Walking into the theater to see RZAís The Man With The Iron Fists the last adjective I expected to have on my mind walking out was ďboring,Ē but thatís really what the film delivers. While the director wears his love of the kung-fu genre on his sleeve, the whole thing suffers from poor structure and character development, a lack of consistent tone, and an inability to commit to its own period.
All set in feudal China in a town called Jungle Village, RZAís directorial debut has multiple stories working simultaneously, but the main connection between all of them is how haphazardly they are put together. First thereís the blacksmith (RZA), who no longer wants to make weapons and instead wants to abscond with Lady Silk (Jamie Chung); then thereís Zen Yi (Rick Yune), a warrior who learns that his father (Kuan Tai Chen) has been murdered by his own brother, Silver Lion (Byron Mann), and returns home for vengeance; and finally thereís Jack Knife (Russell Crowe), whose entire purpose is kept a secret, though he and Silver Lion are both after the same thing: a shipment of gold that is traveling through the town. Not only are all of these stories interwoven in an arbitrary way that prevents the audience from investing in whatís going on from scene to scene, the relationships and personalities of the characters are never actually explored. In fact, itís even hard to say that the film has characters, as theyíre more accurately described as ďpeople tied to a plot.Ē
The Man With The Iron Fists doesnít seem to know what kind of movie itís supposed to be. More often than not it takes itself seriously as a dramatic kung-fu film, but this is regularly undercut by material you expect from a spoof. Itís hard to take the plight of the blacksmith seriously, as he becomes racked with guilt about the number of lives his weapons have taken, when the central villain sounds like he is doing his own bad English redub. You want to laugh at the ridiculously cheesy dialogue, but itís weird when itís mixed in with the serious story of a warrior on a quest to avenge the death of his father. If itís not purposeful spoof then itís simply bad storytelling, and in this case I canít tell the difference.
And if it canít commit to characters or tone, why should we expect it to commit to its period setting either? While itís not as though the movie has cars driving around in the background of scenes, RZA never seems to make any effort to show off the time period and none of the actors commit to being in a past world. This would honestly be ignorable if it werenít for RZAís voice-over narration throughout the film, which is told in a very modern and is peppered with words like ďmotherfuckersĒ that immediately remind the audience that its 2012 and theyíre sitting in a theater. Itís the cherry on top that makes the entire 96-minute runtime thoroughly unengaging.
The Man With The Iron Fists so desperately wants to be Quentin Tarantinoís Kill Bill, but the final product isnít anywhere near the same league. The film does have some interesting choreography and the props department outdid themselves when it came to weapons, but the only reason to focus in on that stuff is because the rest of the movie is so unimpressive.
Reviewed By: Eric Eisenberg
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