Music producer and motion picture soundtrack writer Rza stars in his Hollywood directorial debut, “The Man with the Iron Fists.” The film has a vapid story and some camera issues, but the gory violence combined with Kung Fu and gangster influences make “The Man with the Iron Fists” a mildly entertaining fight film.
The plot sets up an ideal formula for mayhem. A governor of ancient China sends a shipment of gold across the country, which makes a stop at the town of Jungle. The town is already thrown into chaos from a blood feud between tribes and clans. The arrival of the gold attracts scoundrels and criminals like flies to honey. Among the criminals are Silver Lion (Byron Mann), the second in command of the Lion clan who kills the Lion clan leader, Gold Lion (Kuan Tai Chen), and takes over the town. Zen Yi (Rick Yune), the son of Gold Lion, vows revenge against Silver Lion. Zen Yi teams up with a womanizing British cutthroat named Jack Knife (Russell Crowe) and a love-struck protagonist, known only as the blacksmith (Rza), to kill Silver Lion and liberate the town from the Lion Clan’s tyrannical grip.
Crowe’s performance is the most fun to watch. He plays the part of a stylized rogue with gusto. Though it gets hammy when he whips out a psychotic monologue from nowhere in his introduction scene, he transitions from psycho killer back into a gentleman of leisure with ease. Lucy Liu also enacts a solid performance as Madame Blossom, who appears as the polite matron of a bordello that the film’s story centers on.
The two Hollywood stars excel in this film, but the rest of the cast delivers dull yet passable performances. Mann tries to add sinister humor to his character, but it comes off as weak compared to the clout of Crowe’s performance. Most of the rest of the cast play hardcore action types, rolling their lines off with blank faces and a slightly angry or confident tone.
The film’s style combines “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” with “Crank.” Gangster rap songs play through martial arts brawls and shots of the risqué bordello. Thugs, assassins and femme fatales backstab and vie for dominance in a lawless land. Kung fu fights are abound with slow motion shots glorifying blood or eyeballs flying through the air. The film displays several exotic, but sometimes fun, weapons, including Jack Knife’s multi-tool blade. There are blades shooting out of a suit of armor and even a hit man with the mystical ability to turn his skin into metallic armor. The film flaunts wacky fun for fans of extremely stylized martial arts flicks.
The story is somewhat contrived and mostly passed along by narration through the blacksmith. The story also introduces numerous characters with little or no impact on the film at all, such as the Gemini Twins (Grace Huang and Andrew Lin) and an assassin (Daniel Wu) with an irrelevant backstory laid out during the last battle.
“The Man with the Iron Fists” is all about visual style. Though awkward camerawork can fail to capture some of the visuals, they still receive ample opportunity to shine. The shots sometimes lack focus, move too frequently or hold an awkward angle. This can make fight scenes needlessly difficult to follow or slower scenes irksome to watch. The camera does stand out in a few moments, such as with shots of the candy-colored bordello contrasted with the gloomy village, and a comic book-style framing of shots that culminates in a fight scene in a hall of mirrors.
The story and execution in Rza’s first movie may be choppy at points, but his fun style fusing west and east makes “The Man with the Iron Fists” a fair film.
Overall rating: 2 stars
RZA makes his directorial debut in “The Man with the Iron Fists.”