November 18, 2012

Movie Review: The Man with the Iron Fists

When I first heard that RZA was directing a kung fu movie, I have to admit to being simultaneously skeptical and intrigued. I certainly was interested, but it also sounded like one of those things that was just talk, especially upon learning of Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino's involvement. I just chalked it up to friends getting together and talking about things they would like to do. I honestly never thought it was going to be made. I am glad to be proven wrong.

The Man with the Iron Fists is wonderful slice of old school kung fu exploitation cinema. It is a movie that speaks to the old school martial arts fan in me. On top of that, there is an amazing level of detail here. This is like a mash up of classics like Shogun Assassin, Five Deadly Venoms, along with all manner of other Shaw Brothers-era classics.

It is no secret that RZA loves martial arts films, it is also no secret that he knows his martial arts history. He has done commentary tracks for some DVD releases and he has relayed stories of watching all day marathons as a child and how deep his affection goes. This movie is a testament to his childhood, to the genre, and too his developing skills as a filmmaker. Is it perfect? Of course not, but it is so entertaining and mesmerizing that it is easy to overlook issues.

The story is a simple one, RZA is the Blacksmith (simple, to the point, and reminiscent of Jose old school films where characters were known by what they did or their placement in their clan). He keeps to himself and makes the best killing weapons around. He makes for both sides and is working towards making enough money for him and his prostitute girlfriend, Lady Silk (Jamie Chung), to leave the village behind forever.

Things change when a fortune in gold makes a stop in the simply named Jungle Village. Its arrival brings with it all manner of other clans who want to get their hands on it, as well as a mercenary/opium addict, Jack (Russell Crowe). None seem to be ready to give up to easily. At the center of the gold's security is Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu), and she seems willing to play everyone against each other.

The movie builds to big final battle for freedom, peace, and gold. Nothing terribly deep, but it looks great, is a lot of fun and while there are plenty of over the top moments, RZA shows a lot of restraint, allowing characters to have quieter moments and using them to help build our involvement.

It is certainly not a movie for everyone, and that is fine. RZA, with writing assistance from Eli Roth and producing help from Tarantino, did not make this for everyone, he made it for himself and for people like me who appreciate this sort of thing.

The acting is fun, save for RZA,who does not seem all that comfortable on the screen, although it still worked with the overall tone. Crowe and Liu sink their teeth into their roles and do not let go, chewing into everything with tenacious glee. Byron Mann, Rick Yune and Cung Le deliver the goods as well, demonstrating plenty of kung fu swagger.

It does not seem to matter to me how simple the story is or how suspect some of acting may be. There is a level of craft and an eye for detail when it comes to the production design, the costumes, the weapons, sets, everything just looks and feels right.

If you are anything like me, you will like this movie. It is a breath of fresh air among the big Hollywood productions that litter the cineplex. This is the sort of project that is a joy to support and I hope he makes more films down the road.

Highly Recommended.

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