‘The Man with the Iron Fists’ Review

Published 1 year ago by , Updated November 2nd, 2012 at 1:56 pm,

Man with the Iron Fists Review starring RZA Lucy Liu and Russell Crowe The Man with the Iron Fists Review

The Man with the Iron Fists is the passion project of RZA (pronounced “Rizza”), who has always been very open about his love of the martial arts movie genre. In fact, hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan (which RZA founded) owes their very persona to the martial arts flicks created by the likes of the Shaw Brothers (Five Deadly Venoms) and Gordon Liu (The 36th Chamber of Shaolin). Man with the Iron Fists is not just RZA’s directorial debut, then – it is a love-letter to a celebrated branch of cinema.

Today’s martial arts films are a bigger box office draw than they were in the ’70s and ’80s eras of the Shaws, or Liu – so RZA is an untested director working in a very demanding genre. Is passion alone enough to set Man with the Iron Fists on the same level as the films it seeks to pay homage to?

RZA’s knowledge of martial arts cinema and his funky hip-hop swagger are imprinted all over the DNA of the film, which results in a very mixed bag. While Man with the Iron Fists has its strong points (the action), it’s ultimately an experiment that suffers more setbacks than breakthroughs.

Rick Yune and David Bautista in Man with the Iron Fists The Man with the Iron Fists Review

The story takes place in “Jungle Village,” a savage town in rural China where warring clans of warriors all seek to rule the land. Caught in the middle of the chaos is the Blacksmith (RZA), whose skill at crafting weapons makes him the paid lackey of every clan wishing to eliminate their rivals. However, the Blacksmith has a different agenda: use the money from selling his deadly wares to escape Jungle Village with his love, Lady Silk (Jamie Chung), a prostitute in Madam Blossom’s (Lucy Liu) bordello.

Meanwhile, chaos is erupting all over Jungle Village. The governor has a shipment of gold passing through – gold that every clan wants for themselves. When the noble Gold Lion (Kuan Tai Chen) is betrayed and assassinated by his second-in-command, Silver Lion (Byron Mann), the fallen leader’s son, Zen Yi “The X-Blade” (Rick Yune), comes seeking revenge. This vendetta quickly erupts into all-out war, bringing other killers – like the insatiable Jack Knife (Russell Crowe) and impenetrable Brass Body (David Bautista) –  into the ring. From there, it’s a showdown to the last man (or woman) standing, as destinies are discovered and blood is spilt all over the streets of Jungle Village.

Lucy Liu in Man with the Iron Fists The Man with the Iron Fists Review

Lucy Liu in ‘Man with the Iron Fists’

As stated, Man with the Iron Fists is very much a RZA product – for better and for worse. The musician/filmmaker’s knowledge of the genre comes in handy: his script (co-written with Hostel director Eli Roth) is full of colorful characters and ideas, while his direction of the martial arts sequences draws upon the canon of films that made the genre so popular, offering some admirable action excitement. However, those same characters are far more interesting in concept than actual characterization – and narratively speaking, the “story” of the film is as poorly developed as its players are.

The movie takes itself way too seriously for what it is (a silly action flick) and attempts several “twists,” all of which fall utterly flat, as the “revelations” tend to confuse more than surprise.  Instead of character development or foreshadowing, we’re given heavy-handed exposition drops and awkward flashback sequences that feel totally at odds with the other portions of the film (see: The Blacksmith’s slavery-drama backstory). This problem extends to other areas, and Man with the Iron Fists feels, in total, like a mismatched pastiche work. The hip-hop soundtrack often rips you right out of the film, as it’s completely incongruent with the imagery and atmosphere (I say this as a personal fan of many of the featured musicians). The dialogue is similarly problematic, oscillating between overly-dramatic martial arts platitudes and crude modern slang terminology. In short: the movie can’t decide exactly what it wants to be, and that confusion is perennially apparent as you watch it.

Russell Crowe in Man with the Iron Fists The Man with the Iron Fists Review

Russell Crowe in ‘Man with the Iron Fists’

RZA must have called in a lot of favors to gather the cast that he did. The musician has never been the best actor, and wisely keeps his screen time to a minimum for the first two-thirds of the film (which is ultimately strange to see since he is the titular character). Keeping us occupied in his stead are a portly Russell Crowe, who chews the scenery down to the gristle; Lucy Liu, who is almost a carbon-copy of her Yakuza leader character from Kill Bill; Byron Mann, who tries to inject some actual theatricality into his villain performance, while Bautista, Rick Yune and martial arts star Cung Le (Tekken) are basically there to showcase their physicality.

