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The Man with the Iron Fists

The Man with the Iron Fists

Released 7 December 2012
Director RZA

RZA, Rick Yune, Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Dave Bautista, Jamie Chung, Cung Le, Byron Mann, Daniel Wu, Zhu Zhu
Writer(s) Eli Roth, RZA

Marc Abraham, Eric Newman, Eli Roth
Origin United States, Hong Kong
Running Time 95 minutes
Genre Action
Rating 16

Rumble in the jungle.

In a startling moment of "write the theme tune, sing the theme tune" hubris, RZA, erstwhile Wu-Tang clanner and Kill Bill soundtrack composer, has chosen to give the title role of his directorial debut to himself. It’s an unfortunate decision but one which is understandable. Throughout his career in music, kung fu has loomed large and as a lifelong devotee of the form, jumping into the title role would have been all too tempting. The resulting performance is not exactly Oscar worthy but The Man with the Iron Fists positively bursts at the seams with his enthusiasm.

The story takes place in a rural Chinese hamlet called Jungle Village. The village is home to several warring factions, the most ruthless of which are the Lions, led by the treacherous Silver Lion (Byron Mann, channelling Purple Rain era Prince). This combative environment provides a fertile living for the local blacksmith (RZA). When a gold shipment is set to travel through the town, the local gangs, as well as some opportunistic interlopers (including a grizzled Russell Crowe) descend on Jungle Village to intercept it. Cue: kung fu chaos.

As it turns out, kung fu chaos is something RZA knows quite a lot about, as he throws every trick and spectacle into the mix. Occasionally, the frenetic editing during the fight scenes becomes a little too much to the detriment of choreography; it works best when RZA slows down a little and allows the laugh out loud moments of blood spurting ultra-violence do the talking. There are also a few skilfully orchestrated set-pieces; the storming of the brothel in particular shows great visual flair and imagination.

In his performance, RZA aims for intensity but with his heavy lids and immovable features, he just comes across as sleepy. Fortunately, there are some serious displays of charisma around him, some of them bounding headlong into high camp. Byron Mann is the undoubted highlight as Silver Lion, Lucy Liu does that deadly ice maiden routine she does so well as brothel owner Madame Blossom, while Crowe throws subtlety out the window and seems to enjoy it.

For the most part, I enjoyed it too. The Man with the Iron Fists has a likable audacity, revelling in the both the ridiculous and the sublime aspects of the genre.

- Linda O’Brien