Oh, how “The Man With the Iron Fists” longs to be “Kill Bill.” It isn’t, but its environments, blood-letting and martial arts, along with an interesting score and soundtrack, make no bones about its filmmakers being Quentin Tarantino devotees.
Directed and partly written by RZA (the incredible musician from the Wu-Tang Clan, which provides the soundtrack), this is a gory tale of vengeance and destiny. Its ancestors are the grindhouse martial-arts movies and blaxploitation films from the 1960s and 1970s.
Tarantino is a huge fan of the Shaw Brothers (his “Kill Bill” movies are really tributes to their films), who brought countless martial-arts movies to the United States (including a film called “Angel with the Iron Fists” from 1966). Obviously, RZA and Tarantino’s longtime friend, screenwriter and director Eli Roth, share that same enthusiasm.
Starring as “the Blacksmith,” who becomes the title character, RZA resides in Jungle City. He is in love with a courtesan and the two plan to run away together. Meanwhile, an emperor is sending a shipment of gold that we know may not reach its destination because everyone wants to get their mitts on it.
The action involves warring clans, incredible martial arts sequences and geysers of blood. Russell Crowe arrives on the scene as Jack Knife, a character who spends a lot of time in a brothel but who really has other things on his mind. (Incidentally, he carries a very cool hybrid weapon.) Lucy Liu is the madam who runs the brothel.
All kinds of warriors are present here. One, inexplicably, looks for all the world like country musician Marty Stuart. The betrayals and liaisons are too complicated to comprehend. Hey, it’s the fight scenes the audience seeks, after all. There are some darkly comic moments that work well, and many of those are Crowe’s.
The influence of Roth can be seen in the most grisly of the fights and, unfortunately, in the movie’s approach to women in general. Roth clearly has issues with women in all his films. Most of them here, except for Liu’s character, are prostitutes. The gore doesn’t reach the extremes of Roth’s “Hostel” films because it’s cartoonish, as are the characters.
This is pretty much like watching a violence-ridden comic book spring to life. If you want to see action and violence, head right this way. If you’re expecting character development and drama, catch Denzel Washington in “Flight.”