The Man With The Iron Fists
RZA stars as The Blacksmith, making weapons in Jungle Village. The ruling clan of the village are the Lions, the head of which, Gold Lion, is assassinated by his subordinate, Silver Lion (Byron Mann). This begins a political chain reaction, in which other warring clans all begin clamouring for blood. Gold Lion’s son, X-Blade (Rick Yune), hears of his father’s death and heads to Jungle Village for vengeance, dodging assassination attempts from Silver. Eventually The Blacksmith gets his hands chopped off by Brass Body (David Bautista), a charming fellow who can transform his body into brass and is nigh-on indestructible. With the help of an Englishman, Jack Knife (Russell Crowe), The Blacksmith creates his finest work – brand new magical fists made of iron – and along with X-Blade they seek vengeance upon Brass Body and the Lions.
Despite the title, most of the film has nothing to do with The Blacksmith. Most of the time we are given to staring at grubby men with suspiciously well-groomed hair from the Hyena clan or the Wolf clan or the Who The Fuck Cares clan just talking and talking and talking in ridiculous American accents. None of it relates to the main plot and all of it is poorly performed. What we are here to see is RZA kicking ass – this begins so late into the film that by that point, Iron Fists has quite outstayed its welcome. It tries to be too many things at once; a political epic on the lines of The Romance Of The Three Kingdoms, a Tarantino-emulation, a slick martial arts beat-’em-up. This splits the attentional resources of the audience so that no threads in the film are given the chance to work.
RZA himself is almost entirely absent from the first half of the film, although we are given his intelligible narration, trying to explain what the hell is going on. The folk on-screen, meanwhile, loudly announce their intentions and internal machinations like an army of lobotomites. The action sequences are fine enough, although the use of wires look clunky and stupid. The film uses CGI blood, which is unforgivable, and is such an affront to the senses that it never fails to take you out of an action sequence. Ever heard of corn syrup, guys? Many shots are actually quite pretty, so kudos on the cinematography at least. It’s such a shame that we also have to put up with everything else to enjoy it.
There are some decent ideas here. X-Blade has a suit almost entirely covered in knives, which is very, very cool, and the two scenes in which he gets to use this suit are enjoyable, if brief. Brass Body looks fantastic but despite being billed as RZA’s ultimate nemesis in the promotional material, he ends up being just another thug. Silver Lion is portrayed as the Big Bad, but he’s little more than a simpering idiot. Byron Mann’s awful performance is only matched by RZA’s vacant and unlikeable presence. Every scene with him in is an utter chore. He’s stupefyingly uncharismatic and only looks notionally aware of his surroundings, yet everyone around him fawns upon him like he’s James Arthur (we understand he won The X Factor or something). RZA wrote his his character as a beloved chi expert, a master blacksmith and a husband to a smoking-hot wife, despite him constantly appearing to have the cognitive faculties of a couple of grapes. The unnecessary flashback sequence is the worst of all, a masturbatory self-congratulation that establishes RZA to be a Lv. 70 Chi Warlock whose specialty is enchanting inanimate objects.
Russell Crowe is almost entertaining in a couple sequences. Well, in exactly 2 sequences. Most of the time he’s clearly just phoning it in – he slips continually from an English accent to an Australian accent, and clearly only took the role for the cheque and because he gets to simulate sex with a harem of Chinese women. He also gets to lick Lucy Liu‘s face, which is uncomfortable for all involved. The worst part about his character is that his presence heralds an addition to the score: that string twanging so often associated with Australian music. This is decidedly odd, and stupid, since Crowe’s character, Jack Knife, is supposed to be English.
Overall there’s remarkably little to sustain either the average movie-goer or a lover of Chinese martial arts films. It might’ve been decent, but the direction just reeks. Co-writer Eli Roth appears to have had his suspicions about the quality of the film – the original cut was 4 hours long, which is a terrifying thought. There were suggestions of splitting the film in two, like Kill Bill, but Eli Roth pushed for this heavily-reduced version. Thank God – never before has sex, violence and martial arts felt so hollow, so pointless and so disappointing. How the hell did you do this, RZA? The film has brilliant ideas, but in execution it’s utter juvenile bollocks. Never assume that you can do anything, RZA. Next time get an actual lead actor, get an actual competent screenwriter, get a clearer focus on what it is you want to create. Or better yet, just make sure there is no ‘next time’.