Not Quentin Tarantino: A Review of “Man with the Iron Fists”
My Rating of the Film
© 2012 by Aurelio Locsin.
Contrary to what the commercials and trailers imply, The Man with the Iron Fists is not directed, not written and not produced by movie legend Quentin Tarantino. It is merely presented by him. He does appear before the start of the film to tout his latest oevre Django Unchained. I wonder how much he was paid to associate his name with this movie.
The main star is a rapper named RZA who is also listed as the writer and director. Presumably, it is his music that assaults the picture at key moments. The only problem is he can neither write (“Reports of my demise are greatly exaggerated”) nor direct (enjoy the split screen montages that went out of fashion in the late 70s). However, it looked like at least three directors had a hand in this, given the different styles of several scenes. The IMDB shows no lead director for the piece – just unit and assistant directors.
As for RZA’s acting abilities, the stone lion dog statues showed more emotional texturing and acting variety than he did. But that’s okay because all the actors showed uneven abilities ranging from stilted to overly melodramatic. Even movie stalwarts Russel Crowe, Lucy Liu and Rick Yune had performances that were all over the map in terms of quality. Only Dave Bautista, ex-pro-wrestler and now MMA fighter, showed surprising variety, emotional depth and good diction in his appearances.
The convoluted plot, much of it narrated by the blacksmith (RZA), is about a British agent (Russel Crowe) in service to the Chinese emperor, a Chinese Madame (Lucy Liu) and the son of a murdered clan lord (Rick Yune) going after the emperor’s gold, which was stolen by Silver Lion (Byron Mann). The action takes place in the isolated Jungle Village in China at around the last half of the 19th century.
The action sequences were spectacular, exactly like the kind you expect from a Hong Kong martial arts spectacular. The spurting blood and lopped heads framed exciting choreography that included flying sequences, shooting, swordplay, and old-fashioned punches and kicks. Among the more inventive delights were the Gemini fighters, a husband-and-wife team that fought as one unit, Russel Crowe’s gun-dagger and Rick Yune’s armor, which had more secret weapons than Batman.
Sadly, only about 15 minutes of the film was involved with any action. The film’s playing time was cut down from the original four hours to 96 minutes, according to IMDB, though it felt much, much longer, with too much superfluous dialog and plot. The cutting disrupted certain story lines and character development. I felt sorry for Rick Yune’s sidekick. It was obvious from his billing in the credits that he was meant to play a prominent role, most likely as comedy relief, whose murder was meant to propel Rick Yune to action. Instead, the sidekick was reduced to a non-speaking extra whose death became meaningless and casual.
Much of the film showed the detailed Asian sets and historical costuming that could only be filmed in China. Yet other portions showed anachronisms, such as the hot pants and beachwear on the prostitutes, and the intrusive rap music. Some of the dismemberments and injury special effects looked surgically real, and other seemed straight out of an elementary school Halloween play.
I enjoy Hong Kong martial arts flicks as well as my partner, who dragged me to this tour de farce. And can take them for what they are: dazzling displays of fighting skills, intricate costumes and Asian fantasy. But this film could not decide if it was a grindhouse parody, standard Asian martial arts escapism or a historical epic. Replacing RZA with an actual writer, director and actor might have elevated his vanity piece to something watchable. But not even the Asian hunks or Dave Bautista’s spectacular body can save this disaster. I’m only giving it one star because that’s the lowest rating. I’d go to –1 if it was available.