‘The Man with the Iron Fists’ packs real punch

Russell Crowe is a hard-hitting Englishman in 'The Man with the Iron Fists'
Russell Crowe is a hard-hitting Englishman in ‘The Man with the Iron Fists’

There’s a certain logic problem with the notion of a slave, freed by his owner and yet forced to flee because of an accident, ending up shipwrecked on the coast of China.  In other words, leave your disbelief at the door, because that is how RZA’s “Blacksmith” came to be in Jungle Village in China, making weapons for the clans that war on one another there.  Along the way he spent time with monks, learning patience and inner strength, both of which he will need as the story progresses.

The Man With the Iron Fists is a collaboration between RZA and Eli Roth and springs from the former’s infatuation with Kung Fu films and Asian philosophy.  Aided by an un-credited Quentin Tarantino, the duo came up with a film that is thoroughly enjoyable and truly action-packed, provided you can suspend disbelief prior to taking your seat.

The Blacksmith is in love with “Lady Silk” (Jamie Chung), who toils in the brothel known as the Pink Blossom, owned and run by “Madame Blossom” (Lucy Liu).  They want to save enough money to leave Jungle Village.  Fate intervenes when the Governor arranges to have the Lion clan’s leader, “Gold Lion” (Kuan Tai Chen), guard a shipment of gold being sent to provision troops fighting far from the capitol city.  However Gold Lion’s subordinates “Silver Lion” (Byron Mann) and “Bronze Lion” (Cung Le) decide this is time for a change in leadership and plan to take the gold for themselves, aided by a shadowy figure.

Gold Lion’s son “Zen Yi, the X Blade” (Yune) learns of his father’s death and vows to avenge him.  The new Lion leadership knows they cannot defeat him so they engage “Brass Body” (WWE star Bautista), who is impervious to the blades of Zen Yi, to kill him.  He is defeated in combat but escapes before being killed and the Blacksmith and Lady Silk rescue him.  They plan to nurse him back to health.  The Lions torture the Blacksmith to learn the location of Zen Yi and when he won’t talk, cut off his forearms to prevent him from making any weapons ever again.

Jamie Chune in 'The Man with the Iron Fists'
Jamie Chung in ‘The Man with the Iron Fists’

This is when the Englishman, “Jack Knife” (Crowe), who has been hanging out at the Pink Blossom and enjoying all of its delights, steps in.  He helps the Blacksmith and ends up assisting in the process of forging the new forearms that give Blacksmith the “Iron Fists” of the title.  Then revenge and control of the gold becomes the focus of all of the key characters.  Time is of the essence, because a large force of elite government troops is en route to re-take possession of the governor’s gold and get it to the North.

Modern music, sunglasses, and other touches mix modern times with an older era. This isn’t a new concept (A Knight’s Tale comes to mind), but it’s done well in The Man with the Iron Fists.  The storyline and its multiple character arcs are easily followed, interesting and hold the viewer’s attention.  The acting by Crowe, Yune, Mann and Lucy Liu is first rate.  The always excellent Gordon Liu has a brief role that would have benefitted from expansion.

Unfortunately, while RZA delivers a good directorial debut, his biggest mistake was casting himself in the title role.  He just doesn’t have the acting chops yet to carry a lead, even in a ‘fu’ film.  And while the fight sequences are brilliantly choreographed and were clearly well executed in filming, the editing and close-ups in how they ended up on screen is less than optimal.

Some added suspension of disbelief is required.  The Blacksmith’s iron fist feature flexible fingers, something that wasn’t possible in that era, and is still problematic even today.  The weight of two such appendages forged of heavy iron would require incredible strength and balance just to walk or do anything ordinary, let alone engage in unarmed combat.  But these issues can be easily ignored in favor of the exciting action that the audience is treated to.

The homages to masterpieces of martial arts are a treat.  A quick mirror scene and the notion of the Blacksmith, Jack Knife and Zen Yi working together are reminiscent of Enter the Dragon.  RZA himself says that his use of music was inspired by the late Isaac Hayes.  The typical aerial, wire work reminds us of countless masterpieces of Chinese martial-arts movies.

This is a fun film… as long as you don’t think too hard about the logic.

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