I have to admit that I do love surreal hybrid-genre experiments gone bad. As soon as I saw the trailer for “The Man With The Iron Fists” I was hooked and I knew I’d see this film. No. As soon as I read the title I knew I’d see this film.
The trailer did have a touch, just a hint of “Kung Pow” about it, mixed with liberal dollop of “Kill Bill” and washed down with with some “Kung Fu Hustle” and odour of “Monkey”. And probably a million other things besides. No matter.
“The Man With The Iron Fists” stars creator, RZA who produced the soundtrack for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. TMWTIF has been a labour of love for RZA who has been working with Eli Roth since 2005 on the idea. The idea, the story, the music, the feel – all of these things have been worked on and you can see the depth here. Its not Peter Jackson style depth. But its there nonetheless.
The setting is somewhere in China, sometime in the past (probably 1800s). Chinese society is based on animal clans who each occupy different parts of the country – all ruled over by the emperor and his official government. The Emperor tasks the respected and honourable Lion Clan with the job of protecting his gold shipment.
The leader of the Lion Clan – Gold Lion – accepts this task and gives the Emperor his word that the gold shipment will be safe. Intrigue is afoot at the court and Gold Lion is quickly dispatched and replaced by Silver Lion and Bronze Lion who have other plans for the gold.
So with a massive treasure of gold in-play the action settles on Jungle Village which is at the junction of a significant trade route. Home to houses of ill-repute (The Pink Blossom), scurrying villagers, ubiquitous urchins and a mystically talented Blacksmith (RZA). The Blacksmith is forced to make ever more exotic and gruesome weapons for the various clans who vie for control and influence in and around Jungle Village.
Gold Lion’s son, X-Blade (Rick Zune) learns of his father’s murder and travels with his man-servant towards Jungle Village to seek revenge, probably. Along the way he has to deal with all manner of rapscallions and n’ere do-wells as the treacherous Silver Lion has anticipated that X-Blade will come calling.
Meanwhile (there are an awful lot of ‘meanwhiles’ in TMWTIF – just roll with it) a mysterious stranger calling himself Jack Knife (Russell Crowe) has turned up at the Pink Blossom. Parlaying with madame Lucy Liu, sampling the establishment’s finer food, liquor and ladies, Jack Knife is revealed as a man of prodigious appetite – for violence, alcohol and sex. In that order. Lucy Liu’s ladies are not what they seem and when the time comes they will join in battle with great panache and effect.
So events conspire to draw the three outsiders, X-Blade, Jack Knife and The Blacksmith together in an alliance against the might of the descending clans as they hope to save Jungle Village, their honour and the future.
It seems nigh on impossible, however as Silver Lion has bought allegiances, both political and meta-physical in the form of Poison Dagger and Brass Body to add to his fighting strength. Brass Body cannot be killed it appears as his body literally turns to Brass as soon as a blade touches it.
Meanwhile, the emperor has commanded The Hyena clan to descend on Jungle Village with their new-fangled machine guns and “more bullets than rice gains in China” to get his god-damned gold back and deal with the miscreant clans for once and for all.
The Hyena’s are closing in, the Lions are digging in, Liu and the Ladies are waiting in and our three hero’s are sitting in for a rumble in the jungle the like of which has never been seen before.
I’ve read quite a few reviews for TMWTIF. There is quite a polarisation going on. A depressing number of reviews carry on like this film is supposed to be Citizen Kane or something. “The characters are shallow” they moan, “the dialog is rubbish”, they bleat, the “music is heavy handed” etc etc.
Guys this is a world of animal clans, outlandish, bordering on Gay baddies (I’m looking at you, Silver Lion), a million weapons and a billion ways to kill with them. In style. You knew this going in. Stop bitching and go see Argo already.
Great over-the-top performances with the exception of RZA who should have stepped aside for someone (fictional and real) with more intensity – he was oddly out of place and his sub-plot was probably a low point. Fabulous costumes and attention to detail with the clans and fight sequences. The sillier it became, the daggier it became and the more unbelievable it became the more it stayed true to its own weird centre.
This is cinema Gangnam style.
So I’ll give it 7 1/2 out of 10.
But listen – take RZA off the screen and it’d be a 9.