|Fat Russell Crowe is the best Russell Crowe.|
The Man with the Iron Fists is an over-the-top kung-fu movie that doesn't so much bleed action but sprays it out like a freshly cut wound. It's on the edges of parody-action and seriously-good cgi-action, and it can't really decide which it wants to be. There's plenty of action to be had, I just wish it was more over-the-top ridiculous. I'm basically faulting it for not being Black Dynamite, the best bad movie ever.
From it's stylized opening, extreme zooming and panning, and voicework that's close to a bad dubbing, you can tell it wants to parody the kind of classic kung-fu movies that were so bad they're good. The problem is, they don't go bad enough for it to work. In some cases it's a lot of fun, but where it tries to be serious it could have benefited from being silly.
Most of the effects and the choreography are really quite good, which only serves to make the elements that are supposed to look bad on purpose, just bad. The set design is beautiful, the fights are great, and all the cgi with Bronze Body looks fantastic, but it all belongs in a better movie.
Probably the worst thing about RZA's first directorial debut is the RZA's acting. I wish he'd just focus on the directing, or lessened his role. Every single scene he looks half-asleep! Unless he was trying to mimic a crappy american actor put into a low-budget kung-fu movie who doesn't give a rat's ass about his lines and just wants to get it over-with, in which case, well played sir. But it's hard to care about what happens to a character(the main character, presumably) when HE doesn't even care about what happens to him.
Fortunately the rest of the cast, filled with big actors and unknowns alike, make up for it with their over-the top delivery. You'll swear every asian actor is somehow dubbed, especially the fantastically evil Daniel Wu playing Poison Dagger. Lucy Liu goes full-on crazy geisha and while I wish Bautista was more evil in his role as Bronze Body, he has an overall silliness. And it goes without saying that fat Russell Crowe is the best Russell Crowe. He is easily the one who is having the most fun in this movie.
The story is alright. It's pretty standard kung-fu fare, but there are multiple protagonists which take away from each of the other stories. They're all interesting, but if RZA is the main character, it's hard to care about him when all the important stuff happens to him an hour into the movie. It might have been better just to focus on one character. You probably won't really care about the story considering all the fighting.
This is incredibly bloody, as it should be. Fake blood gushing and fake limbs everywhere, if that's your thing. What I was surprised about was that there wasn't a lick of nudity, male or female. That's a feat for a kung-fu movie with a whore house as a prominent setting. Someone should get an editing award for that alone!
The fighting choreography is fun and while the cinematography is a little too fast, it's still a blast to see the inventive fighting styles and weapons of all of the characters. The fantastic trailer provides a lot to live up to, and while it doesn't quite make it, it does provide a lot, especially in the final showdown. Daggers flying every which way, spinning gun-knives, crazy flying ribbon dagger chain things, I don't know how half the stuff works and I don't care!
This is a kung-fu movie by the RZA, so of course it has a fun hip-hop soundtrack. I'm glad it's not overblown or takes up too much. It is just the right amount of awesome.
The Man with the Iron Fists is a fun kung-fu movie. It's not as iconic as Kill Bill and it's not as over-the-top silly as Kung Pow: Enter the Fist. It's not good enough to be great, and it's not bad enough to be good, but it's still a pretty-good action movie if you're looking for a bit of the ol' ultra-violence.
THE GOOD: Great fighting, inventive styles and characters, a lot of over-the-top actors and camera angles, bloody, fat Russell Crowe, good soundtrack.
THE BAD: RZA's acting, not enough over the top, story is kind of everywhere, will probably be too bloody for some.
THE VERDICT: $$$ Ehhhhh it's really pretty good, but it's not great. It's fun, but not a must-see. There is some fun wacky fighting, but you won't miss anything if you wait until it comes out on demand/DVD/netflix etc.
MOVIES LIKE IT: Black Dynamite, Kung Pow: Enter the Fist, Kill Bill, Kung-Fu Hustle
ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: The final fight between RZA's blacksmith and Bautista's Bronze Body. It's a fun and interesting fight, and you really wonder who's going to make it, and there's good fight choreography and effects, but RZA looks so board with it. Part way through he looks like, "Man, I'm done fighin' this guy. I'm gonna go grab a drink. Naw, I guess I better finish him."