Former Wu-Tang Clan member’s directorial debut proves incoherent mess
RZA was a menace on the mic during his glory days with the Wu-Tang Clan; however, his directorial debut, The Man with the Iron Fists , is less than spectacular. A parody of Kung-Fu films, The Man with the Iron Fists takes all the absurdity and fight sequences and atmosphere of ‘80s kung-fu pictures and blows them out of proportion in a messy marriage of exaggerated action montages and dated comedy.
The plot focuses on different Kung-Fu clans that serve a variety of purposes, from thieves and thugs to noble servants of the state. When one clan is entrusted with transporting the golden riches of the land, there is a sudden betrayal within the group, and the clan leader is covertly murdered by the second in rank.
This film could have been tasteful if the plot stopped at this point — an eastern Goodfellas, if you will. Instead, RZA decides to mercilessly weigh down the story with unnecessary twists and characters that do little for the film.
RZA casts himself as the leading man, a blacksmith who welds the weapons for the warring groups around his village. His line of work eventually has consequences when he loses both of his arms from the elbows down. He then makes iron arms to save the day. To further complicate the plot, RZA’s character dates a prostitute at the local bordello more akin to a playboy casino than a brothel — the type of place that would service athletes and politicians rather than the Average Joe. To put the cherry on top, Russell Crowe steps into the shoes of a Western, whore-hungry alcoholic cowboy who casually knifes people to death while retaining a great deal of chivalry.
To say the least, I think the heavy hand of an editor was in order here. As if the plot weren’t already too much to tackle for any artistic endeavor, RZA lavishes the story with shallow comedy by naming all the characters according to surface qualities: Jack Knife, Lady Silk, Bronze Lion, Poison Dagger. Though I understand and sympathize with the attempts to heighten the film’s absurdity, such decisions fail to create more depth for the audience and instead result in a gaudy picture.
The film has a few redeeming qualities. Crowe delivers a great performance, stealing the spotlight every time he enters the frame. The role he tackled was one that required the masterful subtlety of a seasoned actor, and Crowe delivers beautifully. RZA does a good job of shooting the film with interesting angles and camera work that reflects his time apprenticing under famed director Quentin Tarantino.
Overall, however, this directorial debut falls on its face. RZA miscast himself and spent too much time in front of the camera instead of behind it. The Man with the Iron Fists is funny on the surface but fails to leave any lasting impression. At the end of the day, just as having a guitar doesn’t make you a musician, having a budget and a script doesn’t make you a director.