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The Man with the Iron Fists

2012 | 96 min | R | 2.39:1

The Man with the Iron Fists


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Movie appeal

Martial arts29%



Theatrical release date

 02 November, 2012
 07 December, 2012

Country of origin

 United States

Box office




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Screenshots from The Man with the Iron Fists Blu-ray

The Man with the Iron Fists Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, November 2, 2012

I’m delighted that the RZA received an opportunity to create a valentine to the fantastical kung fu films he enjoyed as a boy, a passion that’s carried throughout his entire life. However, the RZA isn’t an actor, a screenwriter, or a director, making his debut feature as a triple-threat, “The Man with the Iron Fists,” an exceedingly leaden picture, displaying a lack of finesse with seemingly obvious moviemaking elements. Glacial, stitched together with hopes and dreams, and submitting dreary action choreography and cinematography, “Iron Fists” makes plenty of lousy creative decisions as it unfolds. However, its most unpardonable sin is one of camp, treating the material with a pronounced silliness that undermines all this supposedly hardcore entertainment.

In the faraway Jungle Village, the Blacksmith (RZA) keeps to himself, forging weapons for the rival clans that populate the area, while taking time to plan his getaway with prostitute Lady Silk (Jamie Chung), who works in the popular Pink Blossom Brothel, under the watchful eye of Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu). When a shipment of the Emperor’s gold is about to make its way through Jungle Village, the Lion Clan and its merciless leader, Silver Lion (Byron Mann), plan to take possession of the prize, challenging longtime rivals the Geminis for ultimate power. Also hanging around town is British officer Jack Knife (Russell Crowe), who’s eyeing the gold for his own purposes, taking in the local women and preferred chemicals during his stay. When the Lion Clan and mercenary Brass Body (David Bautista) decide to remove the arms of Blacksmith, the former slave calls upon his spiritual training and knowledge of metallurgy to construct two iron hands to help with his plans of revenge, watching the entire village explode into violence over the gold.

I don’t doubt rap superstar RZA’s knowledge of martial art cinema, which seems encyclopedic, manifesting itself often during his time with the influential group, Wu-Tang Clan. It’s how RZA has elected to celebrate that kung fu lust that’s cause for great concern, bumbling the assembly of “Iron Fists” with co-writer Eli Roth. The movie is a mess, running all over the place to pay tribute to the Shaw Brothers productions of old, hitting highlights of political intrigue, clan combat, village tension, supernatural forces, and a spritz of romance, though I’d describe the chemistry between RZA and Chung as “total strangers.” Armed with a decent budget, the support of his peers, and a desire to bring a hip-hop extravaganza to the screen, RZA’s mission is certainly clear. It’s the execution that horrifically botched.

Parts of “Iron Fists” hold interest, including Crowe’s physical discomfort as he stomps around the film free of direction, turning a nothing supporting role into a bizarre display of overacting and female fondling, having a grand time rubbing tongues with the likes of Liu. The character of Brass Body also has potential, with RZA and Roth imagining a violent hulk who can turn into an impenetrable golden rock at will, preventing weapons from puncturing or slicing his skin. Unfortunately, the CGI used to bring the creature to life is on the iffy side. Still, the enforcer is a striking image in a movie that could use a whole lot more of them.

Dreary hip hop scores the feature, cranked up during the fight sequences. Said standoffs are always too tightly framed and randomly edited, making a natural flow of violence impossible, forgoing the economical Shaw Brothers shooting style to play into unwelcome trends, including a huge amount of CGI-born bloodletting, diluting the impact of the mayhem. “Iron Fists” is equally disheartening in the storytelling department, stopping the picture midway to recall Blacksmith’s journey from slave to enlightened laborer, while a subplot featuring political interests in the heart of China is shredded by the movie’s awkward cutting, with huge chunks of the tale yanked out of the material to protect a still bloated 95 minute run time. And don’t ask me how a man with no arms could wiggle his iron fingers. It’s one of many questions left behind at the end of the film.

Between RZA’s mumbly non-acting (casting himself in a hero role is a critical mistake) and the general uninspired chaos of the action, it’s impossible to make heads or tails of “Iron Fists,” with the end result somewhere between an intentionally goofy romp and a serious contribution to the tattered legacy of the genre. Whatever it is, “The Man with the Iron Fists” is more plodding than riotous, in desperate need of an actual filmmaker to clarify its sincere tributes and silly winks.

Starring: Russell Crowe, Cung Le, Lucy Liu, Byron Mann, RZA (I), Rick Yune
Director: RZA (I)

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