The Man with the Iron Fists (2012)

*. I was actually looking forward to this one. Big mistake.
*. What a disappointment. Especially given how I’m a big fan of the Shaw Brothers chopsocky epics of the 1970s, which this film is an almost slavish homage to. Where did they go wrong?
*. I think most of the blame has to be layed at the feet of writer-director-star RZA. Yes, RZA is his professional name. To give you some idea of how old and out of touch I am, I had never heard of him before. Apparently he was the leader of a hip-hop band called The Wu-Tang Clan, which I had heard of but whose music I’m unfamiliar with.
*. Whatever his musical accomplishments, RZA is no filmmaker. Even with what I’m assuming was a lot of help this is an unforgiveably dull martial arts film. Right from the pre-credit fisticuffs I knew I was in trouble, as the fight scenes just don’t work at all. RZA needed to up his game. And he is also no actor, joining a long list of pop stars who have tried to make the leap to the big screen and failed. He can’t even poke fun at himself. Which means what we have here is a sort-of amateur vanity project that isn’t amateur enough for its own good.
*. The story is actually OK. Despite the script being years in development, what they ended up with was a pretty decent tribute to Shaw Brothers kung-foolishness. There’s a caravan of the Emperor’s gold that’s being eyeballed by around a dozen masters of various martial arts styles, each identified by their distinct choice of weapon (poison darts, a mechanical knife, a coat of knives, a body that turns to brass). In other words, it’s a superhero movie, drawing on traditions going back before the advent of MarvelCrap. It could have been fun.
*. Despite the story being more than adequate, the script itself just isn’t clever enough. Russell Crowe seems to want to ham things up, but he has no good lines (and obviously can’t fight). RZA’s blacksmith looks like he’s falling asleep, and he doesn’t have any good moves either. The fact that neither of the two leads can fight, a rather large drawback, has to then be concealed with camerawork and other stunts like split screens and tons of edits. The only person who really seems to be enjoying himself is Byron Mann as Silver Lion, but he’s all on his own.
*. I think they tried to make it too much of a throwback. There’s actually very little here that doesn’t look like it belongs in the 1970s. Despite being filmed in China it’s a studio-bound production. About the only nod to being made in the twenty-first century is the gore, but it’s dull gore. Mostly just CGI arterial sprays.
*. I really shouldn’t have been surprised I disliked it so much. It is, in some ways, a sort of spiritual sequel to Tarantino’s own homage to the same genre: Kill Bill. In fact, it was while RZA was doing the soundtrack for Kill Bill that development on The Man with the Iron Fists got started, and the original cut was supposedly four hours long, so RZA wanted to release it in two parts, just like Kill Bill. Since I hated Kill Bill, this should have put me on my guard.
*. I suppose if you’re not familiar with the tradition it comes out of then it would be possible to like this more. But then, if you’re not a fan I don’t know why you’d bother with it in the first place. Meanwhile, even though I appreciate the spirit in which it was made, I came away from it feeling let down.

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