"“Hip hop kung fu...”"
There have been a vast array of sub-genres ingeniously invented over the years, yet an untapped market is definitely the hip hop kung fu movie, so thanks to RZA - a heavyweight producer of the hip hop world – the injection of angst from the two respective cultures complement each other, joining forces triumphantly in his directorial debut The Man With the Iron Fists.
Not only does RZA – famed for his pioneering work with Wu-Tang Clan – direct and write (alongside Eli Roth) the feature, but he takes a starring role too, playing a humble blacksmith who becomes embroiled in a war where, although every party involved has a different motive, at the heart lies a treasure of gold.
Eccentric British soldier Jack Knife (Russell Crowe) is also chasing the fabled fortune, while Zen Yi (Rick Yune) is out to avenge his father's death, and Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu) hopes to defend her employees at the brothel she runs, one of which (Jamie Chung) is the blacksmith’s mistress. Although they are all fighting separate wars, the one thing that is consistent, is that all the fury seems to be aimed at a vicious gang headed by Silver Lion (Byron Mann) and his indestructible henchman Brass Body (Dave Bautista).
RZA must be commended for his first feature film, as you can see a host of influences evident in his work, such as Quentin Tarantino and Robert Clouse, the former working by way as a mentor to the director across the entire project, even earning himself a “Presented by...” credit at the very start of the movie. However you do lose track with the narrative at points, as there so many characters fighting different causes that after a while you forget who is after who and why. The battle sequences are well-handled though, with a comic book technique implemented for the final fighting scenes which adds to the fantastical, surreal element of the overall production.
Unlike the director, RZA's character is surprisingly more subtle, as although something of a lead role, the part itself is modest and not the one with all the catchy one-liners or big action scenes. Most of those are left to Crowe and Yune, although when the three come together they resemble a kung fu Sugababes tribute act. WWE star Bautista does well as the lead villain too, as within such a film you need to feel threatened by the antagonist to believe in him, and he needs to come across as being imperishable, and that he certainly does.
You could pick holes in The Man With the Iron Fists all day long, as there are evident issues and inconsistencies with accents, and choreography and some of it is all a bit cheesy, but that's part of the fun. This is a homage to kung fu movies of old, and they are by right very kitsch and over the top, which gives RZA a licence to play around with it a bit – and he does. Who cares if it's illogical?