*. I really didn’t like The Man with the Iron Fists, but I held out a small sliver of hope for this sequel. Why? Because a lot of the time sequels to superhero action movies are more fun because they don’t get all bogged down in having to develop an origin story. Also, this film wasn’t going to be directed by star RZA (or The RZA, which he pronounces “The Rizza”). I figured that could only be a good thing.
*. I was wrong.
*. The story here is pretty basic. Thaddeus the blacksmith (he of the iron fists) is “on a path to Buddha.” This means he is renouncing violence in an attempt to “replenish [his] soul.” On his way to Nirvana (or the Wu Chi Temple, home of the fabulous Golden Nectar) he is swept downriver to a town ruled by a brutal overlord named Master Ho who runs the town’s silver mine with the backing of the Beetle clan. The miners, who are not slaves but serfs (or “bastard maggots of whoring mongrel dogs” in the words of Master Ho), are chafing at their bondage. Led by spirited family man Li Kung they begin to fight back, and Thaddeus is drawn to their cause.
*. I just finished typing that summary and I’m already wondering why I bothered. I don’t know why I’m bothering with any of this. Or, for that matter, why I even bothered to watch this in the first place.
*. Most of these martial arts movies are just excuses for the fight scenes, but despite not being hamstrung by the first film’s cast of less-mobile all-stars (Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Dave Bautista) the fights here are dull and unconvincing bursts of rapid editing meant to conceal the fact that there’s little choreography.
*. There’s also none of the comic-book spirit of the original, which had a bunch of heroes gifted with special powers or weapons. Here there’s just Thaddeus and his iron mittens, and some awkward metal booties at the end.
*. RZA has to be one of the most unlikely action heroes in all of film history. He doesn’t have a commanding on-screen presence and, for a martial artist, doesn’t move well. And then there is his voice, which (and I’m being charitable) may be characterized as marble-mouthed. His “r”s come out as “w”s and the “th” sound as an “f.” Without trying to be snarky, I think he has the worst English of anyone in the cast. At least it’s the hardest to understand.
*. Luckily, the movie isn’t entirely about him. In fact, he disappears for a long period at the beginning as the power dynamics in the village are set up. I say this is fortunate because the main characters here, Dustin Nguyen as Li Kung and Carl Ng as Master Ho, are both pretty good. Ng in particular gets a lot of campy, over-the-top villainous lines. It was a shame to see him dispatched so quickly at the end.
*. Yes, Master Ho was so named because he has a harem of hos. Get it?
*. I wonder why they bothered playing Morricone’s “Ecstasy of Gold” over the final battle in the village. Sure it’s a great piece of music, but how does it fit here?
*. How could journeyman director Roel Reiné have thought that having a kung-fu fight underwater was a good idea? He says on the commentary that he’d never seen it done before. Did he ask himself why he hadn’t seen it done before?
*. The locations and sets in Thailand are picturesque. Thailand is a place that always looks great on film. I’ve never been, but I’m told it isn’t as nice a place to visit. I don’t like heat and I hear it’s very hot.
*. Apparently the filming took place around Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, which is where that soccer team was trapped in a cave in 2018. I don’t know why I made that connection. Maybe because of all the time spent in caves here.
*. I just don’t get the sense that anyone cared a whole lot about this one. It was a direct-to-video release, which is usually not a good sign. More telling is the fact that on the DVD commentary track with RZA and Reiné, RZA simply walks out at around the hour mark, saying that he has to go work on some music. Left on his own, Reiné talks about things like how he had to shoot the movie in 20 days but then didn’t stick around to work on it in post-production because he had to go shoot another movie in Denmark. This all suggests a certain level of disengagement, if not indifference, to the finished product.
*. Well, my time may be worth a lot less but I too have other things to do. I actually didn’t hate this movie. It has a couple of cheesy-fun moments. But even if that’s your thing I don’t think they’re enough.