Friday, May 24, 2013
The Man with the Iron Fists
I really wanted to love this movie, but it didn't quite work out that way. I liked it (for the most part) and respected it, but it was ultimately too much of a mess to stand up as anything more than a mildly entertaining curiosity, which is a shame because it was a good effort with some nice ideas and some decent moments.
The film was written and directed by RZA, who also played the titular character. RZA is a brilliantly talented hip hop performer and producer, and an admittedly kung fu film fanatic. He is now an icon of the music industry with enough clout to get a film financed, and he decided to make his feature debut an homage to the Hong Kong martial arts films he grew up watching. That's awesome. I wish more filmmakers made passion projects like this instead of, say, Transformers part 3 or another adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel. Unfortunately, the fact that you've watched a lot of kung fu movies doesn't mean you can direct one of your own. Then again, most of the movies he grew up watching were probably terrible, and I wouldn't call this terrible. It's just a mess.
The best thing I can say about this movie is that, for the most part, I was never bored.
The worst thing I can say about this movie is that I have no freaking idea what it was about.
Seriously, I don't know what the plot was. There were some guys who did stuff. Something about a gold shipment. Some guys father was murdered. Russell Crowe had a gun with a knife on it that spun around when he pulled the trigger.
So as a screenwriter, the RZA bit off more than he could chew. I wasn't looking for an epic story or Shakespearean levels of characterization, but I would have enjoyed a story that I could understand and follow. There were just too many characters and too many things going on, none of which made sense or seemed all that interesting.
The action was pretty off the hook, however, and almost -- almost -- makes the whole thing worth watching. The opening fight scene was ridiculously fun and well choreographed and set to a great hip hop music track. After that I thought the film was going to be amazing, but then it just kind of fell flat, until the next fight scene, anyway. Here's all I really need to say: There's a scene where Lucy Liu kicks some guy's head off. That's cool, right?
It's also a very pretty movie, with some stunning locations and great set design. Too bad the special effects were pretty terrible.
The cast was a lot of fun too, with a very strange performance by Russell Crowe, who clearly realized the script was nonsense so he decided to just go so far over the top nobody would notice that his character made no sense. Rick Yune (the diamond-faced guy from Die Another Day) was in there as somebody and he was very good, as was Lucy Liu as the owner of a brothel. I was never sure what role she played in the film, and even though kicking some guy's head off was awesome, I didn't know who the guy was so it ultimately didn't really mean much. Professional wrestler Batista plays a villain who can turn his body bronze, and he pretty much stole the entire film. He was great. And then there's RZA, who as an actor is a wonderful rapper. Anyway... he did his best. I enjoyed his performance, but I wouldn't call it good, or, really, even acting.
As a film debut by a man with no real film experience to speak of, this was very close to being a success. It had a great cast, noble intentions, and some really fun action set pieces, but it suffered from a lackluster screenplay, poor pacing, and no real narrative flow.
But... go ahead and check it out if only for some cool fights and an amazing soundtrack.