Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Cinema File #61: "The Man With The Iron Fists" Review

This hip hop infused kung fu throwback is silly, poorly plotted, far too short on characterization, and gives next to nothing by way of some much needed exposition. Oh, and it's also fucking awesome.

Hong Kong Action movies have always been just on the periphery of my tastes. It has everything I would like, crazy high fantasy concepts and imagery, larger than life characters and conflicts, and the wacky unreal sensibility of its closest Japanese equivalent Tokusatsu, of which I am a somewhat committed fan boy. I guess it's always just been one cinematic canon too far, the task of exploring the evolution of a new genre too arduous. All this is to say that while I have an appreciation for this kind of movie, I am in no way an expert or a connoisseur and I can't speak to how faithful it was to the tradition. Still, as flawed as it was just as a movie, I had a lot of fun with The Man With The Iron Fists, it's frenetic pace and kitchen sink philosophy carrying it through the bits that fall flat.

The Man With The Iron Fists is an action fable about a village blacksmith caught in the middle of an escalating war between two brothers, and various supernatural forces. It's hard to explain the plot in any more detail, not because it's necessarily too overly complicated, but simply because it is so slap dash and full of weird tangents that it would take at least a few paragraphs to get it all in. That's probably the main flaw of the movie if I had to pick one, that it tries to do too much too fast, and often without taking the requisite time to establish characters and ideas to where they are as satisfying as they could be. For example, there's an extended sequence involving two warriors called the Gemini's and they are introduced and killed in the same scene, with barely a line between them, but their death scene is played out with the kind of operatic grandeur that suggests they were supposed to be main characters, and maybe by the standards of this movie, they were, but without more to go on, it's a bit unearned.

That being said, as problems go, having a world rich and interesting enough that it leaves you wanting more of it is a good one for a movie to have. This movie throws so much out there at you, and while context is often fleeting, the result is a series of creative action set pieces that had me engaged throughout. Ordinarily, that wouldn't be enough, even for me, but the rest of the film practically encourages a cavalier acceptance of its flimsy story. By the time Russell Crowe's Jack Knife pulls the trigger on his drill knife gun and the harem of Chinese prostitutes start descending from the ceiling like spiders and decapitating everyone in sight, if you can't accept this movie for what it is and just go along for the ride, than it's more your fault than the fault of the film. There's no way to experience the first five minutes of it let alone the full ninety without knowing exactly what you're in for, and complaining about things like cheesy wire work or lack of substance is beside the point. (Take that Nate Zoebl's review of this same film!)

There is a difference between liking a movie, and liking a movie ironically. One respects a film for what it is, while the other only for what it can be made into. The Room is probably the most famous example of the latter case, where legions of misguided fans have turned a shitty movie without much merit into a phenomenon precisely because of its horribleness. The Man With The Iron Fists is a serious attempt to honor a spectacularly silly genre that is all too often sought after for this same mocking impulse. Even if I can't exactly claim any solidarity with the die hard fans of Hong Kong kung fu movies, I can at least appreciate the aim here, and recognize that everyone involved seems to be participating in a labor of love. Actor Director RZA was almost certainly the least well-equipped person to bring this crazy thing to life, and his perpetual blank expression and unnecessarily profane narration are the low points of what is otherwise a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

The Man With The Iron Fists is not for everybody, but if you can forgive the grand canyon sized chasm of logic and just roll with it, there's a whole lot here to enjoy. Maybe it's just the Power Rangers nerd in me, but I thoroughly recommend it. It's not a classic by any stretch, but its fun as hell and makes me want to go back and check out some of the high flying glorious nonsense I've missed out on. Maybe it'll inspire you as it did me, or maybe it's not your thing. Or maybe you're just a cynical douche who'd rather play basketball in a tuxedo. Fuck I hate those people.

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