“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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Movie Review: “Skyfall”

Rating: PG-13
Length: 143 minutes
Release Date: November 9, 2012
Directed by: Sam Mendes

In the 50 years since James Bond first landed on the big screen, the character has experienced almost everything under the sun. Every time a new film comes out, fans wonder how the director will make it stand out amongst the others. Although “Skyfall” may not be the best film in the series, the latest edition confirms to audiences that James Bond is not going anywhere anytime soon.

The twenty-third film in the franchise picks up with James Bond (Daniel Craig, “Munich”) on a secret mission with a young woman named Eve (Naomie Harris, “28 Days Later”). When things take a dark turn, Bond finds himself shot and left for dead. MI6 sadly announces that the titular character is missing and presumed dead. Not long after the announcement, an explosion rocks MI6, and M (Judi Dench, “Notes on a Scandal”) must pull everything together even as others believe she cannot handle the job. Meanwhile, Bond finds himself tracking Tiago Rodriguez (Javier Bardem, “No Country For Old Men”), a man with a dark connection to MI6.

“Skyfall” straddles the line between a modern action film and a classic James Bond tale. All the elements that fans expect are represented, including the silhouettes shown in the camera lens at the beginning of the film. Craig’s version of Bond brings something to the table that previous reincarnations lacked. When Craig first gained the role, some fans were upset at seeing a blond James Bond. However, once the action begins, no one will give a second thought to his hair color.

One of the best scenes in “Skyfall” comes minutes after the opening scene. Bond and Eve need to track down a stolen hard drive, and they end up chasing a man through the streets. The unusual camera angles and loud music make the chase seem almost non-stop. These early scenes ask viewers to suspend their disbelief for a moment though, especially as Bond climbs behind the wheel of a Caterpillar and ruins a truckload of cars while in pursuit of the villain.

While much of the film revolves around Craig, Judi Dench is the standout of the film. Her M has a serious side previously unseen in Bond films. When Eve has a chance to shoot the thief, M commands her to do it, even though it might mean shooting Bond, her top agent, too. Her anger and sadness at making that fateful decision is palpable, especially when she begins to write the obituary of the man who did so much for her organization. “Skyfall” is Dench at her best, and watching the film, it’s easy to see why the actress has such a long history of awards and nominations.

Javier Bardem is another highlight of the film. The actor knows how to play the slightly creepy villain, gaining fame for his role in “No Country For Old Men,” but he adds an almost campy quality to his role here, paying homage to top villains from past films. The same cannot be said for Harris, who seems like she lacks the acting chops for her role. When she reveals her full name at the end and her connection to the legacy of the films, some fans might find themselves disappointed.

Although Director Sam Mendes (“Away We Go”) realizes that fans come to these films for the action and excitement, he makes a misstep by following the script a little too closely. Part of the appeal of James Bond’s role as a top secret agent is that he does whatever it takes to get the job done. However, “Skyfall” offers a few scenes that delve into the backstory of the iconic character. Do fans need to know about his parents or his life before joining MI6? When Bond travels to Scotland to show the audience more about his history, some viewers might find the detour a little boring and unnecessary.

While “Skyfall” suffers from a few problems, it is easily one of the best Bond films of recent years. Craig’s early versions of Bond were a little too bland and boring, making the character feel like an ordinary action star instead of the hero everyone loves. In this film, the screenwriters introduced a few elements that act as a wink and a nod to the other films. When Bond asks for a martini, finds himself enchanted with a lovely lady, or slips behind the wheel of an Aston Martin, long-term fans will want to cheer. “Skyfall” is the new era of James Bond, and after watching the film, viewers will understand why Craig has signed a contract to portray the character again.