There are mild spoilers below. If you have not seen the movie and intend to – you have been warned.
Now that that is out of the way.
I must say that I really wanted to enjoy this film.
But did I? Yes and no.
I was looking forward to it for quite some time before I saw it because I love old kung fu movies and I love new kung fu movies. This movie looked to try to combine the best of both. Which it did, in some cases too much so and to its own detriment.
I also love almost everything Quentin Tarantino puts his name on. The almost is what continues with this film. His toad style was not strong here. Well, that’s not fair of me to say, all he actually did was put his name on it to draw more attention to it. I’m sure this was due to the excellent job RZA did with the music for Kill Bill. This trend continued here: I loved the music for the film. I didn’t list music as one of my five thoughts because there isn’t much to expand on. I like the choices made and I think the music fit the scenes and the movie as a whole. That being said, let’s get on to some other thoughts about the movie after a brief synopsis of the film, provided by www.imdb.com:
On the hunt for a fabled treasure of gold, a band of warriors, assassins, and a rogue British soldier descend upon a village in feudal China, where a humble blacksmith looks to defend himself and his fellow villagers.
1. The character’s names detracted from the film.
Where do I begin.
In an effort not to go overboard I will only go through a few of the characters and why I did or didn’t like their names. A sampling will be enough to convey my point.
Let’s begin with the Lion Clan. I like the name of the clan. I felt it unnecessary that every prominent member be named after it. We had Gold Lion, Silver Lion and Bronze Lion. The we had Gold Lion’s son, Zen-Yi. As I said, I didn’t like that all of their names were so similar and clan affiliated, but if you are going to go that route, suddenly, Zen-Yi doesn’t fit. Since both were included I liked neither.
Russel Crowe played a character named Jack Knife. Really. C’mon. Not only was the name weak, it became weaker by his self-proclaimed title of Mr. Knife and weaker still by the puns that accompanied it. What ultimately killed the name for me was the fact that I believe the only reason the name (and possible character) existed was for the purposefully ironic line “I always bring a gun to a knife fight.”
Poison dagger. Used a blow gun with poison darts. Shouldn’t he have been named Poison Dart?
I could go on. All the names felt forced, unnecessary or in the case of the less themed names like Zen-Yi, out of place. For some reason I thought Brass Body was fitting, but still a lacking, uninteresting name. The only character whose name I truly loved was Crazy Hippo and he wasn’t alive long enough for me to appreciate it. All in all I was so busy trying to keep up with the names that it distracted from the movie. The real problem could be that there were too many characters that I needed to know, which leads me to my next point.
2. Too much story, too little time.
It could be just a problem with editing and I am not the only one who feels this way, but I would argue that it is equally about time. This movie should have been longer. Or simpler.
Pick two: a lot of characters | an in depth story | shorter time for character and plot development.
From the first moments of the movie the story never quit. The narrator (Thaddeus the blacksmith) seemed to throw a lot at you right out of the gate and all throughout the movie with the use of voice overs and flashbacks. On top of that, we have a constant influx of new characters and clans and their motives which may or may not receive proper introduction and development. Maybe a little less story would make for a lot more enjoyment. It seemed to me that the story was still being set up as it was ending.
3. Some elements felt forced.
Not a lot of explanation needed here, I think I will list a few of them for easy reading:
Jack Knife – his name, character and choice of weapon. In fact, everyone’s weapon seemed assigned based on their name or that of their clan.
The blacksmith was black. Well, maybe this one wasn’t forced, just ironic.
The use of metals in character names.
Character and clan names in general.
The Gemini clan and everything about them.
Especially the Gemini swords. Wow.
The X-blade armor.
A prostitute with only one client, who happens to be the man she loves? I call BS.
In fact, the only element that didn’t seem either forced, overdone or both was how he got the iron fists to work. A brief flashback is all we get to explain how a man takes solid steel hand shaped sculptures and brings them to life, immediately becoming a total bad ass. The entire movie is convoluted and diluted with excess – except for the reveal on the theme the entire movie is based on. Which in all actuality may be the reason I remember it. It was the only thing that was underdone.
