MANILA, Philippines - The RZA’s debut feature "The Man with the Iron Fists" is a wonderfully fun, very bad movie. It’s the kind of flick you head to with your buddies when you want to have a laugh, have a good time without thinking too much.
(RZA is the stage name of Robert Fitzgerald Diggs, Grammy award-winning music producer and leader of hiphop group Wu-Tang Clan. He has acted in movies such as "American Gangster" with Denzel Washington and "Due Date" with Robert Downey Jr.)
There are two ways to look at and enjoy this movie:
First is to take it as it is, a schlocky B-movie homage to the kung fu movies that The RZA and the rest of the Wu-Tang Clan loved growing up.
The other is to examine how this movie, when taken in contrast with something like Tarantino’s "Kill Bill Vol. 1," reveals how difficult and how brilliant Tarantino’s work is despite all of the claims that it is merely remixing or remaking previous work.
When we take the homage idea in, there is a lot to appreciate.
The RZA gets a lot of things right in terms of the look of the production, the vibe that he wants to create, and of course the music that plays when throwdowns start. You've got to love the use of Wu-Tang’s “Shame on a Nigga” although it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that this movie’s music would be good.
There’s a nice interplay between the hiphop music and the old school kung fu moves on display. It is obvious that The RZA loves his source material and he wants to put his own twist on it.
As far as story is concerned, well, it’s there but it isn’t.
I mean that while there is a rather convoluted story in place, all of it is an excuse to throw a bunch of people together so they can fight. There are clans, a gold shipment, betrayals and power plays, greedy thugs and, in the midst of it all, a blacksmith who also happens to be a black dude named Smith.
The blacksmith, played by The RZA, is in love with one of the girls at the local whorehouse, and they’ve got plans to get out of town. But those plans are foiled when the other gangs start rolling in and the couple is pulled into all the trouble.
It all sounds old school, classic, and familiar. And that’s how it’s played. There isn’t much innovation or novelty.
Imagine a group of friends in the backyard playing out a movie in their minds after they saw a kung fu double feature. They are thinking of the most outrageous twists and turns, the coolest things that could happen. That’s what this is, except it has got a Hollywood bankroll. To say that it is bombastic, over the top, and crazy would about fit the bill.
It is also lean on story, lacking in character development, and mostly forgettable. And if you have issues with the misogynist nature of hiphop, then this film will only further trouble you. Even the appearance of bad-ass ladies in the form of the Black Widow clan, Lady Gemini, and Lucy Liu are not enough to balance out the violence and objectification.
Then again it could be argued that all that is par for the course with this kind of flick, too.
Of more interest to people who are interested in film is the way that we can study "The Man with the Iron Fists" in relation to other post-modern remixes or mash-ups of classic kung fu action movies. What comes to mind is the way that Tarantino brought together various film styles, and also how Stephen Chow retold the history of film through "Kung Fu Hustle."
It is clear when you watch this movie that The RZA is well versed in the vocabulary of kung fu movies. He has obviously watched a lot of them and loves them. But his grasp and love do not translate to a novel, new film in the way that Tarantino’s or Chow’s films do.
In that sense, this is the kind of movie that we can forward in discussions that are dismissive of Tarantino’s style. He doesn’t merely borrow or cut and paste, but he reappropriates the films that he has seen, creating his own new kind of film from them.
The RZA means well, but he just doesn’t have the chops. Or maybe he doesn’t yet. He’s a talented man, leader of the Wu; he has made music for a lot of films. He has even done alright as a supporting actor.
But amidst his cast here that includes Russell Crowe (who does a great job of hamming it up — then again most of the acting in this film is hammy) and Batista who just has to glower and look intimidating, The RZA is outclassed. He can’t carry the film yet as a lead.
And while we see some potential here, he hasn’t directed the kind of kung fu movie that would be something to get excited about.
It’s a fun attempt. But it isn’t much of a movie. - Rappler.com
("The Man with the Iron Fists" is rated R-18. It is currently screening in Philippine cinemas.)
Carljoe Javier doesn't know why people think he's a snarky film critic who spends his time dashing the hopes of filmgoers. He thinks he's not all that bad, really. He teaches at the State U, writes books, and studies film, comics, and video games... Then again, those people could be right.