be.
Our villain, played by Byron Mann, has recently taken leadership of the Lion’s tribe after having assassinated leader Gold Lion. He is cleverly named Silver Lion. His incredibly non-Asian accent goes unexplained, and his ridiculous hair looks like he should be playing bass for Panic! at the Disco instead of heading up a ruthless band of Chinese thugs.
Some of this can be attributed to RZA’s indulgent don’t-care attitude, a fascination in blurring cultural lines between feudal China and the modern West. No regard needs to be given to actual Chinese culture, as long as the result looks really, really freaking cool. And it does, but that doesn’t quite make up for the fact that everything else in the film is pretty awful.
Check this piece of dialogue out, for example. Dramatic scene: Silver Lion confronting two unarmed rival gang members in a meeting in a small room. Things are really tense. Silver Lion suddenly looks up at them, smiles charismatically, and says: “Friends, there’s no reason for your journey to end here. And by that I mean your life journey.” Whoop, there goes the mood.
There are at least three scenes in this film where someone eats a piece of seasoned chicken, is asked how it is, pauses dramatically, and says, “…Spicy.” With no reference to any part of the plot or character development.
The soundtrack of the film consists of what you’d expect from RZA: a mixture between Wiz Khalifa’s “I Go Hard” and moaning women. I guess that’s fitting for a film that indulges on the reckless and has no idea what it’s doing. But hey, at least the special effects are phenomenal. Theatrical blood spurts, a guy's body literally turns into brass when you punch it, and relentless spinning cameras make for some visual action that, provided you don’t pay any attention to anything else in the movie, is seriously spicy.