Wu-Tang member RZA has a story to tell, and it’s one packed with a mixture of his obvious love of Kung-Fu, a cacophonous Hip Hop sound track, and odes to classic 70’s Kung-Fu flicks and spaghetti westerns. The music maestro has been busy in his lab with director Eli Roth, and has released his first big-screen debut film, The Man with the Iron Fists, which will be premiering in theaters today.
It’s loosely set in 19th century China, and tells the tail of a massive shipment of gold sent to the frontlines of an embattled emperor’s army, in order to support them. As it passes through a seedy and treacherous town known as Jungle Village, enemy clans and mysterious foreigners flock to the area, and inevitable bloody conflict arises. And it is bloody, from the beginning battle scene to the final grisly finale, the film is studded with spectacular fight sequences, where waves of deep crimson seems to spray forth as if from a fire hose. Legendary fight choreographer Corey Yuen (The Transporter, The Legend), a graduate of China’s famed Peking Opera School (along with Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung), handles the fierce encounters with deft aplomb. These violent showdowns are really updated versions of the classic “chop socky” films of the 70’s.
Slick cinematography and admirable production design adds to the retro flavor of the story, which plays out like a classic Leone or Corbucci Spaghetti western. The only thing that is missing in Jungle Village is a few drifting tumbleweeds. In fact, in this regard, along with the gonzo—Tarantino vibe that it emits, Fists seems derivative of similar genre films, such as Kill Bill, and Machete, most of which were pulled off in a more impressive fashion.
One thing that is done differently is the soundtrack. Thunderous Hip-Hop plods through the film, providing an almost ear-splittingly bravura aural onslaught. The music seems incongruous with the subject matter, but considering that popular forms of slang are used by the characters, and pouting models wearing make-up, posture in the background, it only adds to the mixed Chop Suey of influences that are stronger individually.
Cast: RZA, Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, , Byron Mann, Dave Bautista, Jamie Chung, Rick Yune, Cung Li
Producers: Mark Abraham, Eric Newman and Eli Roth
Screenwriters: The RZA, Eli Roth
Genre: Action/Martial Arts
Rating: R for bloody violence, strong sexuality, language and brief drug use.
Running time: 96 Minutes
Release date: November 2, 2012
RZA didn’t skimp on the casting, bringing in heavyweights such as Russell Crow, playing an imaginatively named character named “Jack Knife,” (guess what his weapon of choice is), and icy cold brothel owner Lucy Liu. The international cadre largely is delightful to watch as they ham it up in campy performances. They weren’t aiming anywhere particularly high as far as awards ceremonies are concerned, and as such are free to chew though their prospective scenes. Unfortunately, as with most rappers, RZA has one expression throughout the entire film, and his dialogue delivery is pretty lifeless.
Surely, much of the artistic drawbacks and derivative material will be lost on the legions of Hip Hop heads and hipsters who will inevitably flock to theaters today to see this, frantically typing away on their mobile devices to tell their friends what they’re watching.
However, Fists struggles to find its own identity, and as such, will be viewed and instantly forgotten by more discerning film goers. It is big, slick, and too-cool-for-school, but fails to make its mind up as to what it wants to be. But for those with short attention spans, this will probably matter little.
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