Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Little Trouble in Big China, or Thoughts on The Man with the Iron Fists

 An affectionate tribute to Hong Kong action cinema and martial arts movies, The Man with the Iron Fists (2012) was filmed in China with authentic sets, costumes and Chinese Kung-Fu.  Written and directed by the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA with Eli Roth, it’s a completely immersive world with an old school Shaw Brothers vibe and an updated hip hop soundtrack.
Also starring the RZA as the Blacksmith of Jungle Village in 19th Century China, the movie features classic marital arts wire work while ripping arms out of sockets and tearing out throats like Sonny Chiba in The Street Fighter (1974).  The Shaolin trained (this is the Wu-Tang Clan, y’all) Blacksmith has been forging elaborate melee weapons for all the rival clans; the Lion Clan, Bird Clan, Wolf Clan, you get the idea.  The plot goes off in a thousand different directions (actually, 3); there’s the romance between the Blacksmith and Jamie Chung as Lady Silk, some stolen gold, Rick Yune as Zen-Yi, The X-Blade, avenging his father’s death at the hands of the Lion Clan, and a slave plantation/Shaolin temple flashback.  I’m not spoiling anything (it’s in the title) when I tell you that the Blacksmith forges a set of iron fists so he can fight all these guys.
The RZA is fortunately supported by a first rate cast including a bloated Russell Crowe doing his best Brando impression as Jack Knife, the Emperor’s Emissary and Lucy Liu as the elegant and deadly Madam Blossom, who runs surprisingly PG-13 bordello considering all the martial arts violence.  She also manages to defeat the entire Lion Clan without getting a single drop of blood on her golden kimono. 
Gordon Liu, Pai Mei and Johnny Mo from Kill Bill (2003) portrays The Shaolin Abbot in a clever meta cameo; he starred in Shaolin vs. Wu Tang (1983), which was the inspiration for the Wu-Tang Clan and sampled on their first album.  Pam Grier has a welcome appearance as the Blacksmith’s mother.
The movie suffers from an abundance of first rate supporting actors that split the audience’s attention.   Russell Crowe has a commanding presence, Rick Yune and Lucy Liu are charismatic and have the martial arts street cred, but regrettably the RZA has neither the acting strength nor the physical presence to carry the movie.  I ended up waiting for next ridiculous fight where people can fly or have metal skin and trash another Chinese restaurant in endless variations of Beatrix Kiddo's Battle in the House of Blue Leaves.
Russell and Lucy steal every scene they’re in and seem more comfortable in front of the camera.  I am reminded that during the filming of Enter the Dragon (1973) John Saxon assumed he was the lead and the movie was “introducing” Bruce Lee.  And while the RZA may be an international rap superstar, he ain’t no Bruce Lee. 



my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).