The Man with the Iron Fists (TheByteScene Review)

Date: April 20th, 2013




The Man with the Iron Fists


3 Golden-Lions out of 4


I’m sure there’s a school-of-thought that believes that period pieces should be shot as homages to the past, highlighting how far society has advanced, and how much the overall human collective has achieved in the present, all while using the past as a pedestal for the future. As for Quentin Tarantino and company – the group of filmmakers who have studied under and worked with the cinematic trigger finger – it seems that the way to create an homage is by reducing an entire genre to the sum of its parts and mercilessly showcasing their love for it in a brutal display of cinematic sensationalism.


RZA purportedly spent 30 days taking notes and watching Tarantino work during the shooting of the latter’s Kill Bill films, and it’s evident that the Wu-Tang Clansmen has matured into master from pupil.


The Man with the Iron Fists is in no way an homage to the martial arts genre as much as it is  an ode to the micro-epics that served as the backbone for the Western definition of kung-fu. The film is bursting with ancient Eastern philosophy, wise mystics, remarkably choreographed fight-scenes, cheesy, baudy characters, and almost every cliche the genre is known for, barring the poorly dubbed voices. If it weren’t for the paper-thin story that doesn’t actually tackle the main plot until almost halfway through the film’s runtime, this would be the greatest ode to kung-fu action cinema ever, and would actually deserve to be considered one of the greatest kung-fu films of all time.


It’s clear from the film’s opening credits that those involved in the production’s creation show a deep respect, fondness, and affinity for the martial arts genre, and the kung-fu action cinema subgenre specifically. RZA’s directorial debut is outstanding, and while the writing is profoundly weak on near-spiritual levels, the film is a masterpiece in almost every other way. The editing is tight, the cinematography is crisp and gorgeous, the music is superb, and the fight-scenes are so beautifully choreographed that the extras might as well be credited as backup dancers.


RZA’s vision is that of Jungle Village, a shanty war-torn town ravaged by power-hungry clans. The execution of leader of the ruling Lion Clan, Gold Lion, by the conniving, yet oddly camp Silver Lion acts as the spark that sets off Jungle VIllage’s proverbial powder keg, forcing Gold Lion’s son Zen-Yi to leave his fiance, return to the village, and reclaim the lost honor of his family and his clan. Given the plot in context of the genre, it all makes perfect sense. Add some of the Emperor’s gold, Russel Crowe as a British consul, RZA as a talented Blacksmith, Lucy Liu as the head of the Pink Blossom brothel, and David Bautista as a mercenary named Brass Body into the mix, and the stage is set for an explosion of francium-based proportions.


Despite the wide-range of acting (and musical) talent on display, the film suffers from extremely slow moments of exposition that neither provide, nor take away, to the film in any significant way. Not to mention, the film’s arguable main character divulges a relatively weak story – never boring mind, but often weak. Hoping to escape the darkness of Jungle Village, the blacksmith is in love with a prostitute in the Pink Blossom. One would be excused for expecting a twist, a knife-in-the-back, or a betrayal, but sadly the romance never amounts to anything more than screentime for the two lovers.


The film’s soundtrack serves as a strong highlight, and features an eclectic mix between traditional Eastern influence, Hip-Hop, and Ennio Morricone thrown in for good measure. The movie is directed by RZA after all. What’s interesting is how well the tracks are edited together and incorporated into the film’s main score; it was rare for the film to mindlessly throw in a track from the soundtrack and risk ruining RZA’s and Howard Dossin’s own score.


Writing yet again, is weak. Disappointingly so, especially since this is an otherwise strong film that is even more important because it serves as an example of an action-flick that is worth watching specifically for the action. The Man with the Iron Fists is a rare film whose action is art, and whose director understands the genre and chooses to embrace every aspect of it.


Watching The Man with the Iron Fists, I’ve come to believe that the only way to shoot an homage is by mercilessly brutalizing the genre into submission, showing off everything that made an audience fall in love with it, and everything that made critics lampoon and deride it into arbitrary defection. RZA has made more than a homage to the kung-fu action cinema subgenre, and has, instead, created a singularity designed to appeal to fans specifically, and everyone else who stayed past the hilariously cheesy opening credits. Under almost every circumstance, the film is a masterpiece.




As always, this has been your Admin, the slightly-Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!




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