Robert Fitzgerald Diggs, aka RZA, is widely known for his rapping talent as the lead member of the East Coast rap group Wu-Tang Clan. While RZA can spit rhymes with the best of them, his directorial debut resulted in a predictable plot and a film that is mostly notable for its ridiculous gore and killer soundtrack.
RZA and Eli Roth’s “The Man with the Iron Fists” boasts a star-studded cast, including Lucy Liu as the sultry Madame Blossom, Russell Crowe playing grizzled Jack Knife and former WWE champion David Bautista as the ruthless Brass Body. The edgy film plays out within the 19th century Chinese town of Jungle Village, which is under constant siege from local clans vying for power. When a shipment of gold is scheduled to come through town, the feuding clans seek out the main character, The Blacksmith (RZA) to forge weapons of mass dismemberment for the inevitable conflicts.
The Blacksmith is thus forced to hammer out a myriad of creative weaponry to buy freedom for his love interest, Lady Silk (Jamie Chung, “Sucker Punch”) and end her days as a prostitute in Madame Blossom’s (Lucy Liu, “Kill Bill”) brothel. While this should create tremendous strain for The Blacksmith, he has a hard time showing it: RZA’s acting and occasional narrating remains unemotional in spite of the violence surrounding him, to the point it takes away from the dramatic melees unfurling within the village.
As clan leaders pit their followers against one another, the death toll skyrockets. When The Blacksmith meets an untimely dismemberment at the hands of one of the clans, he fashions himself fists of iron and teams up with Jack Knife to dish out justice. The fast-action, blood-soaked battles take up the majority of the film, with segments only slowing down for the characters to eat, get laid and plan their next attack.
Like any martial arts movie, the fight scenes dominated the screenplay. The endless conflicts were kept interesting with unique weaponry that ranged from rotating knives, to automatic crossbows, to the titular iron fists. But the weapons weren’t the only reason to remain interested in the action. Director RZA seemed to channel Quentin Tarantino with his penchant for decapitation, geysers of blood, well-rehearsed choreography and split-screen action shots. Despite these features, combat was often too chaotic to observe exactly who was fighting who until the blood stopped spraying.
Gore aside, the shining quality of this film is the accompanying music. The gritty, aggressive tone throughout the movie was set to an original soundtrack that preceded the movie’s release. Featuring established hip-hop artists like Kanye West, Wiz Khalifa, Pusha T and RZA himself, the tracks also showcase the talents of blues rockers The Black Keys and up-and-coming rappers Flatbush Zombies. The dark rhythms share a distinctive backbeat that adds some excitement to the repetitive gore-filled free-for-alls.
RZA’s homage to old-school martial art flicks contains plenty of intricate choreography, intense fights and infectious music. That said, the plot and character development leave something to be desired when the focus is maximizing liters of blood spilled per minute. “The Man with the Iron Fists” succeeds in what it attempts to be: a comically violent film that relies heavily on its star-studded cast and soundtrack.
3 out of 5 stars