True story: It has been 5 years…. since I was overly excited for a film, so much that I would call up my crew and say ‘let’s go to cinema and watch this on day of release’. Spiderman 3 would be the last film since I made a claim like that. Sure, there have been many blockbuster movies since then, and yet, I lacked interest and excitement, even when they came to DVD. I thought it was my age, that I had actually grown out of this sort of thing, or that everyone at my age started going to the cinemas with their partners instead with the crew….until now.
From 1993, two things became clear from the get-go; one, that Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA had a love and passion for kung fu movies, and two, he had produced most clan and solo albums like a movie… it was only a matter of time that he would try a hand in directing. We first saw this in music videos in the mid 90s (RZA’s own ‘Tragedy’ and Gravediggaz ‘The Night The Earth Cried’). Known to most Wu-Tang fans, RZA actually made a short film out of his own budget based on his Bobby Digital alter ego but it never really took off and very few have seen it. Since then he has made many cameo acting roles in movies such as Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai, Derailed, and American Gangster, and scored the music for films such as Kill Bill and Blade Trinity. Now with the knowledge instilled in him along with additional guidance by movie icon Quentin Tarantino, RZA is ready to make his true directional début.
The Man With The Iron Fists is the first film review by RePPiN4U, the first of many film reviews that are hip hop related. Unlike so-called movie know-it-alls and faceless internet keyboard warriors who were quick to blast the movie months before it came out, RePPiN4U actually went out and checked the movie for ourselves so we can give you an unbiased review. So, has the RZA successfully made a masterpiece that he says is compared to his full production of Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers album?
Before I go on I want to speak on the lack of advertising and the treatment it received from the venue I visited to see this film… Usually films are advertised on billboards, buses and newspapers… I saw nothing of the sort. Disrespectful to the clan’s Abbott. Then when we checked for the box office at the venue in question, there was nobody there to check for tickets, and you had to buy our ticket through machines (remember I haven’t been cinema in five years, and my Peoples that were with me haven’t been to cinema even longer so it was completely new to us.) The machines told us it was ‘sold out’…. which made no sense because it wasn’t like it was a blockbuster film like say The Dark Knight Rises. Apparently the reason being was because the movie projector was ‘conveniently broken…’ After total confusion and outraged RZA fans and movie fans alike, the staff realised that this film was bigger than initially presumed…suddenly the movie projector was ‘fixed’ and it was on with the show.
The movie opens with various fast paced fight scenes complimented with the classic Wu joint – ‘Shame On a N!**@’. Then The RZA, who plays as the ‘Blacksmith’, narrates and tells the story how he became a freed slave and made a living making weapons for various clans in nineteenth century China, and uses the payments to free Lady Silk (played by Jamie Chung) from prostitution led by Madame Blossom (Lucy Liu – of Charlie’s Angels and Kill Bill fame.)
Meanwhile Zen-Yi (Rick Yune) seeks revenge after his father Gold Lion is betrayed and killed by Silver Lion (Bryon Mann) & Bronze Lion (Cung Le), only to find that Silver & Bronze have a secret weapon in the form of the main villain Brass Body (Dave Bautista – Of WWE and MMA) whose skin turns to metal on impact and seems invincible. Brass defeats Zen-Yi within an inch of his life and an observing Blacksmith rescues him after Zen-Yi’s men sacrifices himself by attempting to bury Brass Body under heavy stone.
Silver & Bronze suspect that Blacksmith and Zen-Yi are working together so they capture Blacksmith and put him under torture to get him to reveal the whereabouts of Zen-Yi, when Blacksmith refuses to talk, they make sure that Blacksmith never makes weapons again by getting Brass Body to chop off Blacksmith’s arms à la Wu-Tang Forever’s Severe Punishment.
Meanwhile the Emperor’s undercover emissary Jack Knife (Russell Crowe – of Gladiator fame) had followed Blacksmith and manages to save him from certain death, Blacksmith tells Jack of his past and how it got into Shaolin (We see a cameo appearance from Pam Grier here) and then Jack helps him build the Iron Fists which can help channel the chi that Blacksmith acquired in his days of Shaolin. Blacksmith goes on to use these fists and teams with Jack Knife and Zen-Yi to take on Silver, Bronze and Brass Body.
As you watch this film it is clear to see that RZA has learnt a lot from his ‘teacher’ Tarantino’. From the names of the characters, to using cinematic effects that is seen in Tarantino movies, to using a diverse cast and ‘borrowing’ ideas from other film influences – there is a fight scene between Zen-Yi and Silver Lion among a room full of mirrors like the classic Bruce Lee film Enter The Dragon, for example, and the Brass Body character was derived from the villain in the ol’ school kung fu flick Born Invincible. Like all other kung fu villains, he does have a weakness, it’s just a matter of finding it. The fight cheoreography is more modern than ol’ school kung fu… bear in mind that RZA is an ol’ school kung fu fanatic I would have hoped for scenes to be more like that however what RZA has done here is blend the two – keep it modern with ol’ school traits – like when Gold Lion gets killed with exaggerated blood coming out of both sides of his head, and him not realising that he is dead until 10 seconds afterwards when he suddenly drops his head on the ground. Yes the blood is over the top but that was the idea… it’s all entertainment. It is also a nice touch that RZA used the Clan’s 8 Diagrams track ‘Unpredictable’ to go with one of the fight scenes. It is something that Wu-Tang purists will appreciate, but film buffs will dismiss.
If you went into this film thinking it’s gonna be another classic like Ong Bak or Ip Man, you fail to realise that this is an American production as opposed to a CineAsia production. But as American fighting films go, this one is not bad at all, however the rookie director has made a few mistakes, while he gives us background on the Blacksmith character, the audience have no idea how Brass Body got those super powers in the first place. Maybe it became an outtake that may be featured in the blu-ray and DVD extras, and maybe RZA thought that it may slow down the pace of the film. I still feel as though we deserved an explanation. The other eyebrow raising factor is the Iron Fists themselves… Blacksmith had both his arms chopped off, so when he fuses himself with these weapons, how is he able to control the fingers as a means of eating and be able to clench his fists??? Is it a mind over matter thing?
Despite these few mis-steps, it is a valiant effort by the rookie director. It’s not an outstanding film, it could have been a lot worse (Tekken, Dragonball Z, Street Fighter: The Legend Of Chun-Li etc), but it ticks the right boxes as far as being an entertaining movie. Furthermore, if RZA can bring together such a cast that has individual success in awards and other sports achievements, The RZA is going in the right direction and we are going to see a lot more of RZA as a director in the future. I will most definitely buy the DVD to check out the deleted scenes and making of the film, as I am convinced that some of those scenes could have been left in to fill the missing pieces of the puzzle. With this, the rest of the clan’s multi-talented skills plus their seeds now rhyming and making a name for themselves, it is justifiable that Wu-Tang is indeed Forever.