The Man with the Iron Fists

The Man with the Iron Fists (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

After Gold Lion is betrayed by Silver Lion (Byron Mann), the son of the deceased, Zen Yi (Rick Yune), vows to get vengeance. Word has it that Silver Lion and his crew are making their way to Jungle Village to intercept the emperor’s gold from the Gemini Twins. Meanwhile, an Englishman named Jack Knife (Russell Crowe) arrives at the village and spends the night in a whorehouse managed by the elegant Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu).

“The Man with the Iron Fists,” based on the screenplay by RZA and Eli Roth, might have been a lot more fun if the writers had made a brave decision to excise the fat and amplify the gravity-defying action sequence ridiculousness. What could have been a seventy-minute film of non-stop adrenaline rush is consistently bogged down by a lame attempt of introducing background stories, particularly the title character (RZA)—who is not all that interesting in the first place.

At times the picture comes across as a dirtier, less elegant version of Yimou Zhang’s “Hero” and “House of Flying Daggers.” This is a compliment because it strives to fuse eastern—kung fu—and western elements—typical editing and feel of hip-hop music videos—to create something rather original. The result is a mixed bag but I would rather watch something different that works only once in a while than something expected but offering nothing new. I felt the performers’ enthusiasm in playing their roles.

The standout is Crowe, playing a character who loves to have fun with women. On one level, I was surprised that Crowe actually signed up for this material. Many actors similar or equal to his caliber would likely have turned down the offer immediately or would not even have considered it. On another level, I admired how Crowe plays Jack without ever winking at the camera. His intensity is controlled, as if he were in a dramatic role, and so when the humor presented in the script takes center stage, it feels right.

I did not at all buy into RZA as neither a creator of deadly weapons nor as a man who wishes to start a new life with a prostitute (Jamie Chung). Unlike Crowe and Yune, he does not exude a high level of charisma. It is clear that he has to work harder to reach the same level of magnetism as his co-stars but he does not.

Some of the fight scenes are beautiful. I enjoyed the showdown in the brothel as well as the short-lived appearance of the Gemini Twins. Like the great kung fu films, the picture treats action sequences like a dance—here, a dirty and grimy dance. The pacing may be offbeat at times, but there is an undeniable energy to them so one cannot look away.

Directed by RZA, “The Man with the Iron Fists” offers a disappointing in story but is quite eye-catching. It would have benefited greatly if Roth and RZA played upon their strengths as visual storytellers and abstained from jamming down sentimental stories down our throats. This way, it might have spared us the occasional boredom.

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