Friday, March 15, 2013


Thank god this was good. The Man With The Iron Fists was no masterpiece or work of art but it was fun & entertaining. For the last 20 years The Rza has based almost everything about his persona, music & way of life around Asian culture & kung-fu films. He also scored other modern martial arts films like Ghost Dog & Kill Bill. It would have been pretty embarrassing if a guy like The Rza made a bad martial arts movie. He'd never be able to show his face in public again. Thankfully he didn't rush to make The Man With The Iron Fists. He took his time & developed the story for several years. Rza had a lotta pressure to deliver a solid piece of work. Some doubted his ability as a filmmaker but remember - he's the unofficial "leader" of the greatest/largest supergroup in hip-hop history and one of the most influential producers of all time. He's a mastermind. If he could manage the personalities & ego's of the 8 other Wu-Tang members (along with a musical dynasty of countless other artists) as well as exclusively produce 7 of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time in the span of 4 years - making a film isn't the most difficult task for a guy like The Rza. He's a born leader & strategist. Plus many of his solo projects & music videos have a very cinematic quality so he wasnt exactly a novice when it was time to make The Man With The Iron Fists. Look at his first solo album. Bobby Digital was a concept album that played out like a movie for the headphones. And who could forget the music video for Tragedy (directed by Rza himself) that came off more like a short film...

Given all the elements that went in to making this (Eli Roth's involvement, Tarantino's influence, a ragtag ensemble cast made up of a pro wrestler, a few "A-list" actors & some cult movie figures) The Man With The Iron Fists could have EASILY been a disaster. It comes from that school of Tarantino-influenced "movie mixtapes" which is usually nothing to boast about (with the exception of stuff like Black Dynamite) and lets also not forget about that unspoken low expectation many people have towards hip-hop artists that act in legitimate films (which is sometimes understandable). But The Rza somehow managed to make it all work...

Set during the 19th century in a fictitious place known as "Jungle Village", Rza stars as "The Blacksmith" - a former slave who washed up on the shores of China that's taken in and trained by shaolin monks. He makes weapons for rival clans at war with each other in order to make enough money to move himself and his woman ("Lady Silk") out of Jungle Village. There's currently a major power struggle going on between all the clans and The Blacksmith gets caught in the middle of it all. When he gets in way over his head he has to join forces with "Jack Knife" (Russell Crowe) - a mercenary & "X Blade" (Rick Yune)- the son of slain emperor, in order to save his woman and bring order back to Jungle Village.
On one hand The Rza, being the strategist he is, used the knowledge he gained from acting in so many films over the years as well as his connections with all the people he's collaborated with in the past (Russell Crow/American Gangster, Tarantino/Kill Bill, etc) to make his dream project come to life. On the other hand, The Man With The Iron Fists feels like he was just copying Kill Bill-era Tarantino in some parts. Some may view this as nothing more than the last 45 minutes of the first Kill Bill stretched out to a feature length movie. I guess its understandable for a first-time filmmaker to emulate others but the end of the day this was very much Rza's own film and he did the kung-fu genre justice. I loved the idea behind the Blacksmith using his "inner-chi" in order to essentially turn himself in to a human weapon. Rza nods at everything from the classic Shaw Brothers Shaolin films (cameos from Gordon Liu & Bryan Leung) to Enter The Dragon (there's a "house of mirrors" scene towards the end). I'm interested to see what The Rza will come up with for his next project. The ending of The Man With Iron Fists clearly indicates there's gonna be a sequel but I'd like to see Rza branch out from the martial arts genre. Personally, I think a comprehensive documentary on Wu-Tang is long overdue (36 Chambers is almost 20 years old now) and The Rza is the only person who can make that happen in my opinion.
The Man With The Iron Fists is not without a few more flaws. There were WAY too many characters for a film that wasn't that long. Its like Rza got caught up in that Robert Rodriguez style of filmmaking where a new character gets introduced every 5 minutes. In the first half of the the film all these characters kept getting introduced as if they were gonna play a part in the story then they got killed. It kinda threw me off. At times it was difficult to tell who was on what side or who was who. This leads us to the next problem - The plot wasn't exactly convoluted but it was unessecarily layered with too many subplots & storylines. Classic Kung-Fu films that The Man With The Iron Fists tips its hat too don't always have the simplest storylines but they weren't as layered as this. But I kinda wanna give The Rza a pass on this. This was his "baby". He'd been working on it for years so its understandable that he got a little carried away. Its like the ending of Malcolm X or the last Lord Of The Rings. Sure they both took fucking forever to end but those films were lifelong projects for Lee & Jackson. The one storyline I did like very much was The Blacksmith's back story as a slave taken in by Chinese monks. Throughout the film I wondered if Rza was ever gonna explain how a black person ended up in china during the 19th century. The Rza's fascination with Asian culture is evident but his lyrics & persona are also influenced by African culture so this storyline didn't seem out of place at all (listen to his lyrics on the 2nd Gravediggaz album). The slave angle in The Man With The Iron Fists made me think about its connection to Django and why so many people (black people & fans of hip-hop culture in particular) were so gung-ho and in love with Django (which i get) but kinda downplayed The Man With The Iron Fists. Both films, which are equally entertaining & silly, are violent homages to a certain movie genre about a former slave that forms an alliance with a white bounty hunter/vigilante character in order to get revenge. Sure both films have some obvious differences and Tarantino is a much more experienced filmmaker than The Rza but at the same time the comparison between the two films is pretty uncanny on some levels.
Many film purists or lovers of B-movies might not like all the special effects & CGI. The Man With Iron Fists pays homage to films that didn't really use special effects. A lot of the blood shed in the film was clearly fake & computer generated which may look cheesy to some. The budget seemed rather high for something that was supposed to emulate a style of film that was originally cheap & grainy. I may be a lil' bias towards this as The Rza is responsible for about 50% of what I listened too as a teenager and he's also responsible for one of my favorite film scores of all time (Ghost Dog) but I was genuinely surprised with the great job he did. Oh and on a side note - I'm shocked & surprised that Eli Roth was involved in, or partially responsible for something that was actually good. If you're a fan of the first Kill Bill, 90's hip-hop, violence and hanging out in video stores I don't see how you cant enjoy this. As a fan of hip-hip (which is an understatement) this film reignited my love for Wu-Tang's music that Rza sprinkles all throughout the movie (I'm listening to my wu-tang playlist on my ipod as I write this). Woulda been nice to see a cameo from a Wu-Tang member or two but that's just me being nitpicky.


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