J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

The Man with the Iron Fists: Kung Fu Hip Hop from RZA


Thaddeus the Blacksmith is a builder not a fighter.  Nonetheless, the Lion Clan is messing with the wrong tradesman when they chop off his arms.  Yes, it is time to rumble in Nineteenth Century China.  Kung fu, Hip Hop, spaghetti westerns, and blaxploitation will be mashed-up in the RZA’s The Man with the Iron Fists (trailer here), which really did open this week in New York—honest it did.

The Lions were not always so bad.  That was before the Emperor sought their services to help secure his shipment of gold.  Succumbing to greed, Silver Lion and Bronze Lion betray their respected clan leader Gold Lion, with the intention of hijacking the imperial gold.  Of course, they will have to take care of one loose end: Gold Lion’s son, Zen Yi, who has left his mountain retreat and lovely wife for some old school revenge.  Unfortunately, he is no match for Brass Body, the Kung Fu equivalent of the X-Men’s Colossus.

Stripped of his armor, Zen Yi is rescued from certain death by the Blacksmith and his lover, Lady Silk, one of the “employees” of Madame Blossom’s house of pleasure.  Troubled by the death and destruction wrought by his handiwork, the Blacksmith throws his lot in with Zen Yi.  Needless to say, this leads to a rather nasty encounter with Silver Lion, Brass Body, and a very sharp blade.  Yet, as the title indicates, he still knows his way around a forge.  He also has an unlikely ally in Jack Knife, the opium addicted British ex-pat serving as the Emperor’s secret emissary.

If you’re looking for Oscar bait, Iron Fists probably isn’t your cup of tea.  Not exactly subtle or refined filmmaking, the RZA basically just lets the chaos fly.  He “borrows” liberally from scores of previous martial arts films, even including Enter the Dragon’s oft imitated finale.  Still, its energy is admirable.  Corey Yuen’s fight choreography is consistently inventive and there is plenty of eye candy.  In fact, the large supporting cast brings all kinds of genre credibility, starting with the Cung Le, sporting the Yahoo Serious coif as Bronze Lion.  On-the-brink-of-stardom Grace Huang (so cool in the short film Bloodtraffick) also kicks butt convincingly as part of the duo known as the Gemini Killers.

Probably the biggest surprise of Iron Fists is Russell Crowe’s rip-roaring scenery-chewing portrayal of Jack Knife.  He obviously understood what sort of film he was making and was willing to just go with it.  As Madame Blossom, Lucy Liu essentially reprises her turn from Kill Bill, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.  Frankly, the RZA isn’t terrible as the Blacksmith, brooding well enough.  The villains are more of a mixed bag though.  Former wrestler David Bautista certainly looks the part of Brass Body, but Byron Mann’s Silver Lion is more flamboyant than menacing.

Look, what do you want from a Kung Fu smackdown directed by a rapper, even if it is “executive produced” by Quentin Tarantino?  It might be chocked full of genre clichés and clumsy flashbacks, but if the prospect of watching RZA beat the Lion Clan silly while Crowe cavorts with a bevy of Asian prostitutes strikes you as entertaining than Iron Fists totally delivers the goods.  Let’s call it a guilty pleasure and leave it at that.  It really is currently playing in New York, above 34th Street, at the Regal E-Walk.

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