The Man with the Iron Fists
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When I saw previews of The Man with the Iron Fists, I was reminded of karate films from my youth - older ones like Five Deadly Venoms and Executioners from Shaolin and more recent ones like Mortal Kombat and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I noticed that a lot of big name actors had signed up for this film, so I decided to check it out and see if it was worth watching.
The Man with the Iron Fists stars RZA (also director and producer of this film) as Thaddeus, an emancipated slave that escapes his troubled past and ends up in Jungle Village (a town called Jungle Village in China? Really?!), plying his trade as a blacksmith. His goal: to make enough money to free his lover, Lady Silk (Jamie Chung), from the bonds of prostitution at the local brothel, the Pink Blossom. To achieve this, he finds himself making deals with the devil, forging weapons for the warring clans of the village.
One such clan, the Lion Clan, is in the midst of a struggle for power. The leader of the clan, Gold Lion (Chen Kuan-tai), has sworn to protect a shipment of gold sent by the Governor. Unfortunately, his second in command, Silver Lion (Byron Mann), has other plans and arranges Gold Lion's assassination. Gold Lion's son and heir, Zen-Yi (Rick Yune), learns of this treachery and vows revenge.
Meanwhile, a mysterious British visitor named Jack Knife (Russell Crowe) with a penchant for women, opium and deadly blades, has arrived at Pink Blossom. Incredibly gentile at some times and extremely violent at others, Knife has his own designs on the shipment of gold.
Unfortunately, Thaddeus finds himself stuck in the middle of this battle and it all comes to a head when he and Lady Silk find themselves rescuing a badly wounded Zen-Yi from certain death at the hands of Bronze Body (David Bautista). Will Thaddeus risk everything for enough money to leave Jungle Village with Lady Silk, or will his gnawing conscience get him killed?
As I watched The Man with the Iron Fists, I was torn. At moments, this film is a nice nod toward the martial arts films of the old days. Then, I would see a particularly poorly done special effects driven fight scene and shake my head. The narration of the film by Thaddeus borders on the ridiculous with Thaddeus first sounding like a well-spoken working man and later, like a ghetto class playa'. The music was a mix of Wu-Tang classic and rap, mixing the old with the new in a way that just came off rather weird in the film. I mean, this movie is supposed to be set back in the 1800s China, so I find it strange to hear rap during fight scenes...just saying. And the flashbacks...why does Pam Grier, portraying Thaddeus' mother, look like she's dressed in something out of the 1970s?
But then, there are the cool nods to the old chop-sockey films like the little beggars who are always smarter than anyone gives them credit for. Or the blades coming from everywhere on Zen-Yi during his fight scenes (I can't remember the name of the film this is from, but I remember an old karate film with the same hidden blade style). The flying martial arts girls were a nod toward older films as well as the scenes in which Thaddeus learns martial arts from the Buddhist monks. That training statue is almost a direct nod toward Executioners from Shaolin.
And some of the fight scenes were actually a lot of fun to watch. Like the one in the brothel featuring Lucy Liu - lots of action and innovation here. I loved the weapon that Jack Blade wielded, sort of a cross between a knife, a gun and a rotating blade. Cool!
And yet, I found that I really couldn't take The Man with the Iron Fists as a serious nod towards the old karate films. Where was the moment where a beaten Thaddeus works at becoming a newly improved lean, mean fighting machine? Sure, he has iron fists, but how is it that he can use them right away with very little problems, other than the inability to eat with chopsticks. The storyline was barely there and the acting, other than Crowe and Liu, was barely existent.
The Man with the Iron Fists is not a serious martial arts movie fan's type of film. Sure, there are some fun action scenes here, but for the most part, this is one of those movies that you watch when you want mindless action with too much fake, spurting blood and gore. Glad I didn't pay for a full price movie ticket to see this in the theaters and waited for it to come out on video. If I had, this review might have been a little more harsh than it already is.