100 Films in a Year

The Man with the Iron Fists (2012)

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2014 #79
RZA | 91 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA & Hong Kong / English | 18 / R

Starring, co-written and directed by rapper and Asian culture fan “the RZA” (he previously contributed to transnational anime Afro Samurai), The Man with the Iron Fists is a riff on old-fashioned chopsocky actioners. The plot is some guff to do with the transportation of imperial gold through a gang-war-riddled Chinese village, but really that’s just a way to string together some outlandish characters and equally extreme action sequences.

Unfortunately, the plot is a bit dense for that. As a first-time filmmaker whose relative fame has clearly enabled him to jump in at the deep end rather than hone his craft, the RZA’s storytelling is muddled, which helps to obscure an already complex narrative. It renders the film tediously dull in places — which isn’t helped by the writer-director-star’s mumbled voiceover narration. He’s not the right choice for the lead, but I suppose that’s wish-fulfilment for you. Among the rest of the semi-starry cast, Russell Crowe hams it up something rotten and easily steals the movie, though credit to villain Byron Mann for an equally OTT performance.

It’s hard to tell how much is a stylised genre riff and how much is just bad moviemaking. The screenplay is frequently atrocious, some of the acting equally so. The visual direction is largely competent, even if it struggles to string a story together. The fight scenes are pretty good, with some moderately innovative ideas scattered around, particularly the array of inventive weapons. Really, we could’ve done with a greater percentage of action — the fight scenes are a fair length as they are, but sometimes seem too spread out compared to the awkward plot in between.

It’s a bit of a mess, then, yet somehow entertaining regardless. Despite a generally unfavourable reception, a (sadly Crowe-less) sequel is supposedly due later this year, with a new director to boot (of such cinematic masterpieces as Death Race 2, Death Race 3, and The Scorpion King 3). Put it this way: I’ll still be watching.

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