Charged with guarding a fortune in gold by The Emperor, Gold Lion is betrayed by his gang who take it for themselves. Holding up in a village of vice the gold becomes a target for all the martial arts gangs as well as teams sent by The Emperor, with a lowly blacksmith and the workers of a house of ill repute caught in the middle, but everyone has their own secrets.
Fans of martial arts films are probably aware that the Wu Tang Clan’s RZA is a long time aficionado of Hong Kong and Japanese cinema. In the past he has lent his musical talents to such projects that capture his attention as Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai and the excellent anime Afro Samurai, but now, evidently feeling he has the talent to add his own twist to the genre, has helmed a film for himself.
And when I say ‘helm’, boy do I mean it. On The Man With the Iron Fists RZA acted as Director, co-writer (along with Hostel’s Eli Roth), co-producer (along with Tarantino), music supervisor and composer as well as being the film’s narrator and titular character, with an end result that could be considered by most to be a stinker, but wears its love for Shaw Brothers productions on its sleeve and to those in the know is both a grindhouse-like pleasure and a loving homage.
It’s a duplicitous situation that the vast imperfections that permeate the film will at once put off regular cinema goers and excite genre fans, but then, if it’s a film made only for this small target audience then it’s not exactly the end of the world as it only cost around $15,000,000 to make; its US cinema run alone recouping that sum.
If the Grindhouse project that Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez pioneered had been more successful, this paired up with, say, Hobo With A Shotgun, would have been a great follow up; genuinely channelling that rough-edged spirit that Death Proof kind of fumbled.
The Man With the Iron Fists for all intense and purposes IS a Shaw Brothers film, with all that that entails, good and bad; the story is not only ludicrous but makes very little sense with character twist coming from nowhere, the sets and exteriors are lavish and quite beautiful, the martial arts while weapons heavy, crazy and showy are not as break-neck or thrilling as the style developed over at Hong Kong’s rival studio, Golden Harvest, the young Asian cast are ridiculously attractive, the weapons are inventive and the characters have names like Silver Lion, Brass Body, Lady Silk and Jack Knife.
So pitch perfect are the Shaw Brothers beats that it’s difficult to tell weather RZA is an incredibly talented observational director, or just a bit rubbish but knows what he likes. I guess time will tell with that one.
With such as Lucy Liu and Russell Crowe as the leads in what surely must be described as a lowbrow film, one might expect them to phone it in, but that really isn’t the case, with Crowe especially looking as if he’s having a whale of a time, which, along with a hip-hop soundtrack, that you would expect to, and indeed DOES, kick ass, proves the highlights of the film.
It’s a tough one to call. If you know what Eight Diagram Pole Fighter is you should love it, if you get the concept and irony of Grindhouse you should enjoy it, but for anyone else it’s probably a bit of a crap-shoot; but love it or hate it, it is my opinion that RZA has delivered exactly what he intended to.
C grade – for storytelling
B+ grade – for visuals
B grade – for action
C+ grade – for originality
Overall grade – B-
The Man With the Iron Fists is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the US from February 13, 2013.