THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS (2012)

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS (2012)
By Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

(The Scene: A Chinese village.  On one side of the street stand warriors dressed as lions, and on the opposite side are warriors dressed like wolves.  Between them is a bordello, with beautiful Chinese women dancing in the windows.  On the bright red roof of the building, stand MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  It looks like a good battle tonight, between the heavily favored lions and the underdog wolves.

L.L. SOARES:  This sounds suspiciously like a sporting event.  I think I’ll pass.  (Starts climbing down the side of the building.)

MA:  Hey!  Where are you going?

LS:  Where do you think I’m going? (Below him, an attractive woman waves at LS, and he winks back).

MA:  You can’t leave!  We have a movie to review.

LS:  Well, let’s get started then.  I was ready before, but you started watching that skirmish down there.

MA:  It looks like a good contest, as long as the wolves don’t go taking their shirts off, that is.

LS (climbing back onto the roof):  That’ll happen in two weeks.  When we review the final TWILIGHT movie.

MA:  Don’t remind me!  (He shudders).  All right, let’s start this week’s review.

Today, we’re reviewing THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS (2012) a stylish action yarn directed by hip hopper RZA, who also co-wrote the script with Eli Roth, and stars in the lead role as well.

The story is narrated by the Blacksmith (RZA) who tells us he makes weapons for warriors so he can save enough money to run away from Jungle Village with the love of his life, Lady Silk (Jamie Chung).

When a warrior, Gold Lion (Kuan Tai Chen), leader of the Lion Clan, is betrayed and murdered by his right hand man Silver Lion (Byron Mann), Gold Lion’s son X-Blade (Rick Yune) vows to avenge his father’s death.  In killing Gold Lion, Silver Lion and his warriors also steal a treasure in gold, which Gold Lion had been protecting.  The Emperor wants his gold back, and dispatches an army to wipe out the Chinese village unless he gets it back.

LS: That’s actually a pretty good synopsis.

MA: Wait. I’m not done yet.  There’s more.

Meanwhile, the Wolf Clan wants the gold as well, and vows to defeat Silver Lion and his men.  All of this is good for business for Blacksmith, as he makes weapons for everyone and his grandmother.

LS: Kind of like how Toshiro Mifune worked for both sides of a gang war in old Japan in YOJIMBO (1961). But he had a much more devious plan in mind…

MA: A mysterious British soldier named Jack Knife (Russell Crowe), also descends on Jungle Village, and he may or not be working as an agent for the Emperor.  And when people come to this village, they all seem to stay at Madame Blossom’s (Lucy Liu) place, a brothel where the girls are more than just prostitutes.  You guessed it.  They’re warriors, too!

Silver Lion and his fellow felines seem to have the upper hand, as they have a secret weapon, a warrior known as Brass Body (Dave Bautista), a seemingly unstoppable killer who can cover his body with brass at will, and when he does so, he looks like a polished cousin of The Thing from the FANTASTIC FOUR.

LS (laughs): Yeah, he did kind of.

MA: Which warrior will win?  Who gets the gold?  And will Blacksmith survive all the fighting around him in order to escape with the girl of his dreams?  To find out, you’ll have to see the movie, but I can save you the trouble and tell you that the answers really aren’t all that compelling. You see, surprisingly, I found THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS to be a disappointment.

LS: You forgot to mention that at one point The Blacksmith gets half of his arms hacked off by the Lion Clan and he replaces them with iron hands. Don’t worry, it’s not a spoiler. It’s in the title! Man, those giant iron hands of his look kind of cool and goofy at the same time.

MA: I just couldn’t get into this movie.  While it did have a story to tell, unlike last week’s disaster SILENT HILL: REVELATION 3D, I found it to be a mediocre one at best, and while it was chock full of colorful characters with wild sounding names, these guys really didn’t do a whole lot.  As a result, I didn’t really know the characters all that well, and I would have to say that was my biggest disappointment with this one.

For example, Jack Knife (Russell Crowe) enjoys a very memorable and very cool introductory scene, where he tangles with a guy named Crazy Hippo.  I love that name, Crazy Hippo.  But then, that’s about it.  Jack Knife doesn’t really stand out in any other scenes.  He becomes, like the rest of the cast, just a character in a fight scene.  He’s not really a person.

LS: Yeah, Crazy Hippo is pretty funny. And I agree about Jack Knife. He has a terrific entrance, but nothing else he does lives up to it. Russell Crowe actually disturbed me a little in this movie. He looks bloated and old, nothing like the guy we enjoyed in movies like GLADIATOR (2000) and CINDERELLA MAN (2005). He used to be a buff tough-guy! Man, did he age quickly!

