Sean O’Connor ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff
From the second The Man With the Iron Fists starts rolling you should know what you are getting yourself into. No words can quite describe the entirety of the movie like the very first scene. As the viewer, you are thrown head first into a world of Asian clansman wearing ridiculous “straight from the comic book” type costumes with strange looking weapons brutally murdering each other in a cheesy Kung-Fu fashion to a remastered version of “Shame on a Nigga,” a Wu-Tang Clan (Robert “RZA” Diggs’ hip-hop group) classic. Just the image of these characters engaging in Kung-Fu battle to a classic hip-hop song represents images straight from the director’s imagination finally being brought to life. As blades clash and a ridiculous amount of blood flies across the screen, the deceased Wu-Tang rapper Ol Dirty Bastard’s raspy voice cries out “Blaow! How you like me now?!” As a rapper, producer and hip-hop mogul turned director/actor it appears RZA has found a new way to show us his vision. Within seconds of the movie, RZA has made a statement. How you like him now?
It is one thing for a rapper to be in a movie. It is quite another thing for a rapper to star, direct, co-write and co-score a studio film and Robert “RZA” Diggs has done just that. Best known for being the mastermind behind the classic hip-hop group the Wu-Tang Clan, RZA makes the full transition to filmmaker in The Man With the Iron Fists. The film is shot in a comic-like atmosphere as most Kung-Fu movies are, with dazzling colors, hectic fight scene, cheesy blood effects and of course attractive Asian girls. The plot line definitely has some flaws in it there is no denying that. RZA serves as the story’s narrator and assumes star role of the blacksmith who eventually turns into the man with the Iron Fists. This is a bit questionable because usually what makes a character a useful narrator in literature at least, is an observant character who lets the story speak as opposed to a character that feels the need to jump in the spotlight. RZA’s as a narrator feels a bit forced at times, while his character feels too emotionally distant to be a compelling protagonist. However, the movie is undeniably fun. At every point where as a film critic you think “Oh, that’s stupid,” you have to take a moment and realize where you are. You are in a Kung-Fu movie, (an extremely entertaining one I might add) and it is going to be cheesy at times, there will be one liners and that is perfectly fine. It is time to turn off that skeptical voice in your head and enjoy the insane ride that is The Man with the Iron Fists.
Where RZA slacks as an actor, director or screenwriter, the huge amount of hectic energy from the story and amazing cast picks it up. With a not-so compelling love story between the Blacksmith (RZA) and his prostitute lover, Lady Silk (Jamie Chung), other members of the cast are able to come to the rescue as scene stealers. The Pink Blossom brothel owner, Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu), provides the story with a fun sexy female character to get behind. Liu’s interactions with the characters in the movie bring out the best of RZA’s vision, which is of course nearly senseless, sexy violence. Even contributions from smaller stars managed to positively impact the movie. Whether it was the evil grinning of Byron Mann as the local mobster, Silver Lion, or Rick Yune who plays The X-Blade, a classic hardcore martial artist who seeks to avenge his father, the minor roles are big pieces in the Kung-Fu puzzle the is this film. However, in a movie that was run by someone who is still new to directing, it is veteran actor Russell Crowe who steals the show. Crowe’s role as “Jack Knife,” is nothing short of an extremely entertaining performance. Throughout the movie Crowe is either bedding Asian prostitutes, murdering bad guys with his humorously untrained method of fighting with a weapon that is literally a gun-knife or manically grinning and flexing his acting skills with perfectly executed one-liners in a movie that feels half-baked at times. Iron Fists bounces between the subplots at a very random pace and at times it is difficult to figure out what RZA was going for. Yet at the same time, you do not really need to know. You can simply put your feet back and smile at the crazy fun that is RZA’s chaotic masterpiece.
So what is this movie? Is it a testament that RZA should stick to his craft as an insanely talented musician and mogul? Is it the next Kung-Fu cult classic? I don’t believe so. But I will tell you exactly what Iron Fists is. It is a sexy, violent provocative film that fuses elements of Kung-Fu classics with a ghetto narrative and hip-hop soundtrack. It is a culture clash, a violent and sexy thriller that takes you on a wild ride through RZA’s imagination. The wheel of fate has turned rapper/producer RZA into a director /screenwriter, thanks to a passion for his vision and a few useful friendships like Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth. RZA claims that this process took ten times the determination it took to release his group’s debut album 36 Chambers. He also claims that this new medium for expression infatuates him. The Man with the Iron Fists, may not be what some call a stellar film, but it knows what it is. As they said in the Red Band Trailer, “this movie truly puts the F-U in Kung-Fu.”