So it's my understanding that RZA is just a big kung fu nerd, and all he wants is to hang out in East Asia with people doing martial arts, and I think that's pretty cute. The Man With the Iron Fists is his personal tribute to Asian martial arts movies, focusing on a small town where warring gang members are always seeking vengeance for something or other. It becomes known that a traveling envoy carrying treasure for the emperor will be passing through, and suddenly everyone in town has an eye for power. The major players include the ruthless Silver Lion (Byron Mann), conniving brothel owner Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu), mysterious visitor Jack Knife (Russell Crowe), and vengeful Zen Yi, The X-Blade (Rick Yune). Caught between them all is the local weapons maker known as Blacksmith (RZA), who just wants to save up enough money to leave with his lover Lady Silk (Jamie Chung), who works for Madam Blossom. There's, um, lots of fighting.
I recognize that this isn't an especially well thought-out movie, or even well-made, but I can't say it isn't fun. The story is convoluted and most of the acting is either terribly exaggerated or hilariously flat (usually purposefully, I think/hope), and the whole thing is obviously a rather self-indulgent project for RZA to share his love of Asian action films. Luckily, the cast is excellent, and the action is generally very well-done, anddddd I have low standards. I loved the ridiculous characters and weird non sequiturs, especially the totally bizarre end credits sequence. There's an interesting range of weaponry, and lots of attractive people fighting, plus magic for some reason! Like, there's a dude whose body is secretly made of brass (he's called BRASSBODY) and a little bit of Dragonball Z shit thrown in for good measure. I was most taken in by the Geminis, who were either married or brother and sister (who cares?). Their fight scene is fucking extreme, and that's the point where the movie won my favor. I mean, seriously, these two like merge to create an ultimate fighting machine and they kill a hundred bad guys and it's the most badass thing! And also later Lucy Liu and her ladies all become slinky poison warriors and it's a nice payoff for their otherwise passive presence in the film.
I didn't like Russell Crowe at all, his character didn't make any sense plus his fight scenes were boring, but he's not a particularly major figure since it's really more balanced ensemble piece. And at least his knife/gun contraption is kind of cool. RZA isn't too charismatic but he doesn't give himself many lines, and when he gets the titular iron fists (spoiler?) he manages to get in some good action bits even though it's clear he's not a trained fighter. If anything, I could tell he was having a blast making this movie and it was endearing. As a partially self-aware, partially genuine throwback to martial arts movies of the 70s, it mostly works, though it's necessary to not think too much about it to truly enjoy it. What it lacks in writing and performances it somewhat makes up for in enthusiasm, anyway.
Oh and the soundtrack is great, obviously!
Pair This Movie With: The styling of the gangs and the referential elements reminded me of Sukiyaki Western Django, and the over-the-top violence and imaginative weaponry put me in mind of Yakuza Weapon. You'd have a fun, bloody triple feature with those!