RZA’s The Man With The Iron Fists. (2012)
Written by Adam Leivers
After years of flirting with film through bit-part acting roles and producing film scores for Jim Jarmusch’s ‘Ghost Dog: Way Of the Samurai’ and in part Tarantino’s ‘Kill Bill’, the Abbott and founding member of what some would consider the greatest Hip-Hop collective to ever exist has finally struck out on his own.
His directorial debut ‘The Man With The Iron Fists’ sees RZA in his element, creating a truly modern martial arts film that acts as a collage of the Wu-Tang Clan’s noticeable influences and an homage to the classic kung-fu movies he loves.
Not content with being behind the camera, he co-wrote the screenplay with Eli Roth, the man behind Hostel & Cabin Fever, and also took the role of Thaddeus, a blacksmith in Jungle Village forced to forge weapons for rival clans.
It is this that brings his character into the foreground, learning that his craft caused the death of clan leader Gold Lion and causing a war which threatens the very existence of the Village.
As the film is heavily influenced by RZA’s love for martial arts, it has the same broken dialogue that plagued even the greatest of kung-fu classics and this hurts the viewers ability to truly believe the characters. However, because the RZA was able to get a co-sign from legendary auteur Quentin Tarantino, and has enlisted an ensemble cast consisting of Russell Crowe, Jamie Chung and Lucy Liu amongst others, this is often masked through charismatic performances and clear niche-culture references.
The direction of the film shows a decent effort on his part, sometimes mimicking the graphic novel look of Frank Miller’s ‘300’ and ‘Sin City’ within the fight scenes, but Robert Diggs’ acting leaves a lot to be desired. It almost feels like every line he says is being forced mid-defecation due to the overintensity of the delivery.
However, despite the emotion I felt for watching one of Hip-Hop’s greatest ever beatmakers struggle through simple one-liners, there is a lot to enjoy in The Man With The Iron Fists.
Silver Lion, the main villain of the piece, and fellow bad character Poison Dagger show a certain camp swagger in most of their scenes which adds fun to proceedings, while Russell Crowe is a welcome addition as Jack Knife, a man who enjoys the girls and booze on offer in Jungle village before being dragged into a fight in Thaddeus’ aid.
Crowe offers most of the comedy on offer through his dialogue and general demeanour, not least through his overuse of the phrase ‘chin chin’ while drinking from his hipflask and offering to put ‘the baby’s arm’ inside Lucy Liu’s brothel madame character.
Is it comedy you want? Well, Crowe isn’t the only one offering. Dave Bautista, otherwise known as Batista, is funny for all the wrong reasons as he fights, saunters, trundles and kills all with the same expression. It’s WWE acting at it’s best and I’m amazed that Vince McMahon hasn’t you know, given him a contract to wrestle or something.
Lucy Liu does a good job as Madame Blossom, reprising her ‘if-any-of-you-sons-of bitches-have-anything-else-to-say-now’s-the-fucking-time’ role from the aforementioned Kill Bill. It really is a film carried by the strength of the presence of some truly decent actors.
The choreography is always a huge part of a martial arts film, and honestly there is nothing in here that I haven’t already seen in films decades previous to this. For what is essentially a US film it has managed to remain true to tradition with the Shaw Bros-inspired intro and the feudal China setting.
As a Hip-Hop fan it was hard not to fall in love with the film immediately when you hear the horns of Wu-Tang Clan’s ‘Shame On A Nigga’ and the urban soundtrack feels surprisingly right at home in the otherwise unrelated themes of the film. If anything hearing Kanye’s ‘White Dress’ or Pusha T’s ‘Tick Tock’ create a soundbed for the movie to roll to only adds to its style and swagger.
I’d have enjoyed a few more Wu-Tang references: maybe a GZA cameo as a rockclimber playing an electric guitar or Ghostface Killah turning up as a villain called Ironman perhaps, but this is a minor gripe from an uber-fan.
Essentially, The RZA has made a busy film that falls short of being great but still manages to entertain by not taking itself too seriously.