Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Man with the Iron Fists - Theatrical Review

Release Date: November 2, 2012

"The Man with the Iron Fists" was forged with an immense amount of passion and love, but it's unfortunate technical flaws hinder it beyond repair.

Review Vital Stats:  
Theater: AMC 30 city of Orange
Time: 9:00 am November 4, 2012   
Projector Type:  Digital 2D   
Film Rating: R  
Film Runtime: 1 hr 35 min
Studio: Universal Studios

Loves: Kung Fu flicks, Anime
Likes: Outlandish characters, over the top action
Neutral: Poor direction, uneven musical score
Hates: Poor acting
What does this have to do with Quentin Tarantino?: He only helped produce it

The quiet town of Jungle Village is about to get a whole lot louder when the Lion Clan takes refuge with a cache of gold they have just stolen from the Emperor's envoy. It doesn't take long before word spreads about the hidden fortune which attracts all sorts of attention from assassins, thieves and warriors alike who want to claim the gold for themselves. It is up the town's humble blacksmith (RZA) to provide protection for the villagers as an all out war begins between the opposing clans.

Passion projects can bring forth a person's true skill. If you love something enough, devote enough time, sweat, tears and heart to making something that has a deep meaning for you then more often than not, that something will transcend any sort of criticisms or technical merits it may lack. But sometimes a persons love for a particular profession, project or in the case of the RZA's new film, "The Man with the Iron Fists" (TMWTIF from hence forth), an homage to those classic Kung Fu movies, their passion far exceeds the skill necessary to bring their vision to life in the way it should. First time writer/director and star RZA's ode to the Kung Fu movies of his youth is clearly a product of his love for the genre, but his lack of experience behind the camera and his monotone performance as the lead actor detract from an otherwise fun throwback style martial arts flick.

A premise doesn't get more simple than this. Provide an object that multiple parties desire, in this case a cache of the Emperor's gold, and have them descend upon a hapless village town in the middle of nowhere and watch them fight each other off in hopes of winning the prize. If this set up sounds like a poor excuse just to have a bunch of people with unique talents and abilities fight one another, then you are exactly right. It is one step away from becoming one of those generic fighting tournament movies, but thanks in part to some interesting casting and its mercifully short length, "TMWTIF" more or less delivers on its paper thin premise with only a few, but important, stumbles along the way.

The allure for most, if not all, action films are the fights themselves and there are no shortage of bloody bouts here. RZA makes sure that at least once every five to ten minutes there is a fight that breaks out, and they are all unique in their own ways thanks to the myriad of bizarre participants. Inspired by the aforementioned Kung Fu flicks of old and a  healthy dose of Anime influences (mostly from the cult classic "Ninja Scroll"), each character and their larger than life personalities are defined either by their skill, weapon of choice or profession.

You have such colorful characters as The X-Blade (Rick Yune) who wears a special suit of armor plating that cuts through his foes, Jack Knife (Russell Crowe) who wields a knife-gun that gives its victims a twirl they won't soon forget, Poison Dagger (Daniel Wu) and his poisonous dart gun, the treacherous Silver Lion (Byron Mann) and Bronze Lion (Cung Le) along with the entire Lion clan,  the inseparable Gemini Male (Andrew Lin) and Gemini Female (Grace Huang), Brass Body (Dave Bautista) who literally turns his body into brass and finally there is the Blacksmith (RZA) who really needs no explanation as to what his skill is. All of these outlandish characters, plus many more believe it or not, are the meat and potatoes of "TMWTIF" and ultimately what makes the whole experience so darn fun.

Being fun is about all the praise one can give the film though unfortunately since it falls short in many technical areas such as its direction, acting and musical choices, all areas that the RZA oversaw. To say the way the film was shot looks amatuerish is doing it a favor; all those over the top action scenes that take up the majority of screen time are sadly hindered by a total lack of a coherent visual style. We see people flying around on strings and beating the crap out of each other and it is all fine in the moment, but you will be hard pressed to remember many of the individual encounters due to how plain they all feel. Even if you accept how poorly it was filmed, when the comic book panel style editing appears for the final battle, you will likely give up at that point.. If the multitude of fights present in "TMWTIF" were as interesting and unique as the fighters in them, then the way it was shot wouldn't be nearly as damning, but that isn't the case unfortunately.

The acting by and large is only adequate, with the lone exception being Russell Crowe who seems to be having more fun here than in any film he has been in the past ten years. Other staple actors also provide fine, if not safe, performances such as Rick Yune, Lucy Liu as Madam Blossom and Jaime Chung as Lady Silk, but most of the others really leave a lot to be desired, especially RZA in the lead role. You would be forgiven if you forgot this was his film, his labor of love, his passion project, for the way he mopes around the entire time mumbling his way through fairly generic dialog scenes would have one think he was forced to do it.

He isn't asked much by the script, yet he still finds a way to be as uninteresting as humanly possible. Oh and just wait for the ridiculous flashback scene which feels completely out of place with the vibe of the rest of the film. Not even when he eventually wields the iron fists does he make much of an impression which is a major problem. At least professional wrestler Dave Bautista makes up for his lack of acting chops by appearing to have a good time in a role that feels directly lifted from the aforementioned "Ninja Scroll" Anime, all the way down to his eventual fate.

Lastly there is the music. You would think a person with the credentials of the RZA (part of the Wu Tang Clan and responsible for arguably one of the greatest soundtracks from the past decade with "Kill Bill") would be able to slam dunk at least the soundtrack, yet its uneven mixture of classical instruments and hip hop stylings leaves much to be desired. Hit or miss is an understatement of the highest order. Often times there will be an appropriate musical queue that punctuates a scenes visuals but then we get shifted into what amounts to nothing more than a music video, and a bad one at that. The musical selections are not a deal breaker like the acting and direction, but it still sure leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

"TMWTIF" feels like a missed opportunity more than anything else. It's action is serviceable, but nothing very memorable, the acting is mostly subpar but other than the RZA's monotone performance in the lead role, it isn't distractingly bad and it succeeds at capturing the look and fell of the films it is paying tribute to, but fails in too many technical departments to be very memorable. However, fans of Anime and martial arts cinema will instantly click with the RZA's love letter to those Kung Fu classics. They know it isn't about story, character growth or any sort of awards for acting, and it most certainly isn't meant to be some life altering experience. Whether or not that was RZA's intention, that is exactly we he made, a fun and forgettable little movie that will likely fade from memory shortly after it is over.





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