Whenever I see Quentin Tarantino’s name attached to something, I expect awesome. 9 times out of 10, I get awesome. This would be that tenth time.
RZA, formerly of the Wu-Tang Clan, threw up his written/directorial/starring debut to the world last weekend with The Man with the Iron Fists. It was “presented by” Tarantino, which most people don’t realize he simply attached his name to help drive up box-office. Though, I thought with Tarantino backing things, maybe this was going to be a seriously awesome movie.
It had potential, aside from Quentin’s name. RZA, as a founding member of the Wu-Tang, is a genuine expert on the cheesy schlock-fu cinema of the seventies. The name of the group derives from one of those movies. Just about every Wu-Tang song makes some sort of Kung-Fu reference, if not using direct audio samples. Obsession puts it mildly.
The problem is, watching and doing are two very different things. RZA might have the geek-cred in this department, but flexing those nuts on the big screen is a huge risk and ultimately falls flat.
While watching, I kept telling myself that I shouldn’t expect much because it was supposed to be a 70s schlock-fu movie. My hopes were escalated a bit when the movie began with a fight sequence over the opening credits to the tune of “Shame On a Nigga”, which was wonderfully timed to the music. This was possibly the only true bright point in the movie. This also maintained as a trend throughout the movie, every action sequence being coupled with East Coast hip-hop or rap (mostly Wu-Tang derivative) enough that you almost feel like you should be watching an episode of Afro Samurai. It gives a sort of interesting flavor to the movie, but gets played out about half way through.
To me, the entire movie was sorta played our half way through. I waited for something unexpected to happen, but it never came. This was unsurprising considering Eli Roth was RZA’s co-writer on the screenplay and the most surprising and interesting things he’s ever done were the faux-preview for Thanksgiving during Grindhouse and his role as Donny Donowitz, The Bear Jew, in Tarantino’s Magnum Opus (and one of my all-time favorite movies) Inglorious Basterds. His writing has never needed to be much more than typical teens-in-the-wrong-place horror and increasingly more creative ways to kill people in the most painful fashion imaginable.
The reason this movie fails is three concurrent plotlines attempting to be explored and resolved within a paltry 1:39, though, any more than that and I may have walked out due to boredom.
Every fight in the movie seemed rushed and focused more on what felt like bad camera direction or bad editing. Like, really bad editing. Though entertaining, mostly due to their soundtrack, they were poorly put together for the screen.
This movie took itself far too seriously. There was a bit of humor, but I think it could have benefitted from more, especially since you’re essentially doing a period film study with this thing. RZA, I’m convinced, thought this film would be entered into the annuls of history or at least the annuls of Kung-Fu fandom. Though he has the star power, bringing Russel Crowe and Lucy Liu into the mix as headline characters as well as including the WWE’s own Dave Bautista as mega-badass Brass Body, he really can’t put much together with it.
Also, making himself the star seemed a bit vain. I understand that the character he wrote was a black blacksmith, but surely there were more capable black actors available. RZA may be cut, but I somehow doubt his prowess in the martial arts. His fights are the most heavily edited of all and come at the climax of the movie, which makes it a bit of a let down. Especially since, being a Kung-Fu flick, you expect a better final fight than RZA vs. Bautista in a Brothel Beatdown Match (copyright WWE).
This movie was fabulously bad. I can’t honestly recommend anyone see it. I’ve described movies as awesomely horrible before, i.e. Sucker Punch, but I could, in good conscience, recommend a movie like that because that movie didn’t take itself seriously and, honestly, was unique for the genre.
This movie is much like that first VHS you saw of Enter the Dragon; a bad copy of something that had been around for many years.
There is a fine line between awesomely horrible and fabulously bad. I’ll leave you to decide which is which. It’s a slippery slope.
Bidula’s Last Word – 5/10. The soundtrack saved it.
Keep fighting the good fight.