Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 36 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Bloody Violence, Strong Sexuality, Language and brief Drug Use
Directed by: RZA
Written by: RZA & Eli Roth
Starring: RZA, Rick Yune, Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, David Bautista, Jamie Chung, Cung Le & Byron Mann
MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS is a movie that piqued my interest upon release, but I never took the plunge of going out to see it in the theater. That decision was probably for the best as I simply can’t imagine what a boring and agonizing an experience it would have been to stare at the big screen, fully knowing that I had just wasted 10 bucks and driven to a venue to watch 96 minutes of cinematic crap. RZA and Eli Roth were clearly trying to translate their love for stylish and ridiculous kung-fu epics into the ultimate homage film. The end result is MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS and it feels like a bad wannabe Grindhouse throwback.
In the nineteenth century Chinese village of Jungle Village (creative name), a nameless blacksmith forges weapons for the various clans intent on killing each other. He might have to create more than a few new weapons as news hits of a valuable gold stash being transported through his town. This moving treasure on the horizon leads to various clans fighting over who will steal the gold as well as a couple of dangerous folks intent on protecting the treasure and plenty of murderous plots afoot. The unnamed blacksmith finds himself siding with a violent British emissary to fight violent scoundrels, protect the gold and ultimately, his village.
The biggest problem with MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS is definitely the writing. This film is all over the place and never once seems to gain any solid footing. There are goofy attempts at humor, over-the-top characters, and a plot that weaves through too many sub-plots without giving us a single reason to care about any of them. It almost feels as if the story is making itself up as it goes along. The fight scenes are far too brief for the viewer to care either. There are no show-stopping stunts or memorable set pieces (save for one thanks to Russell Crowe). Instead, brief CGI-addled quick bits replace actual fight scenes and don’t necessarily do anything remotely fresh, original or exciting. I mean, you have a baddie who can turn his body into brass and he really doesn’t use that insane power to much effect.
RZA’s performance is horrible. Seeing as he pulled triple duty (directing, writing and starring) in this film, this was clearly his passion project. I just wish he hadn’t thrown himself into the title role. Though he serves as the would-be main protagonist, there are too many other characters and convoluted plot points to really care about his bland blacksmith with a convenient supernatural power. To make matters even worse, RZA provides a voice-over narration in a lifeless tone and wooden delivery. Still, there are a couple of brief redeeming qualities in MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS. Russell Crowe’s character is pretty damned cool, sporting the only memorable scene in the entire movie by sawing a guy in half in the first 10 minutes. A couple of jokes hit their marks, such as reactions from certain crowd members to the gory chaos around them. Apparently, this film was originally four hours long. Though I can’t imagine a longer version would fare much better (it might actually be far worse), this final cut of IRON FISTS definitely feels like a cut-and-paste job.
As cool as a couple of shots are and as unapologetically badass as the marketing was, MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS is a very lame movie. It feels like there are way too many characters, plot threads and ideas stuffed into one film. These problems leave little room for any character development or lengthy fight scenes as well as the hope of this flick getting any solid footing in terms of story-telling. I couldn’t care less about RZA’s blacksmith or his iron weapons of choice. The whole film feels unbelievably forced from its faux retro opening credits to the many plot points that are obvious references to kung fu films of the past. MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS looked too good to be true and rang completely false.