Fists of Confusion
I go to movies to be entertained. I feel that, no matter the genre, entertainment should be the main component of any good movie. So when I heard that RZA, of Wu-Tang Clan fame, had written, directed and starred in a New Age kung fu movie, The Man with the Iron Fists, about a blacksmith forging weapons for rival clans involved in an all-out battle royale, I thought it would be a shoo-in for 90 minutes of pure, balls-to-the-wall entertainment. Instead I got 90 minutes of wishing-I-was-doing- something-else, like my taxes or memorizing the U.S. Constitution.
I wasn’t expecting to see the type of movie that wins Oscars. In fact, I was expecting just the opposite. I was expecting a hilarious, campy, action-packed B movie that knows its premise is absurd and runs with it for the sake of entertainment. Think Snakes on a Plane or Shoot ’Em Up or Planet Terror. No one would ever confuse those movies with good cinema, but I’ll be damned if anyone can say they weren’t entertaining. So when I found myself bored out of my mind for 87 of the 96 minutes, it’s safe to say something went wrong.
I don’t really want to get into the plot too much, but the story here is a mess. It is rumored that the movie was originally shot to be four hours long, and then was cut down to 90 minutes. If this is true, boy, does it show.
As it stands, the movie feels like a bunch of side stories that intertwine throughout. There doesn’t even really seem to be a main character. RZA’s character, “The Blacksmith,” has about as much screen time as four or five other characters. In the end, the whole thing feels jumbled and rushed, which leaves the audience confused.
The biggest problem with this movie is that it’s a B movie that doesn’t know it’s a B movie. A good B movie is self-aware and never takes itself too seriously. Even the “serious” parts are filled with goofiness to keep it from seeming like it’s trying to be anything more than pure entertainment.
This movie mixes and matches serious and cheesy with disastrous results. It’s as if RZA started out trying to pay homage to the outrageously cheesy kung fu movies of the 1980s, and then once filming started, decided that he wanted to win an Academy Award.
The acting is absolutely atrocious. Nearly all dialogue delivered by anyone not named Russell Crowe had me writhing in my seat. Half of this cast wouldn’t even make the cut to play Chuck E. Cheese. Again, it’s the fault of the movie for not knowing its own identity. Had they abandoned the grim tone and gone for something a little more playful, the bad acting would have fit in perfectly, but they didn’t, so we were left with serious scenes played out with comically bad acting.
Russell Crowe’s character, Jack Knife, is the lone bright spot in this movie, and he certainly steals every scene he is in. There are plenty of fight scenes, as expected, but the movie is so poorly edited, that you can’t tell what is going on half of the time. For example, the entire opening sequence of the movie is one big fight scene. This seems like a good idea on paper, but there are so many quick cuts, pans and fades during the fighting, that it’s impossible to tell who is who.
Finally there is the soundtrack, composed by RZA himself. I was actually excited about this, because I was expecting some sweet kung fu with brand new 36 Chamber-esque beats blaring in the background. Instead it’s just rehashed Wu-Tang songs — nothing new here.
And it turns out hip-hop is not the best background music for kung-fu battles. It just ends up feeling out of place, like so much of the rest of the movie.