First-time directors often encounter a problem — especially in the action genre. The films are too centralized on fight scenes and action sequences, leaving the story to wallow in mediocrity. Unfortunately for RZA, director, writer and star of “Man with the Iron Fists,” this problem is not avoided. While visually impressive, the film is unable to capture its audience’s imagination due to a confusing plot and underdeveloped characters.

The Man with the Iron Fists

Quality 16 and Rave
Universal


The film is set in Jungle Village, a small community in 19th-century China. The Blacksmith (RZA, “American Gangster”) explains the area’s four warring clans, including the Lion Clan, for whom he makes weaponry. He hopes to earn enough money to be able to skip town with Lady Silk, his girlfriend and local prostitute. When the Lion Clan is charged with the task to protect government gold as it passes through Jungle Village, the town becomes a battleground.

Greedy for glory and gold, members of the Lion Clan assassinate their leader and decide to take the gold for themselves. Meanwhile, a British soldier named Jack Knife (Russell Crowe, “Gladiator”) with a talent for violence and unknown motivations has checked into the local brothel owned by Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu, “Charlie’s Angels”). With the Lion Clan holed up in the brothel to defend their recently acquired wealth, it’s up to Jack and The Blacksmith to seek revenge and justice against the ruthless Lion Clan.

The film features several very impressive action sequences, but unfortunately the story is lost in a fury of fists. The murky plot is often inexplicable, which may be attributed to RZA’s inexperience. Complementary performances by veterans Crowe and Liu are not quite enough to make up for the rather lackluster and dull performances by the rest of the cast. Even the main characters suffer from a lack of development, and while action films do not necessarily require high drama, this absence leaves the audience without a vested interest in the story and turns “The Man with the Iron Fists” into more of a kung-fu montage than a film.

Where the film finds redemption is in the soundtrack and the visual aesthetics. Produced by RZA, who is the leader of the Wu Tang Clan, the soundtrack features a pleasing blend of modern rock, hip hop and, of course, Wu-Tang songs to enrich the classic sound of kung-fu movies. As a longtime fan of kung-fu films, RZA also did not disappoint in the genre’s defining aspect — the fight sequences are impressively well choreographed and very entertaining. One in particular features Madam Blossom slaying through a dozen Lion Clan members with a Chinese war fan.

As promised by the “Quentin Tarantino presents” heading on the movie, “Iron Fists” delivers violence and gore in droves. While the film does not match a Tarantino production in witty dialogue and interesting storylines, the brutal death scenes and sprays of blood satisfy even the most sadistic viewers.

Ultimately though, “The Man With the Iron Fists” is an underwhelming directorial debut for RZA. However, for viewers seeking a bloodbath with entertaining, physics-defying fights, there are worse ways to spend an hour and a half.

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