The film also offers plenty of Easter egg cameos that only the most hardcore movie fans will recognize: International stars like Daniel Wu, Brian Yang, Grace Huang, Zhu Zhu and Andrew Lin show up in various roles. Some aging martial arts movie stars are also thrown in the mix: Kuan Tai Chen, star of the Shaw Brothers classic, Five Deadly Venoms, cameos as Gold Lion; Jon T. Benn riffs on his “Boss” role in Bruce Lee’s Way of the Dragon by playing a plantation owner known as “Master”; and 36 Chambers star Gordon Liu appears as the wise old “Abbott” (an alias RZA adopted for his hip-hop career). ’70s blaxploitation star Pam Grier (Jackie Brown) shows up for a split-second during the strange slavery-drama flashback sequence – though she’s all but unrecognizable.

Byron Mann in Man with the Iron Fists The Man with the Iron Fists Review

Byron Mann in ‘Man with the Iron Fists’

The action in Man with the Iron Fists – which is really the big selling point of the film – is just okay. Some of the fight choreography and ‘wire-fu’ acrobatics are wonderful and exciting, but too much of the film relies on tightly-framed quick-cut editing techniques and CGI blood spurts. There are hints of classic martial arts flicks peppered throughout the action sequences, but much of it looks like the work of an amateur director getting a great deal of help from more experienced personnel. By the time RZA straps on those eponymous iron fists to get in on the action, said action has devolved into almost ridiculous spectacle. The man has love for films, but still has a long road to travel before he becomes a quality filmmaker in his own right. The potential is there, though.

Man with the Iron Fists is only for those who love their martial arts flicks no matter how cheesy or silly – or those who love the (sometimes discordant) mix of Asian and hip-hop culture. As it stands, the film is destined to become a cult-classic seen ’round the bootleg or cable TV movie circuits. Theater tickets, however, are a bit too steep a price to pay.

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The Man with the Iron Fists is now in theaters. It is Rated R for bloody violence, strong sexuality, language and brief drug use.

Our Rating:

2 out of 5
(Okay)

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51 Comments

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  1. i knew it would suck, i think this is one of the bad movies good actors do (Russell Crowe)

    • Crowe is friends with rza that’s why he did it.

    • DO NOT WASTE YOUR MONEY….Horrible movie….

  2. yeah i kinda suspected it would suck but i think its of one of those types of movies i would like. i liked sucker punch because of it style and i think the same would apply to this movie. saying that though i loved the transformers trilogy so maybe i like movies that people think just suck :D

    • Same here :D

    • Ditto.

  3. “but too much of the film relies on tightly-framed quick-cut editing techniques and CGI blood spurts”

    I feared that. Thats the biggest mistake he could do,and i must say,I expected more of RZA after he was so in love with asian cinema !
    Less cuts,one take action with some real cool martial arts in it !
    Still will give it a try…but the review sounds not so good !
    Thanks Kofi !

    • That’s a little disappointing. For me, the only thing this movie had to do to be successful was get the action right. Usually, tight shots and quick cuts are tricks employed to hide the fact that the actors can’t fight that well or are too slow. RZA’s assembled quite an impressive cast of physically skilled actors here. He didn’t need to do much more than put that camera far back, hit the record button and let them do their thing. I’ll see it anyway, but I’m glad to get the heads up.

      • Exactly. Quick cuts are just annoying. In the great 1970s martial arts era of Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Bill Wallace, Jim Kelly, etc there were no quick cuts. You saw the fighting clearly and could enjoy it. Quick cut editing is just as annoying as shaky cam. I think directors who use it are idiots- what’s the point of filming a sequence in which the audience can’t see the action? It’s almost designed to obscure rather than reveal what’s going on.

        I was inclined to watch this because I’m a fan of Cung Le’s MMA career, and I would marry Lucy Liu- I worship the ground she walks on- but I will not, to register my protest at these bad directing techniques. Bring back the old ways of filming fight scenes!

      • Couldn’t agree more with you !
        You got people in front of the camera who know how to fight,you really do not need those quick cuts,and close ups !
        Take the camera back and show some cool fights ,with long takes so you can see whats going on and feel the energy flow !

        If that would have been in this film..it would have done all things right i need to watch it !

        Still will give it a try one of this days,if it comes to a cinema near here !

        • I’m a big martial arts fan, but I don’t like wire work. I feel it takes away from the martial artist natural talents. Every action director should go watch every Bruce Lee movie and just copy past how he did it. Best fight choreographer hands down. One thing I will say about George Lucas, he knows how to shoot fight scenes. The fight scene between the Jedi and Darth Maul was shot and edited perfectly. Oh, and Ip Man had great choreography also. If you haven’t seen it go check it out.

