Brendan Kergin, Arts & Entertainment Editor Ω
As much a stylistic audio-visual piece as an action-packed homage to kung fu films past, The Man With The Iron Fists walks the line between enjoyably over the top and just straight forward over the top.
RZA, of rap super-group the Wu Tang Clan, tries his hand at acting, scripting and directing in this period piece set in China during…the 19th century probably? It’s never entirely clear and the date isn’t entirely relevant. In fact, much of the film relies not on logic, or common sense, or what should happen, but rather on what would be cool. It should be noted here that RZA and co-producer/co-writer Eli Roth, are friends and oft collaborators of Quentin Tarantino (who “presented” the film, which amounts to little direct involvement).
The setting is the Jungle Village, a rough town in China, where the majority of the characters are Asian but speak with American accents. The town is run by a variety of clans based on animals, the most powerful being the Lions, the central clan of the film.
A shipment of gold is sent through the notorious locale to soldiers in the north and the story follows the plots and battles for said gold. While the list of baddies and goodies is extensive, the central plot is straight forward with most of the build-up to the battles dealing with character’s back story. The favourite son of an assassinated clan leader out for vengeance, the travelling secret government soldier, the greedy clan leaders, they all end up on one side of good or evil and fight the other.
The strength of the film lies in its aesthetic value. So many of the visual details were planned out and designed by RZA and Roth. Costumes are intricate character representations with unique weapons matching their personalities and fighting styles.
Of course, the super choreographed fight scenes are another highlight. While many film fights can seem chaotic, uncertain messes, The Man With The Iron Fists hand-to-hand combat is easy to follow with great camera work.
Despite the great aesthetic value, the plot is flimsy. While the characters are supposed to be one-dimensional caricatures to an extent, there isn’t one character to cheer. The fact someone lives or dies lacks impact to an indifferent audience. There are also some pretty big jumps in plot, though this could be due to the original version being four hours long. The editing could be stronger as well, with some odd choices at points, but it shouldn’t distract theatre-goers too much since they are never fully drawn in.
Fans of films from Hong Kong will enjoy this. The mash-up rap/kung fu/western is appealing, but cinephiles will note it lacks any real grip.