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"The Man With The Iron Fists" Is A Screwball Blood Fest

Shonassee Shaver |
November 3, 2012 | 9:22 p.m. PDT


RZA as, literally, the man with the iron fists. (Universal Pictures)
RZA as, literally, the man with the iron fists. (Universal Pictures)
On the hunt for a fabled treasure of gold, a band of warriors, assassins and rogue British soldiers descend upon a village in feudal China, where a humble blacksmith looks to defend himself and his fellow villagers.

A member of the rap group Wu-Tang Clan, RZA released his first directed film Friday, "The Man with the Iron Fists,” backed by Quentin Tarantino. Along with RZA, Eli Roth co-wrote the script. It’s a screwball blood fest, filled with warlords fighting for a treasure of gold. RZA may have succeeded in the music industry, but can he do the same in film?  We will see as I distribute grades to each cinematic aspect of the film.

Can RZA direct? His skills have been put to the test. I give him a “C+”. Scenes were clustered, making the film look unorganized. There were some good action scenes, but it was confusing for the viewer to understand who was fighting whom. I struggled to see which character had shed blood and who had conquered the villain. There were many opposing assassins and warlords who were out for revenge and on a hunt for gold. It annoyed me to be bombarded with these characters all at once. I had no idea who was a part of which group of assassins or heroes.

Can RZA write and act?  His lyrics are intriguing and his scripts are too. I give him a “B-”. The storyline is great. It has all the elements for action and adventure - the hero, the villain, sex, blood and treasure. But the dialogue is subpar. A-list actors such as Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu struggled to polish the film. The performances in this film do not compare to their past work. The actors were doing just that: acting, rather than embodying the characters. 

Both Crowe and Liu play dominating characters (a Western outlaw, Jack Knife, and a madame of a brothel, Madam Blossom) who fight for power in the village. RZA’s character, The Blacksmith, creates weapons for different people of Jungle City. The acting did not meet the standards set by these unique characters – either due to a lack of sufficient screen time for Crowe and Liu or the weak script. The film had an inventive plot which kept it from being a complete bore, but the lackluster acting and awkward script hindered its potential to be a great film.

How is the editing in RZA’s film? It was “chopped and screwed”.  I give him a “C-“. The film shows a straight-forward beginning and end. It was the complicated scenes in between that proved to be not so simple. RZA provided voiceover narration to the film, and this is where he should have remained, rather than on-screen. The visual aspect of the film was incompatible. Fight scenes were shot close together. The scenes were uneven, shown with rough and jagged edges. This confuses the viewer, instead of engaging them.

Did RZA successfully pay homage to the design of many martial arts films? Yes and no. I give him a “B”. Characters certainly revealed their presence through their appearance. Hair, make-up and clothes were appropriate to the setting of the film, but some characters’ personas were exaggerated. The wardrobe lacked quality, with some of the assassins wearing elaborate animalistic fur coats that dumbed down the role they were portraying. However, Lucy Liu wore more classical garb with an air of sophistication and dominance. The film played on the representation of the exotic beauty of Chinese women. This is traditional in martial arts films, where the Asian beauty is put on display. I enjoyed seeing the power that RZA gave the women in contrast to their representation. This element is often used in many Tarantino films, where the woman has both power and beauty. 

Did RZA ace the background music in the film? Music is well known to the Wu-Tang Clan rapper. I give him an “A”. The film is heavily influenced by RZA’s rap roots. He worked with commercial composer Howard Drossin on the score, and did a good job in mixing the urban and exotic sounds together. The music is used as a form of transition from scene to scene and as an extension of the interactions between characters as they are fighting. The soundtrack includes the Wu-Tang Clan, along with The Black Keys, Kanye West, and Pusha T. 

Reach Contributor Shonassee Shaver here.



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