When a rapper-cum-actor-cum-author-cum-producer decides to turn director, either he is really multi-talented, or he is on drugs. With RZA, it is a little bit of both, as you will find out when you watch his directorial debut, The Man With The Iron Fists.
One look at the poster or at the promos, and you will think this is a Quentin Tarantino film - RZA scored the music for Kill Bill
, and one guesses that he was heavily influenced and impressed by Tarantino's style, because that is when the germ of the idea (for this film) first entered his head.
Well, imitation may be the best form of flattery, but RZA is no Tarantino, as the movie proves.
In a fictional village in China, there lives a blacksmith (RZA). He is not a native, and he stays out of local politics anyway, but makes fantastic weapons for warring clans and others. He has one objective - to earn enough money to free his prostitute girlfriend, Lady Silk (Jamie Chung), from her madam at the local brothel, Pink Blossoms.
In the meantime, Gold Lion, the leader of the Gold Clan, is on a mission. Government authorities have entrusted to him the safe passage of a large amount of gold that needs to be transported through the village. He does not, however, expect betrayal, and unfortunately, the wealth is too much of a temptation for his trusted lieutenants, Silver Lion (Byron Mann) and Bronze Lion (Cung Le), and Gold Lion pays for it with his life.
Silver Lion then becomes the leader of the clan, and they wait for the gold to arrive at the village. On hearing of his father's death, Gold Lion's son Zen-Yi (Rick Yune) hurries to the village to avenge him.
The blacksmith is all set to leave the village with Lady Silk, but then enters Jack Knife (Russell Crowe), who is actually an undercover agent for the government. He is here to ensure safe passage for the gold. Unknown to Zen-Yi, Silver Lion has a price on his head. Inevitably, the good guys join forces against the bad guys, and pandemonium reigns in the village.
RZA is obviously inspired by formula films, and his movie is no different from any masala film in Bollywood. The story is simple, and the screenplay flows smoothly from one plot point to another. The problem with the script is that every event is predictable, and the only reason you would watch the movie is for the smaller details. Such as, what is an African blacksmith is doing in China, how does Jack Knife manage his alcohol, and what were Silver and Bronze thinking when they decided to unite against the government?
RZA does not shy away from aggressive language and plenty of violence, and the USP of the movie is the action. So even when logic fails the script, there are always these fancy martial arts moves that can help you forget the little glitches. RZA also inserts a lot of bravado in the film, and some of the dialogues may seem unintentionally intense, but after you watch the movie for a while, you realise that THIS is how the movie is supposed to flow - self-deprecating and indulgent at the same time.
RZA is a sulking hero. He sometimes takes the whole brooding bit a little too far, and playing the underdog does not suit him. His transformation to some kind of saviour and superhero comes a little too late. Lucy Liu and Jamie Chung are wasted in the movie. The real actors are Russell Crowe and Rick Yune, and you keep waiting to see more of them on screen. Byron Mann is also quite the revelation.
Since the film is set in a fictional world, in a way, there are lots of liberties taken with the production and the costume designs. Given the fantastical elements of the characters, a wilful suspension of disbelief is mandatory, and thankfully, it all ends within 90 minutes or so.
The music is mixed, and the cinematography is precise, but if you are a fan of the old Chinese Shaolin films and such, then the presentation may just become a little jarring for you.
The Man With The Iron Fists is yet another movie that can be missed, or watched on DVD. Unless you have absolutely nothing else to do, there is no point spending time and money to watch this one in a theatre. Do not expect a proper Tarantino rip-off, but, to be fair, RZA does shine as a director in certain portions, and that would make Tarantino proud.
Our suggestion is that you revisit either Django Unchained
or any Chinese saga film, if you are looking for fulfilment. This movie leaves you bereft of emotion and enjoyment, despite a few laughs here and a few gasps there.