The Man with the Iron Fists
Directed by RZA. Starring RZA, Russell Crowe, Cung Le, Lucy Liu, Rick Yune, Jamie Chung 16 cert, general release, 95 min
Thanks to Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and various camp followers, we now live in a world where violent kitsch has taken on the status of respectable art. Question the worth of such beasts and you risk being classified as an unspeakably fusty port drinker.
The inestimable rapper RZA – whose work with the Wu Tang Clan is drenched in martial arts – tests our toleration of the form to breaking point (and often beyond) with this overlong, indifferently acted tribute to classic wuxia and low-rent 1970s kung fu. But he just about gets away with it.
This is, almost certainly, the only review that will compare The Man with the Iron Fists to The Wasteland. The film does, however, have this in common with the TS Eliot poem: understanding the references will enhance the experience, but tolerable sense can be made of the work without such knowledge.
Written (with biblical inevitability) by Eli Roth, the script has something to do with a clan chief whose gold is stolen by a brutal bandit (Kajagoogoo-haired Byron Mann). Emboldened, the thug then advances on Jungle City – a wild-west town in all but location – where they eventually have to face down RZA’s muttering, barely coherent blacksmith, Rick Yune’s suave boxer, and a fat drunk played, very convincingly, by Russell Crowe.
Legend has it that RZA had a three-hour cut in mind. The mind boggles. The current version has just enough action and sufficient broad jokes to struggle its way past the 90-minute mark. One is occasionally infuriated by the archness of the exercise. But there is a charming innocence to Fists’ faith in the values of 1970s cross-cultural exploitation.
You could almost call the thing quaint (though not to RZA’s face).