The Man with the Iron Fists is a visually glorious mix of violent chop suey, Blaxploitation and spaghetti western conventions, played to a hip-hop beat as only RZA could do.
RZA of course is a member of the Wu-Tang Clan and anyone who knows the influential hip-hop outfit can attest to their love of martial arts movies. Timing wise the release of a film like The Man with the Iron Fists is perfect, with filmmakers such as Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino making grindhouse exploitation style cinema fashionable again through films like Machete and Death Proof. Tarantino himself is associated here in a “presented by” capacity.
Also apart of …Iron Fists is horror director Eli Roth, who co-wrote the screenplay with RZA. Plot wise the film is classic spaghetti western, as warring clans and mysterious foreigners descend on Jungle Village in pursuit of a massive gold bounty. RZA plays a blacksmith who is caught in this bloody battle.
When watching …Iron Fists it is clear that RZA is a fanatical fan of genre/exploitation cinema, with that passion and enthusiasm felt in every frame. RZA’s playful and creative imagination manifests itself in the films many entertainingly violent scenarios that are purposefully tacky in tone (as every exploitation film should be), over the top goriness and filled with excellently choreographed fight sequences designed by the legendary Corey Yuen (the man responsible for action choreography in films such as The Legend and The Transporter).
Best yet are the performances. While RZA plays the title character he is not a particularly strong actor, and his passive performance means the rest of the cast have to pick up the slack, which they do in entertaining fashion. Lucy Liu successfully repeats that cool as ice killer vibe she rocked in Kill Bill as a brothel madam, Byron Mann is gloriously campy as the films main villain Silver Lion, and Rick Yune projects heroism as the films purest character, the honourable Zen Yi.
It’s Oscar winning actor Russel Crowe who steals the show as Jacknife, a British soldier whose loyalties are always in question. Knowing full well Crowe’s reputation as the world’s most serious actor (as lampooned by Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder) it is indeed a blast to watch Crowe let loose in a film that is as far from Oscar aspirations as any film could be, as he plays both charming gent and madcap killer with a knife so deadly serious that it would make Crocodile Dundee crap himself.
It all amounts to a fun time had with a genre movie directed by a filmmaker who knows exactly where his strengths lay, The Man with the Iron Fists packing one mean exploitation punch.