The Man with the Iron Fists (R / unrated)
Dread Central (Blu-ray/DVD); IMDb; Rotten Tomatoes; TV Tropes; Universal; Wikipedia
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This is one of those movies that has a "presented by" prefix. In this case (actually, probably in numerous cases), "Presented by Quentin Tarantino." I'm pretty sure that doesn't mean much more than that he liked the movie. (In fact, I think it would be way cooler for famous people like him to lend their name in a prefix that says precisely that: "Quentin Tarantino Likes: The Man with the Iron Fists." If I ever have that kind of clout, I think I'll do that for some movie I like, if I'm friends with whoever makes the damn thing.) But I gotta say, this definitely seems like the kind of film Tarantino would love, so I don't imagine for a second that he's lying or selling out when he lends his name to it. Still, it's basically an RZA movie. Best known as a rapper and leader of the Wu-Tang Clan, RZA conceived, co-wrote, directed, stars in, narrates, and provides some of the music for the film. Anyway, I gotta say... I wasn't sure what I'd think of the movie, and when I started watching it, for awhile I thought it wasn't that great, in spite of having lots of great elements. But it grew on me. I think in a lot of ways, it's really kind of mind-splatteringly awesome. But it does have its flaws, so I couldn't really love it. It's clear that RZA loves martial arts movies, though I would hesitate to call this a martial arts movie, per se. It's definitely got some of that in it, but mostly I'd just call it a badass movie (hence my choice of where to put my review, obviously). The fight scenes are pretty cool, but there's a lot of gore, so be forewarned. Also I gotta say the music is cool. The story itself, and the acting, and everything... well, it's kind of redonkulous. Which in some movies is a trait I love and in some I hate. In this one, the redonkulousness falls somewhere in the middle-ground. Oh, and before I forget... I watched this on DVD, which had both the R-rated theatrical version and an unrated extended version. I watched the theatrical version, which was more than explicit enough for my taste, in terms of violence. I can't comment on what the unrated version might be like.
Anyway, it's set in 19th century China, in a place called Jungle Village. (There's a kind of surreality about everything that only exists in this kind of movie.) There are several warring clans in the village, the main one being the Lion Clan. There's a regional governor who wants the Lions to safeguard a shipment of the emperor's gold that will be passing through the village in a few days. But the leader of the clan, Gold Lion, is betrayed and killed by his lieutenants, Silver Lion and Bronze Lion. (Later we see they have an ally named Poison Dagger, who I guess was a friend of the governor's, but also betrayed the governor.) Anyway... Silver Lion becomes the new leader of his clan. And he plans to steal the gold. Meanwhile, Gold Lion's son, Zen-Yi (aka the X-Blade), had been away spending time somewhere else with his fiancee, when he learns that his father has been murdered. So he and a servant of his return to Jungle Village, to exact revenge. Also, there's an Englishman named Jack Knife (Russell Crowe) who comes to town. He's got a cool weapon that's both knife and gun. And he's an emissary of the emperor, who's supposed to safeguard the gold. But meanwhile he spends a lot of time in a brothel called the Pink Blossom, run by Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu). One of the prostitutes there is Lady Silk (Jamie Chung), who also happens to be the girlfriend of a local blacksmith named Thaddeus (RZA). The blacksmith has been making weapons for all the different clans, which he hates doing, but he's saving up money to buy Silk's freedom from Madam Blossom, so they can run away together.
Anyway, Silver Lion had sent some assassins to try to kill Zen-Yi on his way back to the village. They failed. So next he hires a big guy called Brass Body, whose body literally turns to brass during fights. So Zen-Yi's awesome armor, which is tricked out with a bunch of blades, has no effect on him, and Brass Body kicks his ass. Silk and the blacksmith end up hiding Zen-Yi and nursing him back to health, while the blacksmith makes new armor for him. Um... and for reasons I don't want to go into, the blacksmith eventually ends up forging himself a pair of iron fists, hence the movie's title. And he'll eventually have to fight Brass Body. But first, he teams up with Jack Knife. So the blacksmith, Jack, and Zen-Yi will have to fight Brass Body, Poison Dagger, and Silver Lion. But... gosh, I'm forgetting to say so much. Um... before any of that goes down, the gold arrives in the village, escorted by the Gemini Killers. I'm not sure if that refers to all the warriors on their team, or more specifically the husband and wife team who were their leaders. (The two of them are obviously pretty deadly individually, but especially badass when fighting as partners.) Still, the Lion Clan does manage to steal the gold, and then team up with Madam Blossom. Of course, the governor finds out about this and orders some Jackal troops to head for the village and burn it down unless the gold is returned, which means the good guys don't have much time to beat the bad guys, before the Jackals arrive. And there's yet another faction that plays a big part, which I don't want to spoil (but I totally saw it coming, and it was awesome).
Um... yeah. It's really hard to say how I feel about all this. There were lots of awesome parts, but mostly it was kind of cheesy, or something. But it's funny. And, you know, badass. And stuff. I am just so torn between whether to think it's a bad movie or a great movie. But whatever, I ultimately had fun watching the movie, so I guess that means it's good. (Oh, also, I was skimming the plot on Wikipedia, and it mentions something happening in the end credits that I didn't see, even though I only really looked away from the credits for a minute, and I was listening the whole time. And I'm too lazy to put the DVD back in and see if it actually happened or not.)