The Man With the Iron Fists Movie Review
Rapper-turned-actor-turned-filmmaker RZA is clearly influenced by cohorts Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth as he indulges in this crazed pastiche of 1970s kung fu action romps. It's energetic and often quite funny, but far too silly to come together properly, mainly because he never adds any sense of post-modern wit. If the action scenes were more coherent, it at least could have been a guilty pleasure.
In a 19th century Chinese village, an American ex-slave (RZA) is known only as Blacksmith, forging weapons for gang members to raise the money to buy his girlfriend Lady Silk (Chung) from the local brothel's Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu). But their fate is caught up in a battle for power after the patriarch of the Lion clan is murdered and the swaggering Silver Lion (Mann) challenges rightful heir Zen Li (Yune). After a vicious attack by Silver Lion's muscled henchman Brass Body (Bautista), Zen Li is rescued by Blacksmith. And they get help from Englishman Jack Knife (Crowe) to fight Silver Lion and his thugs.
The title refers to something that happens about halfway in, when Blacksmith forges new arms for himself after being attacked by Silver Lion for helping Zen Li. This sets the stage for an orgy of metal-on-metal battling (there are also bronze and copper characters), leading to a clattering showdown between Blacksmith and Brass Body, who for some inexplicable reason can morph his body into, yes, brass. As such a wild fantasy, it's not surprising that the plot makes so little sense, although a bit more genuine character depth would have helped hold our interest.
Instead, we remain detached watching the wry, absurd fight scenes. These are lavishly choreographed with a combination of whizzy wire work, digital trickery and bombastic 70s-style musical cues, then shot and edited in a way that makes it hard to see what's happening. Basically, the main goal seems to have been to let the actors chomp mercilessly on the scenery while striking a variety of camp poses. As a result, there's virtually no chemistry between RZA and Chung, and therefore no emotional stakes to the story. Superficially, the movie is loud, messy and often quite funny. But most of the time we're laughing at it, not with it.