Back when I was much younger and in High School, local TV stations would often run some wild fare over the weekends. Among reruns of such fantastic series of yesteryear such as The WIld Wild West, the original (and at that time only) Star Trek show, Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, etc., those who stuck around until the early evenings, perhaps at about 5 to 6 P.M., were often treated to some really, really crazy Karate/Kung Fu films.
These films were often as outlandish as they were senseless, featuring really bad English dubbing and questionable filmmaking/editing along with some at times memorably impressive acrobatics. After watching several of the films, I eventually recognized certain actors, but in those early pre-internet days I had little to no idea of these films’ origins.
Fast forward several years and the works of the Shaw Brothers Studios, among others, while perhaps not as well known to the general public as it is to some film afficionados (geeks) like myself, are warmly regarded for their at times cheesy movie fare.
It appears that rapper RZA saw some of the same stuff I did when he was young. He parlayed his success as a musician into the movies, delivering soundtrack material as well as acting in several features and TV shows. 2012’s The Man With The Iron Fists was his first directorial feature, and his love of those cheesy martial arts films of yesterday is clearly in evidence.
The film deals with Blacksmith (RZA) a…well…blacksmith in an ancient, small Chinese town where a rather large gold shipment is about to pass through. He is hired by some shady characters to craft weapons which, in turn, are used against the man who is to watch over this shipment. The betrayal brings several parties to this town, from the good to the bad to the just plain unbelievable. Yes, we have an African American blacksmith in an ancient Chinese village (this is explained), but soon after he is joined by Russell Crowe as the enigmatic Jack Knife, a British (?) subject whose loyalties are revealed in the film’s later acts.
Over the course of the film alliances are forged (ouch!) and the good guys eventually confront the bad while the fate of the gold lies in the balance.
So, is the film worth your time?
For someone like myself, the answer is a yes…with reservations. The film could have been tightened up a lot more, but I did enjoy all the various (outlandish) personalities present and the fight scenes were generally well done.
Where the film fails, sadly, is with RZA himself. As Blacksmith, RZA is the film’s “hero”, yet while he did a good job directing the feature (he also was responsible for the story and shares screenwriting credits), I felt his acting simply wasn’t all that good. In Blacksmith we needed an actor strong enough to take on the role and make him stand out over everyone else. When multiple tragedies befell Blacksmith, we needed to feel sorry for him enough that when he ultimately triumphs, we should be jumping from our chairs in glee. RZA, however, delivers for the most part a one note sleepy-eyed performance while his character is often lost to the wilder, more engaging work of the actors representing good and evil around him. Even worse, later in the film when Blacksmith confronts one of the big bad guys, it is also evident his fighting skills aren’t quite up to par with many of the others as well.
Having said that, I have to give RZA credit for putting this Kung Fu fever dream of a film together. Again, for someone like me who is versed in the films RZA was trying to emulate and offer in tribute, there is much to enjoy. However, for those not versed in the old Karate/Kung Fu films of yesterday, The Man With The Iron Fists will most likely not resonate. In the end, I can only offer only a mild recommendation.