MA: We don’t know what motivates him, where he’s come from, or where he’s going.  He’s just there to fight.  When I first saw him, I thought of Clint Eastwood’s A Man With No Name, but he becomes the Man With No Storyline.

LS: Good point.

(A group of warriors suddenly comes up on the roof with them. They are dressed like wolves. The leader looks an awful lot like TAYLOR LAUTNER)

LAUTNER: So you guys love to make fun of me in your reviews of the TWILIGHT movies, huh? Well, here’s where you get yours.

LS: Don’t forget to take your shirt off, first. Wouldn’t want to get that thing dirty.

LAUTNER (takes off his shirt): Thanks for reminding me.

(Warriors attack, and MA and LS continue with their review as they fight them off)

MA: Similarly, X-Blade vows to avenge his father’s death, but then he disappears for the bulk of the movie.

Blacksmith (RZA) should be the driving force of this story, but he really isn’t.  He shares no chemistry with the love of his life, Lady Silk, and he’s missing any kind of passion as things grow more difficult for him.  The more he becomes involved with this deadly group of warriors and assassins, the worse things get for him and his plan to whisk his woman away, but you wouldn’t know it by watching him. He expresses about as much urgency to escape his troubles as a nail.  We don’t really see any emotion in him until the end, and that emotion— no surprise here— is anger, as he seeks vengeance against those who maimed him.

LS: Well, I think I can solve that particular mystery. RZA is a really talented guy, but acting isn’t one of his talents. As for his chemistry with Lady Silk, it’s nothing to do with her. He doesn’t really have chemistry with anyone.

MA:  Good point.

LS:  Look, with THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS, he shows us that he’s a director with potential. He just isn’t as promising as an actor. There are a few scenes, especially when he has his big showdown with Brass Body, when you just know he had a blast filming this stuff.  It’s like he finally gets the chance to be a superhero. But we don’t get to have as much fun, because his acting is pretty bad. He has one emotion throughout, which sometimes seems like solemn seriousness, but in the end just seems like he didn’t know what else to do with the character. His performance says “this is a serious guy,” but then, he’s got nothing else to say. I know it must have felt terrific to get to star in your first big movie as a director, but for the audience, we needed a lead actor with more dimension.

MA:  Maybe he should have hired Denzel Washington, although Denzel might be a little old for the role, I guess.

LS: Are you kidding? Denzel can do anything!

MA: THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS boasts three main characters—Blacksmith, Jack Knife, and X-Blade—who should be strong enough to carry an entire movie on their own, but they can’t even do it together.  These guys should be cool, but it turns out they’re too superficial for this to be the case.

Ultimately, then, the script by RZA and Eli Roth does this movie in.  It presents a somewhat interesting premise, a tale of warriors and assassins and a treasure of gold, but it isn’t fleshed out to the degree that it’s a solid, entertaining story.  I expected the gold to be fought over by a group of strong characters, but we hardly know these folks.  It makes their efforts that less interesting.

LS: Yep, the script isn’t very good. Of course, you can’t put all the blame on RZA for that. Eli Roth is a veteran at this stuff, and should have provided more pizazz to the proceedings. Roth knows how to write a good script, so the fact that he couldn’t beef this one up makes him look like the weak link here. He should have been able to enhance RZA’s ideas and concepts and turn this into a really kick-ass movie. As is, he kind of lets the guy down.

(LS and MA stop for a moment, to see that they have defeated all of the wolf warriors, who lay unmoving on the roof)

LS: That was easy.

MA: Yeah, I haven’t even worked up a sweat.

LS: As you were saying?

MA: There really aren’t any memorable lines either.  This one should have been better.

I did like the slick style of the action scenes here, and I thought RZA’s directorial effort was a good one.  If anything, THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS is fun to look at.  But without compelling characters, this one feels like one long music video, with lots of colorful characters putting on their moves for some polished choreographed fight sequences, but no one really saying or doing anything of interest.

LS: And that, ultimately, is the problem with the movie. RZA shows visual flare as a director. His action scenes are great. There’s a lot of interesting use of color. The fighting and the gore scenes look good. The non-action scenes aren’t as strong, but that feels more like the weakness of the script than RZA’s directing. It’s like he took on all of the responsibilities he could, and in the end, it just shows us what his strengths are, and what they aren’t.  But since his name is all over this movie, in the end, he’s the one who’s going to get most of the criticsm.

As a director, he’s got some promise. But he needs someone with a surer hand to write the scripts (clearly not Eli Roth, who I normally like a lot!), and he needs to leave the acting to the professionals.

