Legendary rapper RZA attempts to crossover to the world of film, having written, produced, starred and directed the martial arts extravaganza The Man with the Iron Fists. The result is a bloated mess, with gorgeous set design mostly going to waste on up-close and off-balanced action, lacking performances and a plot that tries over-complicating things in the process. The Man with the Iron Fists is a passion project taken too far.
In a small village in feudal China rests a Blacksmith (RZA). He’s a quiet assembler of weaponry, but a reliable one that almost never turns down a job, in hopes of making enough money for him and his love to leave the war-fueled town once and for all. But things get complicated when a gold transport is said to be coming through town, causing various clans and shady characters to come from the darkness in an attempt to steal the gold and leave numerous giant puddles of blood in the process.
Throw in a mysterious foreigner by the name of Jack Knife (Russell Crowe), plus a man that can literally turn into gold that goes by the name of Brass Body (Dave Bautista) and you got yourself a good old-fashioned showdown.
The Man with the Iron Fists has all of the makings to be an instant classic. Respected musician the RZA is at the helm, acting as director, producer, writer and star of the film, plus his buddies Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino, not to mention the cast list of Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Dave Bautista, Rick Yune and many more notable names.
So why is The Man with the Iron Fists such a massive disappointment? I’ll tell you. This is RZA’s first film and it shows more often than not. The film’s story establishes itself very quickly as over-complicated and riddled with too many supporting characters. Then, when the action picks up, you’ll notice that most of the martial arts work is filmed without the slightest clue as to how to operate a camera. Everything is too zoomed in or hastily edited, causing nothing but the feeling of confusion to set in.
There’s also an over reliance on CGI blood and effects that almost never look finished or polished enough to blend in with the environment RZA is trying to create. One thing he does get right is the set design, because almost every location looks stunning and detailed, full of interesting artifacts and original costumes. But those are just tiny compliments for an otherwise troubling picture.
RZA can’t carry a film as an actor either. He’s just too lifeless, mumbling out lines of dialogue like someone’s holding up his lines on a board just beyond the camera. He tries his best to recruit guys like Dave Bautista (okay; maybe not) and Russell Crowe, but both come off giving performances for two completely different movies. Crowe almost always has a look of complete boredom spread out across his face, while Bautista thinks he’s giving an Oscar-nominated performance, full of anger and rage.
Nothing blends together. Nothing meshes. The entire film is jumbled mess, with RZA’s hip-hop infused soundtrack only confusing the tone even more. I get that he’s trying to pay homage to films that he watched growing up, while also adding his own hip-hop spin to things, but not once does the film register as anything more than an expensive experiment that never works.
I give credit to RZA for sticking his neck way out there and for really attempting to fuse his love with martial arts and music into one film, but I can’t say that he was successful. Not even close.
Universal brings this one to Blu-Ray with a rich and colorful 1080p video transfer that’s almost always trying to jump off the screen. The sets are full of bright reds and oranges, with even the film’s darker moments showing signs of blues and yellows. I absolutely love the way this film looks and it pleases me to say Universal has done a top-notch job transferring it to Blu-Ray. Detail is extremely well presented and colors are off the charts.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track throws many beats and bone-pops at you without hesitation. RZA’s hip-hop centered soundtrack compliments the film awkwardly, but it sounds kind of great, with lots of activity getting blended in. The back channels are constantly in motion, with arrows flying left and right and the sound of blood spurting or bones popping coming in regularly timed intervals. I have no quarrels with this audio track.
Here’s what’s included in this combo pack:
- Theatrical & Unrated Extended Cuts (HD)
- Deleted Scenes (HD)
- A Look Inside (HD)
- On the Set with RZA (HD)
- A Path to the East (HD)
- DVD Copy
- UltraViolet Digital Copy
- Digital Copy
It’s unfortunate that RZA’s first film as a director is possibly one of the biggest letdowns of 2012. I didn’t have extremely high hopes for the film, but I was expecting something entertaining at the very least. The Man with the Iron Fists is ultimately a failure that comes from RZA’s lack of experience behind the lens.
Hopefully he learns from his mistakes and comes back with something that’s less bloated, more focused and better acted. Perhaps wearing too many hats on the set caused RZA to lose focus on what he was trying to make. I hope that’s the case, because I’d love to see him direct something worthy of getting presented by Tarantino. He’s better than this.