Review by Mike Gallagher
Take one part famous rap artist, one part kung-fu action, a dash of Quentin Tarantino and you get The Man with the Iron Fists. A hyperstylized martial arts film, The Man with the Iron Fists is the directorial debut of Wu-Tang Clan leading man, Rza (AKA Robert Diggs) and hopes to pay homage to old school kung-fu movies with a modern flair.
The movie follows a lone blacksmith, played by Rza himself, who lives in a gang torn Chinese village in the 19th century. Here, the various gangs constantly fight and kill in a never ending power struggle. Because of his renowned skills, the blacksmith is forced to make elaborate weapons for the ruthless killers. The only way he can cope with this is by working to earn the freedom of his lover, Lady Silk, a prostitute at the local brothel. One day, two members of the Lion gang, Silver Lion and Bronze Lion, kill their leader, Gold, and take over the clan. The two use the Lions to start an all out war with the other clans and the country itself, forcing the blacksmith once again into the struggle, but this time, with Gold Lion’s son Zen-Yi and a British cowboy named Jack Knife (Russell Crowe), he vows to fight back to protect the village and the woman he loves as the man with the iron fists.
Now I am not very well versed in the kung-fu film genre, so I don’t have much to compare The Man with the Iron Fists to, but what I can say that it is one of the more unique films I have seen in a while. The movie’s strongest point easily comes from the cast of over the top characters, each with a distinct look and even more distinct ways of fighting people. There is a guy who fights with a suit made of knives, a pair of twins who take turns beating up their foes using each other as the weapons and several others that provide the chaos that is the film’s energized fight scenes.
All the brutal fights do however raise an issue. These fights get bloody – really bloody. You will see heads chopped off, guys turned into fruit punch fountains, and a guy at the wrong end of a gun powered knife. I normally don’t mind violence in movies, but there were parts where even I was shocked.
Another problem with this movie is with its lackluster acting. Much of the actors came off rather bland and while I could forgive Rza for not doing so well because he isn’t an actor by trade, but even veteran actress Lucy Liu, who plays the unofficial queen of the town, couldn’t seem to fill her roles well and it falls flat. Fortunately, there are a few exceptions. Russell Crowe plays the character Jack Knife, a soldier looking for a killer in town. He carries a knife/revolver hybrid and isn’t afraid to use it. He is sarcastic and bit of a jerk, but he has fun at what he does and it really shows in Crowe’s acting. Another notable role is Byron Mann as Silver Lion who gives a performance that is so bad its good. Silver Lion is this extremely campy villain who has a special kind of comic book style of evil to him. His lines are over acted and he looks ridiculous, but this is what make you like him.
Much like the acting, the plot of the film also suffers. In between the high octane bloodbaths, there is a plot going on with what is suppose to be character development, but it isn’t handled very well. Characters will share maybe two scenes together and they are best friends all of a sudden. There was even a time when a major character dies and I found myself not really caring because there wasn’t much time put into them. It also comes off as taking it’s self too seriously. Its hard to make people take a movie about a guy with iron hands fighting bad guys, so what they should have done was make it even more over the top and campy. By embracing the inherent silliness of the movie, it could have come a lot farther.
Overall, The Man with the Iron Fists is worth a watch if you like your kung-fu action. The fights and the crazy characters in them won’t disappoint in the slightest, but everything else will.