Where should I begin? We all should know that Wu Tang Clan ain’t nuthing ta f**k wit’ and know that their music is greatly influenced by countless 70s and 80s Asian Kung Fu flicks, including ones directed by the Shaw brothers. The group’s name is a dead giveaway, so it’s perhaps no surprise that the Clan’s Rza would make a film steeped in this world!
Most of these films were cheaply made with poor translations to English, which resulted in bad dialogue, but they always portrayed a battle of good versus evil with opposing clans and ancient fighting styles. More often than there was a mid-film montage that shows the hero’s story in flashback, intercut with them training before the main event. These films are steeped in Chinese and Japanese mythology and are usually an entertaining watch, despite their obvious flaws.
More recently the Kung Fu film has evolved with the likes of Ong Bak (2003) and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000) but still maintain a few of the above core values. We had an amazing homage to these old school films with the latter half of Kill Bill Vol 1 (2003 (why haven’t they brought out Kill Bill Complete’ yet? Seriously, that would make a fortune on Blu-Ray and a limited cinema release!) with Uma Thurman’s quest for vengeance and Lucy Lui’s delectable O-Ren Ishii.
Quentin Tarantino has presented’ The Man With The Iron Fists, much like Hostel (2005) and the excellent Hero (2004), but I wonder if he had any real involvement in this film as unfortunately this movie’s showdown at the Pink Blossom is far less cinematic and overall this film is a bit of an ugly mess.
The film is set in 19th century China in a town called Jungle Village. The town’s blacksmith, imaginatively called Blacksmith (Rza), forges weapons for the various opposing clans so that he can buy the freedom of his lover, Lady silk (Jamie Chung), from brothel owner Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu), and escape together to live their lives in peace. Meanwhile the governor has entrusted clan leader Gold Lion with protecting a large shipment of gold that has to pass through the village, but is betrayed and assassinated by his lieutenants, Silver Lion and Bronze Lion, so they can steal the gold.
Gold’s son Zen-Yi (Rick Yune) hears of his father’s death and travels to the village to seek vengeance. The emperor’s emissary Jack Knife (Russell Crowe) arrives and gets a room in the Pink Blossom brothel whilst secretly searching for the gold. Enter other opposing clans in ridiculous costumes (eg. the Wolf clan wear wolf skin) and a ridiculously bad-ass mercenary aptly named Brass Body (Dave Bautista) and the Gemini warriors. Lots of fight scenes ensue and I’m not going to spoil the film’s title, but let’s just say that the idea is a bit far-fetched even for me.
That said, his is not a film you watch for its plot, dialogue or acting. You will watch it if you’re a fan of bloody Grindhouse cinema, the Wu Tang Clan or the predictable but entertaining Kung Fu films of yesteryear. This is an excellent homage to 70s Kung Fu cinema and for all the bad I will say about this film, I will firmly state that this is an entertaining flick and definitely one for a Friday or Saturday night, and is also the best Wu Tang Clan music video ever made!
But it does beg the question as to why Russell Crow is in this? We know he likes fightin’ around the world’ with his trusty pal Tugger (or at least that’s what South Park would have us believe), but I truly wonder why he signed on for this flick. Granted he has a lot of fun playing English Ambassador Jack Knife and kicking ass, although I was truly expecting the line that’s not a knife’ just before you see some of his toy’s hidden tricks. But if you ever wanted to see his head in a bath emerging from a woman’s crotch with anal beads in his mouth, then this is the film for you! There’s also a rather racist bit where they Asian’ him up with some hilarious eyebrows, but he goes along with the fun of it.
As such he is the standout in this film, but then again he is a great actor although this is a far cry from Gladiator (2000). Rick Yune’s performance of Zen Yi is completely believable and Lucy Lui is also a stand out but that’s about it. The rest of the cast are very wooden and Rza should have has a few acting lessons before casting himself as the lead. One of my friends described his performance as being similar to that of a toad. Most of the character names are more like titles in this film but at least you can remember them.
But on a plus the action sequences are generally well choreographed and violently gruesome, with some imaginative uses of weapons, poisons and spiked armour. One thing I wanted from a film like this was to see someone’s head get punched off and I’m pleased to say it didn’t disappoint. WWE wrestler Batista’s character, Brass Body, is a hardened brute in this film. His presence is that of someone who you definitely would not want to mess with as his skin turns to metal upon impact, but this is not explained. However I am now looking forward to seeing him in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) after his presence in this film.
The fight scenes fit perfectly with the soundtrack, which mostly composed of songs by the Wu Tang Clan members and Rza, but also featuring Black Keys and Kanye West. The composed songs aren’t up to the standard of the ones Rza made for Kill Bill Vol 1 (2003) or the excellent Afro Samurai (2007), but this film is basically gangstas in Asia’ so it doesn’t matter too much.
Throughout this film I was wondering how much it was intentionally made to look bad like fellow Grindhouse homage Planet Terror (2007) or if it was just shoddy amateurish filmmaking. The dialogue is pure cheesy rubbish, the acting is mostly wooden, we have some very wobbly camerawork and the whole film unfortunately comes across as a corny cheese fest. The cinematography is great and I loved the use of multiple panels in some shots as it made this film look and feel like a comic. Overall I was impressed with what they have done with this film’s $15 million budget as it looks a lot a lot richer than most made for the same amount.
The Blu-ray comes with both theatrical and unrated editions, for which I watched the latter. Picture and sound quality is the standard I expect from Blu-Ray, highlighting the gore and some of the more colourful sets.
The deleted scenes add a bit more to the film but were gladly trimmed seeing as the final cut drags out a bit (the first cut was reportedly 4 hours long). A look inside The Man with the Iron Fists’ shows how Rza teamed up with Eli Roth and Tarantino to make “a fat joint of my own but states that “the main thing is to have fun in this brief promo. I can’t argue with that.
A Path to the East’ has the producer’s talk about Rza’s quest for authenticity and the inevitable trip to shoot the film in China. It’s a decision I’m glad they made as they do have some stunning locations and I was pleasantly surprised that they also used a Chinese crew who had worked on several Kung Fu films.
On the set with Rza’ is a documentary divided into brief sections. The Journey Begins’ shows the first day of the shoot, Casting Legends’ features Gordon Liu, Respect the Classics’ has Rza listing his influences, Visualizing the Story’ shows Rza stating the importance of have a good story boarder and 12 weeks to prep the film, and finally First Person Shooter’ shows him behind the camera. It is obvious that he has a long term love affair of classic Kung Fu movies but it’s just a shame that this love didn’t translate to the finished product.
What’s missing is an animated prequel used to promote the film that featured the Blacksmith and Brass Body’s first encounter. which is a shame.
Overall Verdict: If you’re expecting anything other than the Wu Tang Clan Kung Fu film then prepare to be disappointed. However for fans of the group, Kung Fu and Grindhouse films with over the top gore then this is the no-holds barred film for you. It’s trash, but entertaining trash none the less!
A look inside The Man with the Iron Fists
A path to the East
On the set with Rza
Reviewer: George Elcombe