Cast: RZA, Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Rick Yune, Dave Bautista and Jamie Chung
Running Time: 96 mins
Release Date: December 7th
Growing up in New York through the late ’70s and early ’80s, a young Robert Fitzgerald Diggs digested an increasingly unhealthy amount of martial arts movies—primarily, but not restricted to, the entire output of Shaw Brothers studios. Time passed and Diggs soon became RZA, the de facto leader and machiavellian schemer behind Wu-Tang Clan—a nine-strong group of hip hop iconoclasts hailing from Staten Island via the slums of Shaolin. The years have seen RZA move closer to his cinematic routes, cameoing in movies and providing soundtracks for the likes of Jim Jarmusch and Quentin Tarantino, so a full feature that brings his journey full circle always seemed likely.
With The Man with the Iron Fists, he’s done just that. Presented under the watchful eye of Tarantino—whose involvement seems to go no further than allowing Lucy Liu’s performance to be a CG cut and pasted from Kill Bill—RZA seeks to celebrate the minority while appealing to the masses. It’s a tricky tight rope to walk, the exploitation movie, and while all the heart and care is there, the end product is far from it.
Iron Fists tale follows the Blacksmith (RZA), a weapons forger in nineteenth century China who finds himself caught in the middle of an age old feud between the cast of Andrew Llyod Webber’s much forgotten Kung Fu Cats, a bargain basement Colossus from X-Men, and a band of lethal brothel ninjas. Russell Crowe pops up too, scenery chewing as an opium smoking British soldier channeling his Tugger-riding, fightin’ around the world South Park manifestation. The awards on his mantelpiece would say he’s clearly above this, but he seems to be having fun.
The advent of the internet heralded a new approach to music making and collaborations; email, YouSendIts and Dropboxing made it possible to make tracks without even meeting each other. Sadly, Iron Fists action sequences seem like the same technique has been applied to fight choreography. RZA’s direction and editing are heinously scattershot—the result of one-take shots to save time—leaving the viewer struggling to comprehend just what it is their seeing.
An initial four hour running time was mercifully slashed down to just over ninety minutes but its sloppy chop job sticks out like a severed arm. Characters with elaborate names like Crazy Hippo, the Gemini Twins, Gold Lion, and Brass Body fleet in and out within a matter of minutes, their ridiculous haircuts the only signifiers they even existed.
The Man with the Iron Fists is a perfectly passable film, messy but acceptable, exactly what you’d expect from a wet behind the ears director. Watching a man’s head get punched clean off his shoulders to a soundtrack of Wu-Tang, Kanye West and Danny Brown is a neat novelty at first, but grows stranger as it drags on. This would probably be thirteen-year-old Robert Diggs’ favourite movie, I imagine that won’t be the case for many other people.