So you saw the trailer to “The Man with the Iron Fists” and it adrenalized you to see it. I mean, it has all the elements you personally like such as: martial arts movies that are impressively choreographed, violently-bloody-driven action sequences, hokey jokes from the villains and heroes, Russell Crowe who is one of your favorite actors and one who adds credibility to the cast, a hip hop infusion from the respected Wu-Tang’s RZA to make it “cool” and Quentin Tarantino putting his name and reputation on it. Yes, I thought the exact same thing too until… I saw the movie.
The story is an action-adventure martial arts throwback film, inspired by the kung-fu classics from the 80’s such as “Fury of the Dragon,” “Black Samurai,” “Godfather of Hong Kong,” “Fists of Double K” and “Five Deadly Venoms”. It tells the story of warriors, assassins and a lone outsider hero who all descend on one fabled village in China for a winner-takes-all battle for a fortune in gold.
On paper, it’s hard for any studio to dismiss this movie, but, not everything that is on paper works. Not to bog you down with sports analogies, but look at the powerful offensive minded New York Yankees who were swept in the playoffs by the Detroit Tigers for exactly not hitting, and your Los Angeles Lakers, who by far have the best starting lineup in basketball history, are 0-3 to start the season. So how does one explain these things? Chemistry. When you have great film elements at your disposal, it is the director’s job to have them flow seamlessly amongst each other, and not live individually. This is where you have to blame tyro helmer and screenwriter RZA (real name Robert “Bobby” Fitzgerald Diggs) for not having the experience to recognize the devil in the details. Is it all bad? No, but as a result, the movie is lifeless.
“The Man with the Iron Fists” has one evident earmark too hard to ignore and that is RZA’s involvement. This is obviously a vehicle to infiltrate himself into the Hollywood universe, since he is not an actor by trade, evident in the film (he was god awful). If no one will hire him, he’ll hire himself by being the director, writer, composer and co-lead in his own film. He did have help from fellow journeyman Eli Roth who produced, co-penned the script with him and made an undetectable cameo as a Wolf Clan member, according to the production notes, regrettably he offers little help here.
Visually, the movie is top notch. It is the jokes that aren’t funny and the acting as a whole is just abominable. All your left with then is the action to propel the film forward. In this regard, the martial arts sequences are intricate and ambitious. It truly is the movie’s only saving grace.
Overall, “The Man with the Iron Fists” doesn’t have that much to offer on the inside. It’s just flash, all steak and no sizzle. Do yourself a favor and save your money if you can. I recommend you catch a better selection of contemporary martial arts classics on Bluray/DVD that will surely provide you with a superior and more memorable cinematic experience:
– “The Raid: Redemption” (this year’s best action film marked by its harshly gruesome Indonesian martial arts sequences)
– “Ong-back” (no wires, stunt doubles, or CGI, just beat downs in every sense of the word)
– Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” 1 & 2 (they’re intense, engrossing, filled with rib-cracking laughs and you just can’t seem to get enough from them)
– Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (one of the best of all time)
– Jackie Chan’s “The Legend of Drunken Master” (this is one of Chan’s career defining works)
– “Kung Fu Hustle” (perhaps the most entertaining movie on this mini list because of it’s bizarre, outlandish humor and exciting action kung fu scenes)
– “Chocalate” (a rarely talked about gem featuring a female fighter), “Hero” (some say better than ‘Crouching Tiger’)
– “Fearless” (one of, if not, Jet Li’s finest work)
As of the posting of this movie review, “Ong-bak” and “Fearless” are currently on Netflix streaming, thus allowing you watch these immediately.