The Man with the Iron Fists is a new martial arts film from RZA, best known from the Wu-Tang Clan, and Eli Roth. In some ways this is a loving tribute to old school martial arts films. Unfortunately, it's not a very good one.
I'm a little torn here, and I have mixed feelings about RZA's story and direction. I was looking forward to this, as I know RZA is a huge fan of martial arts, so I was a little disappointed at what ended up on screen here. However, I've heard that the original cut was intended to be over 4 hours long, and RZA suggested splitting this up into two films. Eli Roth disagreed, and the movie was cut down to 96 minutes. Apparently RZA was so disgusted with the editing process that he walked out at one point. I can't say I blame the guy. If the movie isn't what his intended vision was, can I really slam him too much for it? The movie is poorly edited and I felt that there was very little backstory or character development for many of the characters. Maybe the original cut of the film had these elements though.
What's it even about? Basically, from what I could tell, it's about gold and revenge.
The movie centers around the Blacksmith (RZA), who also narrates the film. He needed to, otherwise, you wouldn't have known what was going on at all. The Blacksmith is trying to save up enough money so he and his girlfriend, a prostitute played by Jamie Chung, can go away together. He eventually becomes the title character as the story progresses.
There's the Lion Clan, lead by Silver Lion (Byron Mann) and Brass Lion (Cung Le), who are after some gold being transported by the Gemini Clan on behalf of the Emperor. They also killed the leader of the Lion Clan, Gold Lion. The son of Gold Lion, Zen-Yi (Rick Yune) is after them to avenge his father's murder.
Jack Knife (Russell Crowe) - yes, his name is Jack Knife - is a British soldier sent to retrieve the gold on behalf of the Emperor. I think. This is where I think the editing came into play as I didn't get his motivation or role in the film at all. Initially, it seemed like he was after the Blacksmith, but then allied with him almost instantly. As much as I like Russell Crowe, I think he was really miscast here, especially when there were any action scenes involving him. His performance was silly at times.
The movie starts out campy and I thought it was going to be a film that I was going to enjoy for it's intentional badness. It did have those moments, but there were times where it was just plain bad or silly. The dialog and narration is terrible, as is the acting. When the audience would laugh, there were times it felt they were laughing at how bad it was, not laughing with it.
The one character I actually enjoyed was when Dave Bautista would shows up as "Brass Body". I didn't think his acting was bad, and he was a character that I felt might had some depth to him had he been in it more. He's a mercenary that can turn his body to metal, kind like a gold Colossus from the X-Men. It was a cool effect, but his ability seemed more reflexive than controlled, as he doesn't use it all the time. You'd think if he'd control it, he'd stay in the form for the duration of a fight, but maybe it was simply that they didn't have the budget to do the effect that much.
Speaking of, the overall look of the film is very nice and you can tell a lot of detail went into the sets and production design. It's another example to me of RZA's knowledge of the genre. Another thing I liked was the soundtrack. There's something about the mix of hip hop and martial arts action that works.
The Man with the Iron Fists is simply a bad movie. It's poorly acted, edited and doesn't even deliver on kick-ass martial arts action. I appreciate what RZA was trying to do here, but it's too heavily flawed and it's just a mess. I really wanted to like it, even on that 'bad on purpose' level, but it didn't work for me. If you're a fan of the genre, I advise you to save this for a rental.
2 (out of 5) Death Stars