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The Man With The Iron Fists

The Man With The Iron Fists

Some people think of Quentin Tarantino as a mix-master who simply imitates film genres he loves. I disagree. If you think it’s easy to emulate older movies and put a personal stamp on the results, check out The Man with the Iron Fists, directed and co-written by its star, hip hop artist and music entrepreneur RZA, who happens to be a Tarantino protégé. RZA worked hard on this film, and it’s not bad for a first feature, but it can’t hold a candle to the unpretentious martial arts fare of the 1970s and 80s it tries so hard to replicate.

RZA plays a former slave who survived a shipwreck off the coast of China, where he learned to embrace Buddhism and now works as a blacksmith, forging weapons for various feudal enemies. (I’m not making this up.) It’s not easy to keep track of who’s fighting whom and why, which is just one of the movie’s problems. The gang leaders speak mellifluous English, perhaps as an homage to the dubbing process that marked “chop-socky” films (as Variety used to call them) of long ago. CGI effects that didn’t exist in the olden days of martial arts filmmaking are grafted onto a number of action scenes—and onto a behemoth of a bad guy named Brass Body who is all but unassailable.

Then who should turn up but a smirking Russell Crowe, playing a courtly but deadly British officer named Jack Knife. He elevates the proceedings with his effortless swagger. Lucy Liu is also fun to watch as the wily madam of a popular brothel that figures in the ever-unfolding plot.

RZA’s understated performance isn’t bad, but his staging of action leaves something to be desired. Clarity is essential in a film of this type, and as often as not he gives us chaos; an attempt to use old-school multiple-screen images doesn’t help. As for the screenplay RZA crafted with Eli Roth (another Tarantino acolyte), it has both the qualities and shortcomings of a cheesy 1980s Asian action yarn. If you can’t improve on the originals, I don’t see the point of mere imitation. Frankly, I’d rather watch an old kung fu movie.

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Brian Smith

A huge reason why this didn't work for me was that it was relentlessly oppressive, downbeat and lacking any joy. Even the periodic humor was…a downer. There was nothing good to take out of the film. The writers/director just seemed so negative through the art. There's no reason for me to spend money on that (lack of) entertainment. And the CGI action just didn't compare to the predecessors. I'll stick with the older films, both serious and non-serious.
Now, bring on Django Unchained!

mike schlesinger

A real revelation can be seeing those old Shaw Brothers epics (or any foreign film, for that matter) in their original subtitled versions, without the awful dubbing and cheesy sound effects. Based on what you and everybody else is saying, I suspect RZA apparently only watched the dubbed versions on cassette, and doesn't realize the general seriousness of these pictures. (That the action scenes are a mess is a given in these days of "chaos filmmaking.") I'm still going to go see it, and while I'm hoping to be pleasantly surprised, my expectations remain low.

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