Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Man with the Iron Fists Review

If The RZA set out to make a fairly cheesy, campy, over-the-top kung-fu action film with some cringe-worthy performances and dialogue, then he succeeded in droves.  And I’m fairly certain that that is the point of The Man with the Iron Fists.  For the most part that vision shone through, with some incredibly well-executed fight set-pieces featuring copious amounts of blood.  There are two issues with Iron Fists that keep it from becoming something special (a la Black Dynamite): an uneven tone and a story that is just all over the place.

I have no problem with films that are intentionally bad; the aforementioned Black Dynamite is a personal favorite – it knows exactly what it is and what it’s trying to do and embraces it wholeheartedly.  The issue with Iron Fists is that some of the time the film’s self-awaredness shines through during insanely terrible dialogue and acting.  Then, halfway through the film, it gets very serious during a flashback to the Blacksmith’s (The RZA) past as a slave in America.  The flashback is actually very cool; it’s shot in black and white with splashes of color here and there.  The problem is that the film grinds to a complete halt during this sequence.  The pacing and editing was pretty fast-paced during the first half when the focus wasn’t on the Blacksmith.  After the focus shifts back from the Blacksmith to other events, the film picks up its pace again.  This sequence is one of the more “serious” moments in the film; the rest is relatively light-hearted and fun.  I take no umbrage with introducing serious elements, but when it’s the only part of the larger film…well then it just feels out of place.

The story itself is just all over the place.  One would assume that a film called The Man with the Iron Fists would be, in fact, about a man with iron fists, and that he would be the main protagonist.  In reality, there really isn’t a main protagonist.  There’s more a collection of good guys that we’re rooting for.  We aren’t really introduced to the Blacksmith until that flashback sequence.  Before that he was just a character that we saw make some weapons.  The real focus of the narrative revolves around a shipment of gold being transported to northern China.  Several factions want the gold, with the Blacksmith getting caught in the middle.  The veritable iron fists don’t show up until the last 30 minutes of the film, and even then they aren’t the main focus.  Yes, they’re featured in a cool fight against Brass Body (Dave Bautista) in the finale, but I honestly cared more about the gold and Russell Crowe’s Jack Knife than the Blacksmith and his mission of revenge.

The film really should’ve been called Jack Knife, because Crowe’s character is the most interesting and intriguing character in the film.  And he carries a ridiculous spinning knife/gun thing.  He’s a lone gunman who just shows up and eviscerates a dude to free up a prostitute.  We don’t really know who he is and why he’s there until the third act, and even then he was still the best character in the film.  There should’ve either been an entire film devoted to his character OR the Blacksmith’s, not an amalgamation of several storylines that just get jumbled together.

Don’t get me wrong, I had a blast with Iron Fists.  It’s cheesy and over the top in all the best ways; Crowe just chews scenery as Jack Knife.  The kung fu set pieces are akin to something like Kill Bill; heads are uppercutted off of their torsos, chest cavities ruptured, and arteries severed ad naseum.  Rick Yune’s Zen Yi wears a badass black suit of armor that has retractable spikes on almost every surface.  Lucy Liu gets in on the action, decapitating bad guys with a spinning blade-tipped fan.  There is just so much fun to be had with this movie if you don’t take any of it seriously (except the parts where they want you to take it seriously).

If you’ve seen any of the trailers then you know pretty much what you’re getting into here.  Despite some major hang-ups with its jumbled story and iffy acting, Iron Fists is just plain, gory fun.  Check your higher brain functions at the door and just sit back and enjoy.

The Man with the Iron Fists is a flawed but incredibly fun kung-fu action film.

The Bearded Bullet

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