A boiling pot of wild martial arts moves culled from dozens (maybe hundreds) of violent Asian action extravaganzas as sifted through a Tarantino-esque fanboy prism, The Man With the Iron Fists feels like both a lavish vanity project and an earnest attempt to deliver a compendium of cool hand-to-hand combat set pieces.
The vogue for kung fu, elaborate wire work and fancy blade flashing seems rather past its due-date at this point, making director RZAs realization of his childhood enthusiasms feel a bit quaint, but you certainly cant say its dull or uneventful. Still, in the U.S., at least, its hard to see this Universal release breaking out beyond hardcore action fans.
Hip-hop megastar RZA of Wu-Tang Clan grew up as Robert Fitzgerald Diggs watching Asian martial arts films at New York neighborhood theaters in the late 70s and 80s, and his first big-time outing as a director-writer-star feels like the result of notes he might have scribbled about the wildest, most outrageous action scenes he saw in movies such as Fists of Double K, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Godfathers of Hong Kong and anything else he could track down from the Shaw Brothers.
A cocktail blending aspects of the Chinese wuxia martial arts genre and the Japanese jidaigeki itinerant samurai/craftsman/peasant format, the Shanghai-shot Iron Fists features more lavish production values than most of its precursors as well as an odd but appealing stew of international actors including Russell Crowe as a British mercenary, Lucy Liu as an all-knowing brothel madame, WWE star David Bautista as an invincible warrior and RZA as Blacksmith, a former slave who crafts exotic weapons for one and all.
The aptly named Jungle Village is like a Chinese Deadwood, the baddest town on the frontier where anything goes and outlaws roam free.
The simple setup has a clan chief betrayed and killed for his horde of gold by his sadistic militia leader Silver Lion (streaked-hair rock star-type Byron Mann). Rampaging and killing as they please, Silver Lion and his animalistic top fighter Bronze Lion (Cung Le) threaten to bring Jungle Village to its knees, but handsome rightful heir Zen Yi, The X-Blade (Rick Yune), Crowes hedonistic Jack Knife and Blacksmith form a Leone-esque ad hoc band of loners, each with his own reasons for getting back at Silver Lion.
Within this format, RZA and Roth are free to concoct any sort of mayhem they can invent or lift from their extensive memory banks, so you are left with fight after fight after fight.