Hyper-stylized, comically violent, and chock full of crazy, kung fu characters, “The Man with the Iron Fists” knows what it is, and knows why the people watching bought their ticket. It’s fun in a tongue in cheek kind of way, as characters with names like “Bronze Body”, “Silver Lion”, and “Jack Knife” fight using all manner of fantastical weaponry and wire work.
Certainly silly at times, but entertaining in its own kind of fashion.
Jungle Village is a village in 19th century China. Within, several factions fight continually for control. One such clan, the Lion clan, is asked to provide security as a shipment of the Emperor’s gold makes it way through the village and to the north. This deal leads to a betrayal within the clan, however. The leader of the Lions is assassinated by his lieutenants, who want to steal the gold as it passes through.
This throws the village into chaos, as a number of things happen. The son of the assassinated warlord begins to head back to the village, seeking revenge. The peace-loving blacksmith (RZA) has to work double time as weapons orders pour in from both sides. An opium addled emissary of the Emperor (Russel Crowe) rolls in to town, and holds up at the local brothel, run by Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu). Bronze Body, a hulking brute of a man who can turn his body to metal, throws his talents into the mix. As all of this happens, the gold caravan, guarded by the feared Gemini Twins, slowly approaches.
If this sounds like a recipe for a wild Kung fu rumble, it is. RZA (who wrote, starred and directed, here) has put together a film where crazy characters and wild action are paramount. Aside from hand to hand martial arts, the players wield every sort of weapon imaginable. Suite of armor that fire spikes, poisoned blow darts, a huge combo gun/knife, and of course, the “iron fists” of the title. There’s plenty of wire work to go around, as well.
Character-wise, like a film by the film’s presenter, Quentin Tarantino, every player who appears has a backstory and a motivation. Crowe plays a drunken lech out to have a good time while ensuring safe passage for he gold, and Lucy Liu plays a task master Madam. Both have a good time with their roles, and easily they’re the high point of the movie.
Some of the other actors are a little stiff, but the style of the movie carries the day. Fights break out every out every five minutes or so, all set to a hip hop soundtrack compiled by RZA himself. He also shoots the movie with the occasional stylings of the 70s Kung Fu movies he so obviously must love.
It all comes together in a movie that doesn’t try to do anything aside from having some fun. It’s certainly disposable entertainment, but it is entertaining.