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Overall Rating
3.13

Awesome: 4.35%
Worth A Look: 13.04%
Average78.26%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 4.35%

3 reviews, 5 user ratings


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Man with the Iron Fists, The
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by Jay Seaver

"A surprisingly good twenty-first century take on 70s kung fu."
3 stars

I'm going to guess that it's no coincidence that Gordon Liu and Pam Grier play important figures in the life of "The Man with the Iron Fists"'s title character; his kung fu flicks and her blaxploitation movies provide a lot of DNA for this one. And while it retains a fair amount of their weaknesses, it captures a great deal of their pleasures, too.

The governor has a shipment of gold heading to the northern border and has hired the Lion Clan to protect it as it passes through Jungle Village. But leader Gold Lion (Chen Kuan Tai) has been betrayed by lieutenants Silver Lion (Byron Mann) and Bronze Lion (Cung Le), abetted by Poison Dagger (Daniel Wu). The local blacksmith (RZA) is selling weapons to everyone who will pay, aiming to buy out the contract of girlfriend Lady Silk (Jamie Chung) at the brother run by Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu). But all that gold makes an irresistible target, so warriors from Jack the Knife (Russell Crowe) to Brass Body (Dave Bautista) to the Gemini Killers (Andrew Lin & Grace Huang) to Gold Lion's son Zen Yi (Rick Yune) are all converging on Jungle Village.

Say this for the folks both behind and in front of the camera for this movie: They know exactly what film they want to make and generally nail it. That's trickier than it sounds; part of the characters of the movies that inspired this one is their imperfection and occasional broad comedy (intentional and otherwise), but recreating that too deliberately makes it easy to drift from loving homage to easy mockery. What writer/director/star RZA does is keep things loose until the fighting starts, never making fun of the genre into which he's inserted himself but well aware of its conventions. He has fun pushing already outsize things a little farther and letting his characters swagger.

Interestingly, that means he actually reduces his own presence somewhat as a result; the Blacksmith doesn't have the sort of personality that expands to fill all the empty space in a room (at least, not the way RZA performs in the role). Former English officer Jack, on the other hand, certainly does, and Russell Crowe takes full advantage of the gift he's given: A flamboyant character, a genre that lives for high-concept characters, and a movie that goes for a sort of heightened reality means he can go big and damn the it comes off as charming rather than overacting. Similarly, Byron Mann delights in what a smug and cocky jackass he can make his villain as long as the character can back it up in the fight scenes. Lucy Liu mostly plays casual-but-smart rather than the overtly ruthless characters she's often known for, and it's fun to watch. Rick Yune, on the other hand, is kind of in the same boat as RZA and much of the rest of the cast: An adequate actor giving a functional performance, probably as good as any you'd see in a genuine Shaw Brothers or Roger Corman movie from the 1970s, but outclassed when Crowe or Mann is doing his thing in close proximity.

When the fights start, though, things kick up a notch. Ideally, the camera would be pulled back and there'd be fewer cuts - and while I think that about every martial-arts movie that's not all long cuts that show the actors' entire bodies, it is a particular issue here: RZA and company define big spaces in which the characters can do some impressive wire-fu, but working so much in close-up (and occasional ill-chosen split screens) can negate that. The audience does get enough of an unobstructed view of Cory Yuen's fight choreography to be impressed - including a fight between RZA and Bautista that is better than a sequence with a rapper and a tank of a pro wrestler has any right to be - and it's clear that RZA learned from the kung fu movies of his youth in how he and Yuen make sure every character has a specific style that fits their personality and leads to a signature image. There's also a real sense of menace to the fights as well; for all RZA and company may practically be winking at the audience at times, he knows how to crank up the mean streak and genuine intensity so that the fights have real stakes and the payoff is worth it.

Being able to shift gears like that is impressive for a first-time director like RZA, especially considering that it's sometimes quite clear that this movie was cut down from something rather larger (extra clans and pieces of subplots abound). He handles the tonal shifts well and also does a very nice job of referencing movies from decades past while making his movie modern, and not just through the special effects being decent and the easy acceptance of fantasy elements that makes them necessary.

In fact, it seems like RZA has done what I often wish more people who make wart-and-all "tributes" would do: Instead of mocking the thing that he loves, he channels his love into making the best movie he can today. That best may be well short of perfect in this case, but it's still pretty darn good.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=24001&reviewer=371
originally posted: 11/04/12 15:56:14
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User Comments

10/14/13 No Wu for Yu Stole the brass man idea from Ninja Scroll...still not bad 4 stars
12/23/12 John Bad acting, overrated background score, cartoonish violence, trippy wirework. 1 stars
11/13/12 KingNeutron Nice campfest from Tarantino, complete with scenery-chewing 4 stars
11/09/12 Abigail Inspiring Film! 5 stars
11/04/12 mr.mike Enjoyable for genre fans. 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  02-Nov-2012 (R)
  DVD: 12-Feb-2013

UK
  N/A

Australia
  02-Nov-2012
  DVD: 12-Feb-2013


Directed by
  RZA

Written by
  Eli Roth
  RZA

Cast
  Jamie Chung
  Russell Crowe
  RZA
  Lucy Liu
  Dave Bautista
  Cung Le
  Zhu Zhu
  Pam Grier



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