It’s disheartening to see that deep down, composer and hip hop artist RZA is just another filmmaker who wants to be Quentin Tarantino. It’s not a surprise to fuel the funding for “The Man with the Iron Fists,” he teams up with another popular Tarantino wannabe Eli Roth, to make a film that desperately wants to be “Kill Bill.” Tarantino can often border on obnoxious with his films, so for wannabes to keep popping up delivering relentlessly obnoxious throwbacks feels like a waste of time and resources. I assume RZA and writer Eli Roth imagined this being shown in double bills with the “Kill Bill” series or, at least “Grindhouse.” RZA displays all the hallmarks of a man anxious to be considered in the realm of Quentin Tarantino’s wonderful chop socky tribute “Kill Bill.”
He casts much of the same character actors including Lucy Liu and Gordon Liu as a character very reminiscent of Pai Mei. He scores the film himself, and instead of an emphasis on guns that Bill had (his name is Billy Gunn, his daughter is BB Gunn), RZA places the emphases on knives. Instead of Bill Gunn, we have Jack Knife. There’s X Blade, and Poison Dagger and–did anyone mention to RZA that Robert Rodriguez tapped the blade fetish first? And exceptionally, I might add? I highly doubt anyone would consider “The Man with the Iron Fists” a companion piece of any kind with Tarantino’s films any time soon. Granted, the film is not unwatchable, but it wreaks of a rank amateur behind the camera who throws everything in but the kitchen sink and never pulls out an entertaining film. Even the most loyal chop socky fans may find difficulty keeping their attention to the screen with what is a rambling action film. RZA only has ninety minutes to fit in every cliche and nod to his favorite films, and he hurls them out at every opportunity.
So much so that the story is barely there. There are props and scenery and extras that clutter up every shot of the film, and nothing ever really strives for downbeat or simplistic. It’s a shame since some concepts, if fully realized, and not so filled with spastic and clunky writing, could be entertaining. Jack Knife has potential, but Russell Crowe just feels injected in to the film to give it a marquee star, and the Gemini Twins take part in a great fight scene that’s ends before it can suck its audience in, and the pair (Grace Huang is a doll) get little to no screen time afterward. As for RZA himself, he is mostly a spectator through most of the story, and it’s shocking considering he provides his character with the most exposition. I often found myself looking for reasons why we should at all care for RZA’s “The Blacksmith,” beyond: Because he’s the star. We don’t even focus on “The Blacksmith’s” journey until forty nine minutes in to the movie.
Everything before that is badly staged fighting and filler. And how awful is that black and white flashback to the Blacksmith’s “enigmatic” origin? I can’t pit the blame entirely on RZA for such a horrible film. He loved kung fu cinema and is an excellent musical artist. He gave Tarantino an incredible score for his “Kill Bill” movies, and his work in Wu Tang is brilliant. But, when you team with Eli Roth, who has the writing talent of a sociopathic thirteen year old boy on Ritalin, what can you possibly expect but swill? Amateurish, sophomoric, and squanders all of ninety minutes on fan boy lip service, “The Man with the Iron Fists” completely tarnishes an opportunity to deliver an excellent kung fu film. I’ve seen filmmakers with half the budget who have offered better chop socky throwbacks than the team of The RZA and Eli Roth have. It’s nice the RZA is a kung fu cinema fan, but as far as filmmaking goes: don’t quit your day job.