“The Man With the Iron Fists,” a Sincere Homage to Evergreen Kung-Fu Classics

It is not surprising that a movie like “The Man with the Iron Fists” exposes the often-ignored schism between movie critics and moviegoers. Critics focus on the technical aspects and facets of filmmaking. On the other hand, audiences judge the movie based on its ability to entertain. “The Man with the Iron Fists” is an action film that can only be described as a truly sincere homage by RZA, an ardent kung-fu movie fan, to some of the most popular kung-fu and martial arts movies ever made. For kung-fu fans all over the world, RZA’s maiden effort is well worth the time and money spent on watching the movie in the theatre. That critics beg to differ has paled into insignificance.

The action-adventure fun has its share of wire-fu movies and gory scenes involving lots and lots of blood. However, debut director, cowriter, and lead actor RZA does not seem to be apologetic about making a mindless entertainer, and this ultimately works to the movie’s advantage.

Thaddeus (RZA) is a blacksmith with the ability to churn out elaborate weapons for members of the Lion and Fox clan. However, the freed slave is always referred to as The Blacksmith in the movie. He forges weapons to earn enough money to free his love, Lady Silk (Jamie Chung), from Madam Blossom’s (Lucy Liu) brothel. However, Silver Lion’s (Byron Mann) decision to assassinate Golden Lion (Chen Kuan-tai) forces the warring clans to unite to face the biggest threat that Jungle Village has ever faced.

This serves as the cue for the entry of an assorted range of characters like The X-Blade, Gold Lion’s son Zen Yi (Rick Yune), an Englishman named Jack Knife (Russell Crowe), and Brass Body (David Bautista), who has the ability to convert his body into brass when attacked. Personality clashes, greed of gold, scheming and double crossing, and lots and lots of fighting make this movie a veritable treat for kung-fu fans.

RZA wisely sought to underplay his character and maintained the spotlight on Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu. Not surprisingly, fans were full of praise for Crowe’s Jack Knife act and Liu’s portrayal of a shrewd kung-fu master good enough to take on the Bronze Lion in the movie.

Fans have always flocked to kung-fu movies for enjoying nonstop breathtaking action sequences, and “The Man with the Iron Fists” is not an exception to this rule. However, those looking for slickly planned and well-executed kung-fu sequences must understand that this movie was conceptualized as homage to martial arts flicks created by the likes of the Shaw Brothers and Gordon Liu. Instead, the movie highlights martial-art sequences from some of the most revered masters of the world.

If box office collections are to be believed, then RZA has indeed done a remarkably good job. “The Man with the Iron Fists” has earned more than $15 million since its November 2, 2012 release. Prerelease estimates had indicated that the movie ought to earn at least $7 million in its opening weekend. The movie grossed close to $8 million instead, and collections have been steady since then.

Male viewers who were less than thirty years of age dominated the opening weekend audience. This clearly indicates that the movie has done a good job of catering to its target audience.

Twitter posts and social media updates too indicate that the audience has found the movie to be an entertaining watch. The movie was well received by fans, with action sequences, the ensemble cast, and appearances by aging martial arts stars being highlighted by fans and moviegoers.

RZA has strived to do something out of the ordinary by shooting the entire movie in China. This has only served to enhance the authenticity and overall feel of the movie. RZA also came up with the idea of infusing contemporary hip-hop background score in a kung-fu flick set in the eighteenth century. While this innovation has received mixed responses, there is no doubt that this helped spread the film’s appeal to fans of RZA’s music as well.

The movie also doffs its hat to blaxploitation movies by showing 1970′s blaxploitation star Pam Grier in a flashback sequence intended to explain the presence of The Blacksmith in an obscure village in China.

This movie may not have won universal acclaim among critics. However, fans agree that RZA has done a good job of combining old-style kung-fu movies with computer-aided stunts and action sequences. Overall, RZA’s tribute has definitely satisfied the loyal fans of kung-fu flicks.

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