Review: The gold plating of The Man with the Iron Fists

The Tarantino-backed film is heavy on the bloody martial-arts action – and that’s about it.

The Man with the Iron Fists is the story of a team of four martial-arts heroes who must defend a small town in Colonial Era China from a band of brigands who are after the government’s precious caravan of gold, getting the residents of the town, and it’s famous brothel, caught in the crossfire.

The film was written and directed by RZA as his first outing into Hollywood as a filmmaker, with lots of support from veteran writer director Quentin Tarantino.

Tarantino’s influence here is clear. Stylistically, thematically, even visual, there is a lot here that goes along with the Pulp Fiction creator’s usual filmmaking, but RZA wasn’t a perfect student.

While the film looks, and sometimes sounds like a Tarantino film, it never feels like one. None of the subtlety is there, none of the message or vision of Tarantino’s films are under the surface of this one.

Mostly, the issues lay within the film’s pacing. Especially in the opening act, the film feels perpetually rushed, as if the opening exposition was left ot run for 30 minutes instead of only the usual ten.

That rushed feeling never really goes away however. Yes, there are some interesting pieces to this film, and some compelling characters. There is even a lot of great world building. Unfortunately, nothing interesting is given more than a few seconds to marinate, and mostly things are left unexplored and under developed. Especially the fantastic elements of the world, while interesting, would have been a lot more so with a bit of explanation. The irony of the film is that it spends so much time on exposition, while still leaving so much unexplained.

The performances in the film are almost all terrible. I would give this over to the campy kung-fu film style that seems to sit precariously at the center of the film, but for the performances of Russell Crowe and Lucy Lui, which both turn out rather well, and not campy at all, even if their characters are a bit silly, and their lines are rather contrived.

The weapons and gadgets the characters field are pretty sweet, though. I especially liked the sword set used by the fighting team known as the Gemini Killers. The pair were able to link hooked blades and pull and toss each other around the melee in spectacular fashion. Of course that coolness doesn’t make up for the lack of development the characters receive. One never even discovers if the Gemini are siblings, romantic, or just working partners, as all background and character development is left by the wayside.

The fight scenes, as well, are impressive. Choreographed well, and shot expertly, nearly every moment of the several great fight scenes is a fun bowl of martial arts fantasy candy. The influence of Tarantino, himself influenced by the martial arts fantasies of 20 years back, is mixed heavily with direct influences from more modern martial arts fantasies out of China, like Flying Swords of Dragon Wall, though without the attention to detail seen in many such films.

Overall, The Man with the Iron Fists is a fun film with some rousing fight scenes, and some better-than-expected world building, but if you walk into the theater expecting the depth of a Tarantino movie, you will be sorely disapointed.