          • I’m a big martial arts fan, but I don’t like wire work. I feel it takes away from the martial artist natural talents. Every action director should go watch every Bruce Lee movie and just copy paste how he did it. You could clearly see that action. No close cameras. Best fight choreographer hands down. One thing I will say about George Lucas, he knows how to shoot fight scenes. The fight scene between the Jedi and Darth Maul was shot and edited perfectly. Oh, and Ip Man had great choreography also. If you haven’t seen it go check it out.

            • Sorry, supposedly my first comment didn’t go through. and now i can’t delete it.

            • I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of The Stunt People, but they’re a group of independent action filmmakers and stunt performers. This is a clip from their movie “Contour” and it’s a good example of how to choreograph and film a fight scene. Pay attention at around the 2 minute mark. The final take of the fight scene lasts more than two minutes – no cuts. Hollywood (and arguably not even HK) has come up with anything as creative or exciting as this in a long time:

              • That was absolutely atrocious. Not only did it have all sorts of cuts, it also had shaky cam. That was very, very bad.

                A fight scene should be like watching an MMA OR kickboxing match on TV. YOU don’t see the camera jumping all over the place, and the point of view changing every 2 seconds. You can watch the skill of the fighters without being distracted by the editing.

                Bruce Lee’s fight with Chuck Norris is a perfect example.

                • @Etrigan
                  Given the examples you listed as good models, I can see why you wouldn’t enjoy that clip. I can appreciate a more purist style of screen-fighting as well, but I found the action in this scene to be intricately staged. Those were some complex exchanges in there. They may have used cuts here and there, but the camera was far back enough to see the entire movement (no fists or feet out of frame) and I was never confused as to what was happening on screen. More than half the length of that 3.5 minute fight scene was shot in one take. You gotta at least give ‘em that. As far as the shaky cam goes, they shot the whole movie on a $5000 budget so they likely didn’t have a steadycam for those tracking shots. I think they did extremely well for a small crew of friends acting on a fraction of a fraction of most action movies’ budgets.

                  Just to keep the convo going, what do you think of 80s era Hong Kong martial arts movies when Jackie Chan and Jet Li were in their physical primes?

              • Javes,
                that was much better then most Hollywood Movies are doing an action scene ! Thats what you get when u have real fighters in front of the camera ! But as Etrigan well said,i feel so as well..focus should be on the fighters,and u should be able to watch the action,not guessing it !

        • Agree with you 100%. Watch real life martial arts competitions (MMA, Kickboxing or Karate) and they are exciting if the fighters are exciting. When you have the freedom to choreograph a fight, you shouldn’t need the crutch of fancy camera work, because you should have choreographed an exciting fight.

  4. Everything I feared about this film; what a shame. I do want to support RZA’s passion for the genre though, so I may still see it in the theater.

    Personal note: Kofi, though I love all the writer/ reviewers here, you’re easily my fave and most trusted

    • Thx!

  5. As fun as the trailers seemed I’m not surprised this isn’t that good. I know he was only a co-writer but I’m not a fan of Eli Roth at all so hearing the script and dialog is bad is exactly what I expected.
    I’ll still watch it when it hits Blu-ray though. Sometimes a it’s bad in a good way film is a lot more fun to watch than comedy/action/horror films that fall flat in every way…

  6. The animated trailer made me want to watch it but the (first?) f-bomb in that came as a surprise. I think I’m still intrigued enough to give it a rent. At least it’s something different.

  7. pass. May be entertaining to the target demographic , [as described in the article] surprised to see Crowe & Liu tethered to this, interest level is at approximately 0.0

  8. This is what happens with 4 hours of movie and not knowing what to do with it lol

  9. Most of these movies presented by other directors usually suck, Taratino has lent his name to a few turkeys and the less said about Eli Roth the better, biggest fraud in cinema ever, the Thanksgiving trailer was his biggest achievement and that was only 3 minutes long!

    Do feel bad for RZA, bet this movie sounded like a great idea when he was sat around with his mates, getting stoned and watching Ninja Scroll, I’d only watch it for Russell Crowe

    • lol @ Ninja Scroll reference. I’m also not a fan of taranturdo

    • just to add I think Tarantino has blown ever since his masterpiece Jackie Brown. I hate seeing him onscreen too – he ruined Planet Terror for me and YES the less said about Eli Roth the better lol

  10. The movie has gotten pretty good reviews on rotten tomatoes and other viewers. I’m going to check it out for myself. probably a fun ride.

    • Read the reviews.. they trash the movie saying its the best bad movie ever

  11. Whoa! Thanks Kofi.

    You just saved me…… time AND money.

