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Review: The Man With the Iron Fists (2012)

The Man With the Iron Fists (2012)

Directed by: RZA

Premise: Set in a feudal Chinese village, a blacksmith (RZA) becomes entangled in a violent power struggle between rival clans and government agents. 

What Works: The one watchable element of The Man With the Iron Fists is Russell Crowe as a mysterious assassin. Crowe usually plays very staid characters but here the actor gets a chance to be colorful. The Man With the Iron Fists often has a decadent and even perverted tenor to it and Crowe embraces the debauchery, chewing the scenery with delight. In fact, Russell Crowe often appears to be the only member of the cast with any acting ability.

What Doesn’t: The Man with the Iron Fists ought to make critics of Kill Bill reexamine their critiques of Quentin Tarantino’s film because comparing the two pictures highlights just how good Tarantino’s epic was. Like Kill Bill, The Man With the Iron Fists imitates the kung-fu and grindhouse cinema of the 1970s with retro-looking credit designs and ostentatious editing techniques. In fact, The Man with the Iron Fists has several connections to Kill Bill: Iron Fist director RZA contributed music to Kill Bill, the film features Kill Bill actors Lucy Liu and Gordon Liu and was cut by Kill Bill editor Joe D’Augustine, it was co-written by Tarantino protégé Eli Roth, and the opening credits declare that “Quentin Tarantino Presents” The Man With the Iron Fists. But the film plays like a weak imitation of Kill Bill or like the film that some of Tarantino’s detractors claim they saw in 2003. Kill Bill was an homage to low budget kung-fu films but it was made with care. The characters were vivid, the fights were fantastically choreographed, photographed, and edited, and the story was a compelling tale of revenge with complicated human relationships and a marvelous narrative structure. By contrast, The Man With the Iron Fists is a mess of a movie. The filmmakers show no grasp of how to make a motion picture. There is no establishment of characters or basic plot mechanics. The filmmakers throw viewers into the middle of the action, and it is never clear who anyone is or what their relationships are to one another. Aside from Russell Crowe’s assassin, there are no characters in The Man With the Iron Fists. Characters are people with backstories, desires, flaws, and conflicts. The people of The Man With the Iron Fists have none of those things. The story is told with equal incompetence. Much of The Man With the Iron Fists amounts to long segments of boring exposition interrupted by sloppy action sequences. The filmmakers rely on voiceover during the dramatic sequences but all it does is describe the action playing out on screen. The combat sequences are bereft of even a basic understanding for how screen direction is supposed to cut together. Fights are sloppily photographed and it is often impossible to follow what is going on. The digital special effects of this film are very cheap looking and unconvincing. Equally unconvincing is the acting by RZA. He sleepwalks through his sceens, often looking confused, and he speaks in a contemporary dialect despite the fact that this story takes place in the distant past. The film also has some troubling gender politics. Almost all the women in The Man With the Iron Fists are prostitutes but what is troubling is the way that the film glosses over the sexuality as though it were added just for the sake of giving the movie a little sex appeal. In the ending the filmmakers attempt to subvert some of the sexist clichés but it ends up being as incoherent as the sexual-exploitation-confused-with-empowerment displayed in 2011’s Sucker Punch.

Bottom Line: The Man With the Iron Fists is another attempt to fabricate a cult classic but it is just a failure of filmmaking. The movie is inept at every level and it is a surprise it was allowed to go theaters rather than straight to DVD. 

Episode: #414 (November 11, 2012)