"He has a powerful weapon, he charges a million a shot, an assassin that's second to none, the man with the iron fists!" (Ha, it's funny because "The Man with the Golden Gun" also had martial arts themes) Shoot, if you ask me, this film should probably been called "The Man with the Iron Tongue", because RZA's speech impediment is so severe that it left me to both wonder why RZA chose a stage name that no one can properly pronounce, much less him, and expect Mike Tyson to pop up at this film's climax as RZA's [u]Black[/u]smith character (Don't tell me you weren't thinking it, too) final opponent, whom he must face, not in kung-fu or ear biting (Hey, as much as Wu-Tang Clan has chewed at my ears, RZA must be a master of ear biting), but in a speech showdown to see who can make the most relatively fully understandable complete sentence. If only Mike Tyson went Buddhist and not Islam, then you would definately be seeing him somewhere in this crazy interpretation of China, or at least you would were it not for the fact that a legendary black fist fighter with a speech impediment going up against a legendary black fist fighter with a speech impediment would make sense, and therefore not really fit with this film's "story structure" theme. Eh, I'm still surprised that Tyson isn't here, because it's not like he has anything better to do, as opposed to Russell Crowe, who is good and all in this film that I like just fine and all, partially because he's clearly having fun with his role, but could have picked a better film in which to make his comeback after a two-year hiatus. Well, at least Crowe isn't as forced into this film as a name-drop as Quentin Tarantino, who seriously contributed nothing to do this film except his name in a "presented by" credit. Well, I'm glad to see that Tarantino cares enough about his friends to contribute something to the directorial debut of a buddy of his, though maybe the thing he should have contributed to RZA is some directing and writing tips. Don't get me wrong, this film is fun and all, but speech and, well, acting are hardly the only things that RZA trips up on in this film.
An audaciously faithful homage to classic kung-fu fluff pieces, this film certainly boasts something of a refreshing idea, but when it comes down to execution, RZA goes a touch too far with his ambitiously keeping faithful to the films on which he was raised, crafting a story that is fun and all, but too conventional for its own good. Of course, if nothing else is problematic about RZA's being too faithful with his tributes to his China-tastic childhood, then it is the faithfulness to messy scripts, as RZA and Eli Roth turn in a script that is rich with set pieces that go a touch too over the top in their hyper-reality, as well as histrionics that are made all the more glaring by dialogue that is sometimes kind of snappy, but generally weak, with faultiness that is itself made all the more glaring by delivery that is even more faulty. Now, in case anyone is worried that all of this cornball acting will rub off on a certain somebody, rest easy knowing that Russell Crowe, while not exactly firmly reminding us of his being among today's great actors, steals the show with crackling charisma that captures the Jack Knife character's slickly mysterious, yet sadistic presence, and makes Crowe one of the film's most engaging aspects, though don't rest too easy, because although there are some other passables among this cast, most everyone in this film, whether it be misguidedly intentionally or whatever, ranges from weak to borderline humiliating in his or her turning in fall-flat performances, such as those by, of all people, the leads who exceed Crowe in significance, the cheesily lifelelss Rick Yune and dully wooden RZA, thus leaving you to feel rather distanced from these characters, which isn't to say that expository issues don't do a number on your full investment in this messily structured, or rather, condensed story. After crafting a first cut of this film that ran a sprawling four hours in length, RZA suggested that the final product be split into two films, yet co-writer and co-producer Eli Roth ultimately trimmed RZA's epic vision into the hour-and-a-half-long final cut that audiences are seeing, and really, while this film isn't quite as sloppy in its condension as it probably could have been, there's no denying that this film is all over the place in its desperate attempts at keeping things as tight as possible, to where pacing is rendered uneven, growing more and more heavy-handed until, by the cop-out end, it has gone from an underdeveloped mess that moves at near-exhaustingly constant momentum, to a slam-banged mess that frenetically tosses together a wrap-up. Roth's final cut of this film is nothing short of a mess, though it's not like Roth can be entirely blamed for this film's shortcomings, as direction, while not quite as shoddy as they say, hardly reflects much potential within RZA as a filmmaker, being lively, yet still distant enough to both keep you from gaining a firm grip on substance, and leave you to gain a firm grip on the film's aforementioned other problems. If nothing else, RZA is overambitious in his filmmaking efforts, aiming to make this film something that it can't be, due to both natural shortcomings and a filmmaking team that stands to be more competent, thus making for a messy final product that was never to be all that commendable, but underwhelms even by its own right. Still, with that said, as sloppy as this film is, it at least succeeds in its attemps at keeping faithful to its inspirations' all but compensating for filmmaking messiness with plenty of fun, meeting every misstep with something to liven things up.
