3 November, 2012@5:09 pm
RZA’s directorial debut comes in the form of The Man With The Iron Fists, a Quentin Tarantino produced, Eli Roth co-written homage to classic kung-fu films of the 70′s. RZA’s no stranger to Hollywood, having scored Jim Jarmusch’s now classic Ghost Dog, appearing with GZA and Bill Murray in perhaps the most memorable scene of Coffee & Cigarettes, and guest appearing on Californication as a rapper that aspires to be a director. Not quite a stretch on the latter.
The Man With The Iron Fists has the cool kids seal of approval, thanks to it’s endorsements from Roth and Tarantino, but borrows heavily from both directors’ brand of schtick, built around quirky characters, snappy dialogue, and retired actor cameos, such as Gordon Liu and Pam Grier, whom both appear here. Written by the RZA, directed by the RZA, and starring the RZA, this is very much a vanity project, but one that shows his other skills aren’t quite as razor sharp as his rapping and production.
While the film does do a fine job of capturing the elements of those early, classic kung fu films that inspired the Wu-Tang dynasty to begin with, it’s also hard to re-create the charm of those low budget, grainy, dubbed-in flicks, with a modernized, big budget effect driven film, with an A-list cast. Nevertheless, the kung fu in The Man With The Iron Fists is nothing short of awesome – despite a cheesy CG effect here and there – and the gore is crowd-pleasingly shocking and fantastic.
The two main issues that hurt The Man With The Iron Fists, however, are in the acting and the script. RZA’s performance is hard to take seriously at times, as are some of the more storied stars of Asian cinema who appear here. Lucy Lui is also very ham-fisted in her role, while Bautista’s literally colossal frame is fun to watch, despite being pretty wooden otherwise. Russell Crowe is the film’s saving grace, but despite no longer looking like a gladiator, he murders his challengers with ease. While some of the acting is overly cheesy on purpose, to invoke that old school feeling, it still kind of misses the mark.
The screenplay itself is the biggest issue, as the film is overloaded with clans and characters that help weigh down and convolute the story. This leads to several under-developed characters who are first set up to seem like the central players of the film, only to be killed off or brushed aside until the action scenes resume. RZA’s role is minor at first, then somehow becomes the core focus of the film, with a tacked on flashback sequence that attempts to add depth, but instead simply introduces another unneeded subplot.
One area that the film truly succeeds is in it’s soundtrack, naturally. RZA’s score is bigger than the work he did on Ghost Dog, with classic breaks and Wu-Tang hits remixed in to big, cinematic versions that fit the film well. The soundtrack overall is a cohesive effort in itself, with many well produced, memorable tracks, although admittedly seem a little weird at times when rap vocals blast over ancient Chinese martial art battles.
Ultimately, The Man With The Iron Fists is a let down. There’s a sure amount of people that will love this film, unable to differentiate the difference between this, and say, The Five Deadly Venoms, and to those people we say, drink it in and enjoy it. We can’t fault RZA for attempting to think outside the box and attempt to explore other areas of artistic expression, however it’s safe to say that he has not entered the film genre with grace. Then again, his rap career didn’t begin on the most positive note either. Either way, we still love you Rakeem.
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