But in the end, what is the goal here? In some ways, I felt like THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS was just trying to be a stylish homage to the old chop-socky grindhouse films of yore. The kinds of movies RZA grew up on and that clearly have influenced him throughout his career (the group of rappers he belongs to is called the Wu-Tang Clan, after all, after an old martial arts film), and as a homage to old school kung-fu movies, it kind of works. The thing is, it doesn’t strive to be anything more. Sure there are some fun scenes here, some great action, and a goofy, if tired, plot. But the fact that RZA shows potential as a director means he should have been able to give us a lot more than what’s on the screen, and it feels like he held back.

Ultimately, the biggest disappointment about THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS is that its director didn’t cut loose and give us something really spectacular. Hopefully, if he gets a chance to direct another movie, he’ll be more confident and really blow our minds.

(Suddenly, TAYLOR LAUTNER stirs and wakes up)

LAUTNER (raising his fist to the sky): Damn you critics! This was to be my moment of victory. Of revenge. And you robbed me of even that. Once again you have humiliated me and my pack…

(LS pushes him off the edge of the roof, and he falls onto the Lion Clan below. Who then take turns beating the crap out of him)

MA (looking down): Well, at least he didn’t get his shirt dirty.

Anyway, as you mentioned, THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS is not really an actor’s movie either.  The actors are here to fight, not to act, and as a result no one in this movie really stands out.  RZA certainly didn’t wow me as Blacksmith.  He seemed too reserved throughout this movie for a guy in his predicament.  Russell Crowe enjoyed a couple of good moments early on as Jack Knife, but later he too is reduced to a music video/video game persona.

Dave Bautista is somewhat memorable as Brass Body, but only because of the way he looks and the neat special effects which turn him into a shiny brass fighting machine, not because of his acting performance.

LS: I liked Brass Body a lot. But you’re right, he has just one emotion, like The Blacksmith. In a bad grindhouse movie, that’s fine. But this movie could have transcended that.

Brass Body (Dave Bautista) and the Blacksmith (RZA) battle it out in one of the movie’s highlights in THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS.

As for the women, their roles are pretty thankless, but I did like Lucy Liu as the bordello’s Madam Blossom. I almost always like her in these kinds of things. She’s pretty reliable. And she seems to be having fun. Jamie Chung is beautiful as Lady Silk, but she doesn’t have hardly anything to do. There are lots of other very pretty women in the bordello, but their just reduced to eye candy. The scene where the bunch of them fight back is a highlight, though.

MA: Yeah, but over all, this movie surprisingly lacked in the “cool” department.  I expected it to be cool with an edge, with either a bawdy sense of humor or in-your-face action sequences to drive it along, but the film has neither.  It’s nowhere near as hard-hitting as I expected.  Sure, there are a couple of gory scenes, but most of the violence is of the superficial variety, not all that realistic looking, and somewhat diminished by fake looking CGI blood.

LS: I am so tired of CGI blood! I want the texture and ooziness of old-fashioned Karo syrup! I’m sure the CGI stuff is so much easier to clean up, but man, does it look fake!

MA:  It really looks fake!  It either needs to be improved, or filmmakers should seriously consider not using it as an effect.

THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS is a stylish piece of eye candy that unfortunately has very little else to offer, other than its slick visuals.  Its story is mediocre, and its characters aren’t fleshed out, as they come off like music video characters, not movie characters, and as result, they aren’t there to back up the colorful shenanigans director RZA so smoothly splashes onto the screen.

I give it two knives.

LS: I pretty much agree on every level. This is a hopeful debut by director RZA, I just wish that the movie hadn’t played it safe and cranked up the volume.

I give it two knives as well. It’s not a horrible movie. But it’s not the balls-to-the-wall martial arts flick I was hoping for, either. It’s just kind of blah.

MA:  And blah is the right word, which for a movie like this, I find unbelievable.  How can a movie with characters named Jack Knife, X-Blade, and Crazy Hippo be blah?  Yet, it is.

LS:  In our Coming Attractions column, I said that the trailer made this movie look like a stylish martial arts flick like Tarantino’s KILL BILL movies. But that’s silly. The KILL BILL movies are so amazing, because Tarantino is one of the best directors alive, and he can make any genre of movie into something fantastic. RZA has got a real sense of style, but he’s no Tarantino.

Oh well, I had high hopes for this one, but the honest fact is, it’s a movie by a first-time director who needs more experience before he can give us something really worthwhile. But at least he’s on the right track. Hopefully, he can only get better.

(We can hear TAYLOR LAUTNER crying below as he gets the stuffing kicked out of him. His wails and sobbing get louder as we FADE TO BLACK)

-end-

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS ~ two knives!

LL Soares gives THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS ~two knives.

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