Nevermind its being a component to anachronism, - largely because its incorporation is surprisingly one of your less offputting intentional hiccups - this film's primarily hip-hop soundtrack is just not enjoyable on a musical level, and throws off, not just historians (Get over it, history nerds, it's a joke), but the musically tasteful whenever it hits the scene, but when it comes to the other forms of "music" that power this film's livliness, RZA and Howard Drossin craft a score that is hardly all that strong or original, but is decent and entertaining in its marrying the pronounced rhythm of hip-hop with the just as distinct, yet more smooth and dynamic musicality of the scores of many of the classic kung-fu flicks to which this film pays homage, thus making for a stylish score that fits with and livens up the film's tone and theme. Perhaps even more lively and decidedly more impressive are, of course, Drew Boughton's production designs and Thomas Chong's costume designs, which really aren't quite as dazzling as I was expecting them to be, but are still quite sharp in their effectively capturing both the niftiness of classic kung-fu productions' distinctly lavished designs, and the lovely-looking era in which this film is set. Production value and direction do a fine job of attractively selling you on this film's world, while RZA's and Drossin's decent score work helps in selling you on this film's style, but really, one of this film's most impressive stylistic touches is, of course, action that, like the production designs, isn't quite as consistent in its thorough impressiveness as you might expect, but still mighty thrilling in its delivering one cool combat set piece after another, powered by strong staging and Corey Yuen's grandly dynamic and slick, if sometimes a bit too over-the-top, martial arts choreography, and complimented by violence whose effectiveness goes diluted a touch by gore's also going a bit too over-the-top at times, as well as by quite a few ostensibly intentionally improvable effects, but is still potent in its supplementing consequence and color within this film's many exciting action set pieces. An at least technically faithful homage to classic martial arts fluff pieces, this film retains much of what was technically in its inspirations', but also retains its inspirations' sharpness in lively production value and thrilling action, boasting enough punch to its martial arts artistry to consistently sustain your interest by livening up an already pretty colorful story, which may get to be a touch too colorful for its own good. RZA's plot concept is silly, as sure as the plot concepts of the film that inspire this story are, being over-the-top in cheesiness and thin in genuineness, and with a perhaps even more problematic execution that drives this story too deeply into conventionalism, as well as plenty of other problems, and yet, with that said, this film's plot is still quite lively in its being so overly layered, overly cheesy and altogether over-the-top that it is genuinely fun, or at least in concept. In execution, this film's plot is messily handled to no end, though it's not like that's a huge tragedy, because what truly makes or breaks the engagement value of a story this crazy isn't so much the substance in its execution, but the entertainment value in its execution, and if RZA delivers on nothing else as director, he delivers on that, putting ambition to as much, if not more good use to bad use by using it to craft thorough charm, broken up by occasions of genuine thrills. This film is such a mess, though it could be messier, and that is a fact that goes pronounced considerably by this film's being, if nothing else, entertaining, not to where it can obscure the many natural shortcomings, and certainly not to where it can obscure the many unfortunate missteps, but decidedly to where those willing to go with this film will find a fun time, even if there is no getting completely past the consistent faults.
At the end of the battle, this ambitious final product is left weakened by its conventionalism, damaged by its cheesiness, - made all the worse by more than a few poor performers, not including the show-stealingly charismatic Russell Crowe - and all-out brutalized by its messily uneven plotting and flawed, overambitious direction, until it comes out as underwhelming, though hardly unlikable, because as messy as this film is, it boasts much livliness, complimented by decent score work, excellent production designs and thrilling action sequences, and truly brought to life by an undeniably strong degree of charm and livliness to RZA's direction, which cannot overshadow its missteps, but nonetheless goes into making "The Man with the Iron Fists" an entertaining tribute to classic kung-fu fluff pieces, even if it, like its inspirations, gets to be quite messy.
2.5/5 - Fair