4. I liked the casting, but not all of their hair.
This actually goes along with number three to some degree. Not only is the Lion Clan (almost) all named after precious metals, their hair seems color coded for easier identification. Additionally they all seemed to have the same haircut as well. I guess that makes it easy for the locals to know who they are. If they went to Simba’s hairstylist you know they are in.
Zen-Yi Stands out here again. As the only asian character with a clean cut modern look that I can remember, he seemed out of place, especially as heir to the Lion Clan.
As far as the casting goes – I liked it.
I can’t think of anyone who took away from the movie with their part, RZA included. He was middle of the road with his acting, which was enough to move the story forward without distracting from it. It was easy to see that he spent quite a bit of time training in martial arts to prepare for this role, he didn’t diminish any of his scenes, including the fight with Brass Body who is a much more seasoned individual in this respect.
As for the rest of the cast, I will mention a couple of people who stood out to me.
David Bautista did a good enough job acting, but his look was perfect for the character of Brass Body. His build was suited to the look they went for when in metal form. Russel Crowe did as much as he could with some pretty cheesy dialogue and as we know from Gladiator, he doesn’t slow down the action scenes either.
Lucy Liu – mmmmm. Biased, infatuated opinion will not be expanded on. I will see everything she makes an appearance in.
5. So close, yet so far away
RZA’s goal was to make a martial arts film which would pay homage to the old school films he grew up on and he, along with many of us, know and love. I would say mission accomplished. It was artful and a lot of the elements were present and recognizable from the Shaw brothers / Kung Fu Theatre days. The feel is there. The ambiance. But due to poor editing and (in my opinion) not a long enough movie, a lot of the elements that could have made this movie stand out were a jumbled mess. Too many similar character names and too many important characters in general made this movie seem to burst at the seams. I think his second goal, to make a good movie, was also achieved. I am speculating as to what his goals were, but I doubt I am too far off. I was specific in calling it a good movie.
Overall it wasn’t bad, but it certainly wasn’t great, so it falls to good by default. Partly because of how much I wanted to like this movie. Partly also due to the fact that many classic elements became predictable to the classic Kung Fu fan. A few moments into the fight between Thaddeus and Brass Body I looked to my friend and said, ” This is where he flashes back to the Shaolin Temple and remembers the key to beating him.”
With more time, better editing, and better character names and development, this could have been a strong movie. A lot of good characters and elements were in place, though many times overshadowed by cliche and/or cheesy lines. I feel like it should have been two parts like Kill Bill was. It should have had less voice over and more visual story telling. It could have been fantastic, but it wasn’t. It was good.
When I think back as I am writing this it feels like I saw three different movies at the same time. I saw the movie I wanted to see as it could have played out, in my head, on the fly. I saw the movie I actually saw, made jokes at its expense and sat with my jaw open, in disbelief at how much symbolism was rammed down my throat, instead of letting me find it on my own. Okay, so the boat was named “Destiny”, you didn’t have to zoom in and make me take notice. Show it in a wide frame, I will see it. Lastly, what my brain actually took in, was a third film. An amalgamation of the two films I saw, which made some elements better or worse in my eyes, than they probably actually were.
When I chose to see this movie I expected mediocre acting, almost continuous action and sensational, over-stylized characters. I got too much of what I expected.
I am glad RZA got the opportunity to make this film and and I am hopeful he will get a chance to make more films, which will have the benefit of what he has learned on this one. I really like the blacksmith and the iron fists. The concept was fun, and close to well implemented, in a movie that was not as well put together. I want to believe it was too little time or poor editing. I WANT to believe that.
In the end I will watch The Man With the Iron Fists again because there were things that I, as a fan of martial arts films, really enjoyed. My struggle will be to look past the things that I, as a fan of good movies, found to be wrong with this one.
Also, Lucy Liu, marry me. Or at least date me so that you may come to realize that you want to.