[Screen It]


(2012) (RZA, Russell Crowe) (R)

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Martial-arts action: In 19th century China, a humble blacksmith gets caught up in a feud of warring clans.
In 19th century China, an escaped slave from America has found a new life as a corrupt village's Blacksmith (RZA). His specialty is forging weapons for the various warring clans who often end up battling each other in and around the village. His dream is to make enough money so he can find a better life for him and his lover, a local prostitute named Lady Silk (JAMIE CHUNG) employed by Madam Blossom (LUCY LIU).

Unfortunately, he gets caught up in an in-fight among a clan known as the Lions after Silver Lion (BYRON MANN) and Bronze Lion (CUNG LE) conspire to have elderly leader Gold Lion (KUAN TAI CHEN) murdered. Gold Lion's son, Zen Yi (RICK YUNE), hears of the news while far away and vows to return and avenge his father's death. Silver Lion knows what a powerful and respected warrior Zen Yi is and hires the seemingly indestructible Brass Body (DAVE BAUTISTA) to kill him first.

At the same time, the Lions and a rival clan known as the Wolves seek to steal a shipment of the Emperor's gold that is being transported under the protection of the Gemini Killers. The Emperor's emissary, a flamboyant gunslinger named Captain Jack Knife (RUSSELL CROWE), takes up residence at Madam Blossom's brothel and waits to see how the whole thing plays out.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Our reviewing policy for films that aren't shown in advance to critics is that we'll only provide a paragraph or two about the film's artistic merits.

There are two big problems with "The Man With the Iron Fists." One, it never once feels authentic. It plays like imitation martial-arts cinema. It's a movie that has been made by people who clearly have seen a lot of kung-fu flicks, but they're essentially pilgrims in a foreign land here. Two, the film marks the directorial debut of Wu-Tang Clan co-founder, hip-hop producer, and actor RZA. And in the all-important title role he casts himself! And, sadly, he gives one of the laziest, most sleepy-eyed performances you'll ever see.

The film tells the tale of a humble blacksmith (RZA) who is put in the middle of a feud between rival clans in ye olde China over a ginormous shipment of the Emperor's gold. Russell Crowe is in this thing as a crazed gunslinger named Captain Jack Knife, while Rick Yune and Byron Mann play flying Chinese guys who fight for control of a clan of warriors with mullets who call themselves the Lions. Pro wrestler Dave Bautista also appears as a gargantuan assassin whose body literally transforms into seemingly indestructible hard brass whenever he is punched, kicked, or stabbed at. And he is punched, kicked, and stabbed at almost every five minutes.

It all sounds very silly with much potential for campy laughs and guilty pleasures. But RZA never finds the right stylistic notes to play throughout despite a clear love of the genre. I rate it a 4 out of 10. (T. Durgin)

Reviewed November 2, 2012 / Posted November 2, 2012

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