  12. I knew this movie would bite the big one the adds looked stupid I guess they thought people would come running just because they put Quenton Tarantino name on it NOT GOING TO WORK crap is crap

  13. it was a good movie….i mean for what it is suckerpunch suxed…at least teh pllot is better than sucker punch…i though the use of different actors was pretty cool….plus old dirty bastard as the intro song….i thought it was cool

  14. Just got back from watching this and can confirm Kofi’s review. Action was decent some of the sets were interesting, but the movie felt confused. Wasn’t sure whether I was supposed to be laughing or not. Dialogue needed work and the flashbacks were out of place.

  15. What a joke, RZA a director/actor/writer? Yeah right. Wannabe filmmaker. Not going to waste my time on this load of crap! Tired of seeing no talent like RZA calling themselves fmmakers. Stick to rap music.

    • I gotta say though, I’m not a huge fan of his music, and I have literally no interest in this movie, but you have to give the man credit for having the vision, and following his dream to fruition. It’s not an easy task being a musician, nor is it a trivial feat to write \ put together a mainstream movie with the kind of A\B \ C list actors enlisted. The movie may [probably] sucks b@llz, but it’s an amazing thing that he had the will & fortitude to see it through. I give him credit. & he’ll learn from this. Hopefully if he continues to make films, they’ll get better.

      Granted, it’s not for either you or I, but this film believe it or not, has its target audience. To Quote senator Gracchus: [as played by the wonderful Derek Jacobi]

      “He’ll bring them death, and they will love him for it”

      The author of this article is right. This’ll play well to “enthusiasts”, and may very well end up being one of those flicks like Friday [not that the two films are in the same league] that gets tons of replay underground.

      • Sure,respect to RZA for doing something he feels passion for,is more then most of us even try !

  16. Please please PLEASE tell me Batista used either the Spear or Batista Bomb to kill someone lol

    • he powerbombs somebody to death no bs

  17. i loved it…would love to see a sequel with the survivors from this one

  18. the reviewer is a fool. who watches martial arts films for acting. especially a grindhouse type, homage film at that which satirizes the genre.Dialouge was intentionally bad to poke fun of the horribly dubbed films we watch of classics. not to be taken seriously yet fully enjoyable.

    7/10

    • Glad you liked it, Donald.

      I will refrain from insulting your intelligence level based on your opinion of a film, as I find that kind of behavior to be completely tacky.

  19. But the question is and I quote a favorite of mine:

    “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!?!”

    If people walk out excited and enjoyed the film nevertheless, that’s what matters. Reviews are more accurate, and I agree with everything said here. But this movie wasn’t meant to be good; it just screamed average when the previews started to flow in. It only draws a certain group of people, and that’s where it falls

  20. I saw this on Friday and it was just plain bad. The action scenes were ok but nothing great. Taken 2 had better action scenes which isn’t saying a lot. The plot/script was just all over the place and sometimes you felt lost. Then again, maybe my friend is right. Maybe you have to see the movie stoned to actually get the whole process of the movie, LOL. 2 stars out of 5 from me(not a reboot which automatically earns 1 from me and 1 star for the plot/cinemagrophy/action/script)

  21. Thanks for the review. This is a rental.

  22. If you like martial arts films and don’t need for them to be on the scale of a HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS or HERO then go see MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS. Its exactly what you would expect from the film.

    Kofi is quite right to point out just how bad RZ’s acting is. It was borderline unbearable at some points but the screen time was broef and there were enough other actors to carry the load. Russel Crowe in particular stood out as did Byron Mann. In fact those 2 alone make the film worth watching IMHO.

    TheMAN WITH THE IRON FISTS is exactly what it advertises, lots of Kungfu with modern day hip/hop music and if you go to see expecting something else then shame on you. There have been a number of let-downs this past Summer so its nice to see a film that delivers on what it advertises.

  23. I liked the action. The story was ehhh & RZA please don’t get in front of the camera as a lead actor anymore! But it wasn’t hot garbage. I got what I expected from the movie.

  24. I commend him for what he tried to do, bt the film still suck. As a Shaw Brothers movies fan from 1970-1980, i was excited to see the Master Killer and Hung Si Kwan (characters they will always be known as) in today’s film. Too bad they’re too old to kick butt

  25. it s not a bad movie at all ! just bad choice of soundtracks. We r used to Hans zimmer. We all heard Hans zimmer without even knowing it.

  26. I thought this movie would be corny going into it, like the expendables. I was hoping that the action sequences would make up for the almost guaranteed bad acting, but I was sorely mistaken.

    The action sequences were pretty horrible, the camera was zoomed in or zoomed in way too much. It was hard to make out what was going on in the scenes. Scenes involving RZA were painful to watch.

    Wouldn’t even recommend renting this movie unless you’re a total die-hard martial arts fan.

  27. Thats not how its pronounced and there’s no such thing as a wutang clan.

    Nice try though.

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