In an effort to clear my mind of all of the election hubbub, I finally caught RZA‘s The Man with the Iron Fists. No surprise that it rocked asses. Anyone who is a fan of RZA‘s musical endeavors, namely the Wu-Tang Clan, knows that they are chock full of kung fu movie quotes, references and philosophies. It only seems natural that he would eventually make a kung fu movie. I have always been a pure, unadulterated fan of the Wu-Tang Clan and RZA in particular and for good reason – everything he touches is gold. This film was no different.
Ain’t nuthin’ to fuck with…
What happens when 7 clans of warriors converge on a single spot, all with different motives? Carnage. And there is no shortage of it in this film. From the opening credits to the final battle, blood is spilled in mass quantities. With Quentin Tarantino producing and horror director Eli Roth co-writing the screenplay, this should be expected. The story is centered around Blacksmith (RZA), a masterful maker of intricate weapons in Jungle Village, who supplies these clans with the weapons with which they use to take each other out. When Silver Lion (Byron Mann) and Bronze Lion (martial arts legend Cung Le) take out Gold Lion (kung fu film veteran Kuan Tai Chen) in order to steal a fortune in the Emperor’s gold, starting a series of events and battles that cost Blacksmith his girl, prostitute Lady Silk (Jamie Chung), his livelihood and most importantly, his arms. Assassin Brass Body (Dave Bautista) as punishment for hiding Gold Lion’s son Zen Yi (Rick Yune), cuts off his arms with a red hot sword.
Brass Body (Dave Bautista), a formidable foe.
With the help of the sadistic Jack Knife (Russell Crowe), a former British army captain and ally of the Emperor, Blacksmith is able to recover and he fashions himself the titular Iron Fists where his arms used to be.
Blacksmith (RZA) with his new gear. Bong Bong.
Flush with anger, Blacksmith and Jack along with Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu), proprietress of the local brothel, seek revenge on those who have harmed him and brought trouble to their town. The final battle that ends this film is outstanding. The ladies of the brothel under Madam Blossom’s command provide the most fun, taking out Silver and Bronze Lion’s men with lusty precision.
“Power belongs to no one until it is seized through sex and violence…”
In the end, just desserts are cooked up and served to those who deserve them as one would expect from a kung fu movie. I really liked the Blacksmith character in this film – a former slave that was granted his freedom who makes a tragic mistake that causes him to flee his home and somehow ends up in Jungle Village. That there is so much left out in his story, one can hope that there is a possible prequel that gives us this story, part of which is explained here. RZA has said himself that he created extensive back stories for each of the characters leaving the door open to prequels and sequels, to expanding the world these characters inhabit. I would be up for it. All of it.
Another top-notch part of this film, no surprise, is the music. I love how RZA wove Wu-Tang’s “Shame on a Ni**a” into the opening sequence. Fits so perfectly. RZA knows music and has scored multiple projects before, e.g. Jim Jarmusch‘s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Tarantino’s Kill Bill films and Takashi Okazaki‘s Afro Samurai series, and even though he didn’t score this one himself, his influence can be felt. That he collaborated once again with The Black Keys for “Baddest Man Alive” to close the film out makes me giddy. My two favorite musical groups/people together = aural gold. Here’s the video:
All in all, a commendable first effort for RZA as director. This is (not surprisingly) a very spiritual film despite the violence that pervades it. If you are familiar with his music or have read his book The Tao of Wu, you know that both are chock full of spiritual references. This gives the film another level to peel back in looking at it. Some reviewers have scoffed at the acting in this film, but does one really go see martial arts films for the acting? Not every one can be Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. This film achieves what it sets out to do – tell a tale of power and corruption that is set right…with killer fight scenes interspersed.
I always expect great things from RZA and he didn’t disappoint. I look forward to his future forays into film. I think there is a deep well from which to draw with him.
Here is the trailer: