The RZA written/starred/directed and Quentin Tarantino presented “The Man with the Iron Fists” is more a movie about these two key players as it is anything else. Simply put: it is a film marketed directly at people like me: big fans of the Wu-Tang Clan and the indie filmmaker behind “Kill Bill”. A major inspiration of the hip-hop supergroup’s once leader is shared with a cinematic genre Tarantino pays much homage to: Chinese kung-fu films (in all their corny, overdramatic and gore-filled glory). Where the two differ, however, is in their approach to incorporating this style into their own works on the silver screen.
While Tarantino blends this style successfully with other inspirations, RZA, with “The Man with the Iron Fists” instead is faithful to the one genre. However, this is where the film falls flat. To the audience, it is at once most obviously an unauthentic imitation of such martial art films, and this realization provides comic relief in its novelty. With the film standing only on being “so bad that it’s good”, it buckles by the end of the second act leaving the viewers searching fruitlessly for deeper meaning.
Despite these obvious flaws, I would not say the film was a complete failure. RZA’s direction was effective, especially as he was able to transform the stellar talent he had to work with (Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu, to give two examples) into their intentionally over-the-top performances. If I were to give any advice to RZA (though I’m not worthy to), it would be to stick to directing, and leave the acting to the actors. He is not a good enough actor to match the just-right performances he directed his other actors into.
In terms of cinematography, Chi Ying Chan could have chosen a better medium to shoot the film in to match it’s kung-fu source material better. In my opinion, it would have looked much better with the gritty, flawed look of celluloid film than the digital perfection of the RED One M-X. His main focal lengths were somewhere between 50-85mm, and, as a result, led to a sense of visual confusion of our placement in the scene. He would have been better off taking some master shots and utilizing wider lenses. Joe D’Augustine’s failure to find a good pace in the editing room detracted from the film and left me confused as I constantly had to adjust to new scenes, without any buffer zone in between. On the other hand, the action scenes (and there are a good handful) are perfectly executed. The art direction of Drew Boughton (production design) and Thomas Chong (costume) was superb. They successfully created a fictional look just far enough above a realistically historical Asia.
One of the film’s strong points is it’s score and soundtrack, but this is to be completely expected from a revered music producer. The soundtrack, featuring the likes of the Black Keys, Kanye West and new recordings by the Wu-Tang Clan, could function successfully as a standalone piece. This is not to say, however, that it doesn’t complement the film and strike a chord within it’s intended audience.
Outside of the Pink Blossom’s obvious link to the Japanese eatery in the climax of “Kill Bill, Vol. I”, I am glad to say that “The Man with the Iron Fists” is original and doesn’t try at all to imitate Tarantino’s film. The RZA is at least successful in creating the type of film he was always inspired by. With this directing experience under his belt, I have faith in his ability to direct a more serious film that can be universally appreciated outside his already established fan base. I am glad to hear he got “The Man with the Iron Fists” out of his system, and it makes me excited to see what’s next. If anything, for a film with the tag line “you can’t spell kung fu without f and u”, it was exactly what I expected.