13 November 2012

First Impressions: The Man with the Iron Fists

I know all you're thinking about is Bond this week, but we'll get through a quick bit of The Man with the Iron Fists (2012) first, folks. This is the first ever film written and directed by the RZA, the former champion of the greatest hip-hop group of all time, the Wu Tang Clan. It's nice of the RZA to let us know that he's really REALLY into Asian culture, you know, as if we didn't know that already. Sure, spoilers to follow from here.

The Man with the Iron Fists is explicitly a very specific genre film, and a rare one at that. It's essentially a hyper-violent magical Kung Fu epic, also with an A-List cast and a good dose of crazy. Ultimately, though, it struggles to pull off what exactly it wants to, mostly at the fault of freshman director, RZA.

Good luck jacking off now!
RZA has potential as a director, for sure. He just comes up short here. He has a definite vision and pulls some great performances from those around him (Russell Crowe and Byron Mann for sure), but his acting himself is kind of shitty and he doesn't know exactly the best way to frame a shot. It makes you realize and appreciate a well-traveled action director like Michael Bay who is able to really capture the craziness happening on screen. Parts of this film seem to be really cool and exciting, but the camera doesn't know what to focus on and so many people are dressed similar that it's tough to sort out who is doing what to whom. Still, the Kung Fu is great and the story has a classic, if not muddled feel.

So, let's go through the cast for a bit, starting with Russell Crowe. Oh, Crowe. Was he wearing a fat suit for this role? Or did he gain a ton of weight for this role? Either way, he looked positively awful, and I loved every minute of it. The weight worked for the role as this insane yet ultimately noble Englishman bumming around China. It's certainly one of the better Crowe roles in recent memory. I can't imagine the time he'll need to put into the gym if he ever makes a Gladiator (2000) sequel, though. Fruits and veggies, Russell.

Lucy Liu is the other big name here and she just kind of moonwalks through her role. There isn't a tremendous amount invested in her. What I'm much more interested in is Byron Mann as the wacky villain Silver Lion, who seems to get more outrageous in each scene he appears in. He completely hams up the role with equal intensity and irreverence that's perfect for this kind of film. He and Crowe understand what kind of film they're in perhaps better than the RZA himself.

There are a few more cool villains here. The big reveal that the mysterious Hooded Boss figure is "Poison Dagger" isn't really that great because we barely remember who that dude was at the beginning of the movie. He's not that interesting, either. The real bad dude is Brass Body, who is basically a gold version of Colossus. Considering that we never really got a good Colossus in either X2 (2003) or The Last Stand (2006), it's fair enough to see that here. Speaking of that bad dude, why did RZA need a flashback before his finishing blow against him? Yes - this is the dude who chopped both your arms off and then raped and killed your girlfriend. Yes, you should kill him. Flashback and sudden insight unnecessary. On that note, too, Jamie Chung is a blatant Refrigerator Girl. She has less to do in this movie than in The Hangover, Part II (2011).

Fastball Special?

There were plenty of great parts of this film, though. I loved the use of American accents on every character. It had a great homogenizing effect to the many backgrounds of people here fighting in the same village. Despite the blurry action scenes, there was some good distinguishing between characters through each of their trademark weapons. Each was creative, from Crowe's gun-knife to the RZA's eponymous Iron Fists. Too bad the actual Iron Fist never made an appearance. No, no, that's very good Danny Rand stayed out of this film.

The soundtrack to this flick is also outstanding. It's a steady stream of Wu Tang-style beats and verses, which play out surprisingly spectacularly against the Kung Fu background. It was always meant to. Hip-Hop often makes good background music with well-developed beats and vocals providing a cadence rather than something to precisely tune in to. Of course, most Wu Tang lyrics were actually intelligent and worth cluing in to, but the style works here.

Like a crazy Asian Robert Downey, Jr...
RZA got into this shit really through providing the soundtrack to Quentin's Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (2003), and it's interesting to see him joining this little QT / Eli Roth group of hyperviolent auteur directors. In fact, RZA's character was supposed to appear in Quentin's upcoming Django Unchained (2012), but unfortunately it didn't work out. It's cool to see how this little group keeps developing and who else QT may mentor and slap his name on to produce. It's like a bloodier version of the Apatow Clique.

The last bit we'll talk about tonight is the interesting Rise of Afro Samurai Trope. The first Black / Asian connection in pop culture was probably Wu Tang, but it's grown quite a bit since then. There's Bushido Brown on The Boondocks (and most of The Boondocks, to be honest, from Huey to Kickball), Sam Jackson's Afro Samurai,  and know in The Man with the Iron Fists, the truest master of his chi is a Black Man. I start to grow curious as to why this exists but then I think - well, why not? If there's an interest there, there's no fault for cultural re-patronization. Whites do it all the time. Is it racist to say that the RZA is the best martial artist, in that, he's stealing something that originated from another culture? Well, there've been times when Tiger Woods was the best golfer and Eminem was the best rapper - exemplifying seemingly extant cultural appropriations for sure. It's a cool trope when done well, maybe we'll see some more in The Man with the Iron Fists 2: Now He Has an Iron Dick.

See this movie.

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