Long-time S&A reader Tony, attended an early audience test-screening in LA of RZA's directorial debut, The Man With The Iron Fists (one of S&A's most anticipated film's of the year); and Tony sent me the below write-up with his thoughts on the film that he saw.
In a nutshell, despite a few hiccups, he really dug it!
Take it away Tony (WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD):
This was a picture I had been waiting to see. There hadn't been many on-set photographs, trailers or posters for the film prior to the screening, but there I sat with the first audience to set eyes upon a work I had nervously anticipated - the directorial debut of The Rza, The Man with the Iron Fists.
Having been a huge fan of Grindhouse, the double feature exploitation fests from Quentin Tarantino & Robert Rodriguez, I was excited for what I thought would be like a the follow up to those films. Tarantino was to take a break after Kill Bill to do a smaller feature out the states, completely in Mandarin, but nothing became of it. Later Tarantino would branch off to make Grindhouse which featured Eli Roth in Quentin’s half, entitled Death Proof.
The RZA, who scored Tarantino's first volume of Kill Bill, ran into the director during a screening of a Kung Fu film and exchanged their love for the art, which gave QT the idea to have The RZA score Kill Bill.
Some expectations going into Man With The Iron Fists were that the look and feel would be similar to the Pei Mei sequences of Kill Bill Volume 2, with a gritty 16mm vibe. Although Grindhouse, a box office failure, did appear to have a lasting impression like films such as Black Dynamite and Casa De Mi Padre. But, despite the influence of Roth and Tarantino, the grindy, scratched film look is not present in Man With The Iron Fists.
The film opens with a clan inside of what appears to be a small dojo. Slammed across with yellow lettering is "Quentin Tarantino Presents," and above his name is the same in Chinese lettering. Blaring from the speakers are the thumping sounds of a RZA-produced track, while Ol’ Dirty Bastard is rapping over the track. Two fighters battle it out with freeze frames in between, to halt the action for the credits. The first thing you notice is the wonderful fight choreography. Not since The Matrix have the fighting scenes appear so beautiful orchestrated. The punches and kicks are well-planned out to make it seem fresh and new.
The RZA plays the narrator of the story, who reveals the plot to the audience; there is a transport of gold and nearly everyone wants it; but it’s up to the Lion Clan to protect their Emperor's possessions.
The Golden Lion is the head, but not for long, as he is extinguished by his cohorts, The Silver and Bronze Lions. Just as this double-cross happens, Golden Lion's son, Zen Yi (Rick Yune) is to be married to his soul mate; but once word reaches him, the wedding is on hold until he can exact his father’s revenge.
With a large sum of gold up for grabs comes an array of characters who want a piece of it, including in a pudgy European gunslinger who goes by “Knife, but you can call him Jack” (played by Russell Crowe). Once Crowe appears, he wholeheartedly steals the film. He has constructed such a character of calm skill that nearly mirrors Val Kilmer’s Doc Holiday in their sly crawl/shuffle just before unleashing all holy hell. Crowe not only shines but appears to be having the time of his life; he delivers a line, “I had one of the best times of my life” and you believe it.
As he strolls in he encounters Madame Blossom (Lucy Liu), the Mistress of the brothel in town. Lucy Liu still appears so young and vibrant, but never seeming as much of a bad ass as she does here. With the click of her wrists, she has control of her girls who are there to ease the pain and tensions of the mean, battered and bruised.
Our narrator, which almost felt like a tie in to Django Unchained (as RZA is listed as a cast member in that film as well), is an escaped slave given his freedom from his master as witnessed by his mother, Pam Grier. Sadly we only catch Pam Grier for a mere few seconds until the end credits (test shots of her chopping at the camera as her name appears). The newly freed slave is cornered while putting on shoes on the hooves of a horse; two whites threatens RZA’s character as they discard his freedom papers. After a light scuffle, which causes one of the men to hit his head on the corner edge of the weld, RZA escapes to the shore and leaves on a ship that crashes on the sands of feudal China. Here he meets Lady Silk (Jamie Chung) and earns his living as a Blacksmith.
The fight erupts over gold as the story unfolds, and an unlikely band of misfits comes together similar to The Good The Bad and The Ugly, with The Blacksmith, Jack Knife & Zen Yi teaming up to oppose the foes of the town. The Blacksmith builds the weapons for the Lions and the Wolf Clan, but as battle wages on, his weapons serve no purpose, as characters develop some unique abilities.
The two baddies that stand out are Dave Bautista who was a wrestler for WWE as Batista and Byron Mann. Bautista plays Brass Body, his already chiseled body can morph into Brass, deflecting blades and breaking his opponents bones on impact. Byron Mann plays the charismatic Silver Lion - he looks a hybrid between David Bowie’s The Goblin King, Prince circa the 80’s and flares of Michael Jackson, with be a fluffed out pompadour, permed out mane. This flamboyant bad ass elicited much laughter from the audience thanks to his hair as well as his mannerisms.
This was a bad ass Kung Fu picture that didn’t take itself too seriously, which threw me off a bit, as I wasn't expecting that.
The action scenes were jaw-dropping and void of the Paul Greengrass school of handheld nausea. This was a beautifully shot motion picture that felt like a Zhang Yimou flick with the lush costumes and set design. There are definitely uproarious moments of laughter, and some slightly campy vibes that are for the film buffs to note (tongue in cheek references). This was an overall great time of pure fun, action and Russell Crowe as a bad ass. Not to mention finally seeing Lucy Liu featured in an action sequence that blows you away. Liu’s Kill Bill felt rushed, but here she is remarkable.
The RZA directs a fun movie, but his acting seemed a bit wooden or so it might appear. His character is a calm, serene Zen type, who spends time mastering his Chi. But his performance was just not as convincing. The climactic battle was wonderful. Jack Knife & Zen Yi battling their respective foes had an insane build up that didn’t quite pull off the desired effect. It felt slightly rushed. Given all the fight staging we'd seen before the finale, these two sequences were a letdown and a waste of some creative gadgets in the ball park of Desperado. Not seeing Zen Yi return to his true love, for their wedding, was slightly cheated.
During the discussion that followed the screening, there were grumbles over the music choices. This put me at odds, as a man literally was offended that The RZA disrespected the culture by not using Asianic music. Think the recent resurgence of martial arts films in the states with Romeo Must Die, Cradle 2 The Grave & War, and the bass infused hip-hop intros to their fight sequences. Aside from that, RZA did use David Bowie’s song “Cat People,” which is not of that time period, but managed to ring in the feeling and emotion of the character.
Fast punches, high kicks, along with mean thug baddies, why not use a pulse heavy hip-hop track. After all the director is a rapper.
I, for one, overly enjoyed the film, and I'm anticipating seeing the film again, and I hope the poster will be similar to the Mondo styles that have be shared across the net lately. A fun thrill ride that is a chop suey mix of fists, laughs, & big hair that crosses martial arts and western beautifully, in a pulp style that Tarantino, Roth & The RZA should be damn proud of.
Given that test screenings are underway, with a fall premiere expected, we should finally get a first look at this flick, via a trailer/teaser, shortly.