So I watch this film called The Man With The Iron Fists a few days ago and I straight up just didn’t enjoy it. I felt it had poor directing, editing and acting in several places.
If you don’t know The Man With The Iron Fists is a homage to Kung-Fu films directed written by and starring former Wu-Tang Clan member Rza as the titular hero of the movie. This is also his first major venture into creating films. He co-wrote this with Eli Roth whose film resume means about as much to me as a parachute in the middle of the ocean.
There’s a lot of heavy advertising that Quentin Tarantino had a hand in development but nothing I’ve found thus far confirms he had any direct involvement beyond basic producing. The film was developed for two years (as a script) by Roth and Rza only for them to decide to cut the movie from its four hour original draft to a 90 minute cut.
Yeah, yeah, you’re only cutting 63% of your original film away, that’s not going to be a problem. You only have more cut footage then you do footage you ended up showing. As it is the fights are poorly shot and just fail to convey all of the physical action they ought to with the interesting forms of combat. Far too many close-ups on body shots and blows that reduce the audience’s appreciation of the fight choreography.
The biggest problem with the film is very much the poor pacing therein. Scenes meant to raise tension and heighten danger are cut and simply narrated by Rza’s character the Blacksmith. This gives characters drastically less character development and some prominent people don’t even speak.
For example, The Blacksmith (Rza) has a girlfriend, a prostitute named Ms. Silk. He gives her money and spends the night with her to hide the fact that they have a relationship. His goal is to pay off her mistress Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu) so they can leave the village. Where this debt comes from is never explained. Ms. Silk however, to the best of my recollection, possibly utters one line in the entire film. Something to the effect of “Lie down. You’re injured.” If I remember it right. Nevermind that we never see her and The Blacksmith show affection to one another. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the film presents it that his so-called girlfriend is actually just using him considering we never see them embrace, kiss, or show any intimacy beyond having sex.
That takes me to the Blacksmith. For the majority of the film, Rza cannot act save for a flashback where he is shown looking distraught. I’ll get to that in a bit. You would think in a Kung-Fu movie that wouldn’t be a major issue since all he has to do is speak very little (thus to give resonance to what he does say) and compensate in fight choreography. Well he sucks at that too. Two years of scripting and apparently it never occurred to Rza to take a class.
In fact for the majority of the film, all he does is narrate (and save another character’s life) until the third act when he’s shoehorned back into the plot and had his entire backstory explained in an extended flashback. You’d think something like that would be put at the beginning of the film to show the audience how important the character is. I actually went to the theatre with someone else and they had no idea going in that the Blacksmith was the lead character. They just assumed he was a narrator until he was pulled into it.
That isn’t to say there isn’t good acting. You have Russell Crowe playing Jack Knife, an Englishman with clear addiction problems (to women and opium) who goes from gentleman to sociopath with great range. His arch enemy in the film is actually set up quite well as a dangerous assassin named Poison Sting (Kung Fu movies, it’s how they are) but Poison Sting’s character reveal is quite lackluster since he was only shown previously in the film for half a second in a narration summary as someone who works at the governor’s mansion. Motivations? Reasons? Fuck that! Still their final fight has some brilliant character moments including a parting line that I adore.
Poison Sting: I’ll see you in hell Jack!
Jack: Keep the fire warm!
Okay the delivery makes it a lot better.
There’s also a plot involving a clan of men known as the Lion Clan. They’ve been asked by the local Governor to guard a shipment of gold. The second in command (named Silver Lion) murders his clan leader (with Poison Sting’s help) to betray the Governor and steal the gold. However the son of the lord of the Lion Clan Zen Yi (Rick Yune) goes on a quest to find out why his father died and to take revenge. In fact, the way the film shows it he’s the main character for most of the film, driving the plot.
Also, Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu) has a great subplot that gets turned in far too late as she assists Silver Lion and Poison Sting in the theft of the gold. It’s revealed that all of her girls are also trained assassins and attempt to murder all of Silver Lion’s men. This includes Ms. Silk who was shown as pretty much a meek prostitute but then if she had this training did the Blacksmith know? And if he did, why didn’t they just try and make a break for it since they are both revealed (by the end of the film) to have martial arts training and… you see where this goes?
Hell, even Batista turns in an interesting character as the muscle for hire Brass Body. He’s shown as a hitman who’ll kill for money but he has a soft spot for children. He’s well-spoken and his fight choreography fits his size quite well. Then for some reason the film has him sexually abusing Ms. Silk… just cause. Oh, it’s so him and The Blacksmith can have a more emotional confrontation. Oh and he (Brass Body) murdered his entire clan for some reason.
The thing is, the film could have easily just set it up that the Blacksmith and Brass Body were both men who considered themselves only killers by proxy. The Blacksmith creates most of the weapons the Lion Clan use (and Poison Sting’s dart gun) to take control and Brass Body is paid to do terrible things. They could have had a good exchange about that. But whatever.
Also the film really and I mean really likes to use this one group of street urchins to show how a person is good natured. Brass Body is shown playing with them, the Blacksmith gives them shelter, Madam Blossom lets them run around her bordello and refuses to hurt them and at the end the military is shown to be extra evil because they’re willing shoot through them. It’s just a constant thing and I’ve always disagreed with having a character liking (or being unwilling to hit) children being a defining character trait.
It’s like Mira Sorvino said to Chow Yun-Fat in the replacement killers: “So… you didn’t want to kill a kid, welcome to the human race!” that’s just not enough to make a character sympathetic or compassionate. If anything it just shows inconsistency. I mean, you could theorize that maaaaybe the street urchins miiiiight be the children of Madam Blossom’s girls and that’s why she lets them run around the play and why she won’t hurt them. But you have to make those logical leaps for yourself. The movie doesn’t show it and you don’t know if it did in the original cut.
I think the film shows that just because you adore something doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to be able to do it justice. Look at fan fiction. People can spend years tracing the nuances of a particular story and it’s still My Little Pony in a Game of Thrones style. I think the best tell is the sheer fact that films like The Forbidden Kingdom and Kung Fu Panda do a better job of paying tribute to Kung-Fu films while making them accessible to western audiences.