LOS ANGELES — A boiling pot of wild martial arts moves culled from dozens (maybe hundreds) of violent Asian action extravaganzas as sifted through a Tarantino-esque fanboy prism, “The Man With the Iron Fists” feels like both a lavish vanity project and an earnest attempt to deliver a compendium of cool hand-to-hand combat set pieces. The vogue for kung fu, elaborate wire work and fancy blade flashing seems rather past its due-date at this point, making director RZA’s realization of his childhood enthusiasms feel a bit quaint, but you certainly can’t say it’s dull or uneventful. Still, in the U.S., at least, it’s hard to see this Universal release breaking out beyond hardcore action fans.
Director: RZACast:Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Cung LeRated: R for bloody violence, strong sexuality, language and brief drug use. Running time: 95 minutes. What did you think?: Find this review at charlestonscene.com and offer your opinion of the film.
Hip-hop megastar RZA of Wu-Tang Clan grew up as Robert Fitzgerald Diggs watching Asian martial arts films at New York neighborhood theaters in the late ’70s and ’80s, and his first big-time outing as a director-writer-star feels like the result of notes he might have scribbled about the wildest, most outrageous action scenes he saw in movies like “Fists of Double K,” “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin,” “Godfathers of Hong Kong” and anything else he could track down from the Shaw Brothers. Tarantino, on board as presenter, entered the mix when RZA handled the score for “Kill Bill: Vol. 1” and spent a month in China watching him shoot, which led to the connection with Eli Roth, a co-writer and co-producer here.
A cocktail blending aspects of the Chinese wuxia martial arts genre and the Japanese jidaigeki itinerant samurai/craftsman/peasant format, the Shanghai-shot Iron Fists features more lavish production values than most of its precursors as well as an odd but appealing stew of international actors including Russell Crowe as a British mercenary, Lucy Liu as an all-knowing brothel madame, World Wrestling Entertainment star David Bautista as an invincible warrior and RZA as Blacksmith, a former slave who crafts exotic weapons for one and all.