This is an interesting transnational kung fu flick displaying unlike most chinese produced kung fu flicks a more positive view on western foreigners coming into China than most. Chinese-produced kung fu flicks do. Chinese cinema especially nowadays are keen on upholding the dicotomy of : domestic:GOOOOOOD, foreign:BAAAAD. But RZA´s kung fu homage on old Shaw Brothers movies is much more fresh in its approach on ethniticity. Maybe it has to do that it is part of the directors approach. Black people has been traditionally oppressed and its history as well. It is time for a fresher, more non-racial kung fu movie. And I love it for that.
Man, I love Fist Of Fury, Once Upon a Time in China Ip Man and all that. But man do those movies, with scales of differences of course, more or less project a more protectionistic and hostile approach to foriegn influence on the chinese heritage. Especially Once Upon a Time in China were its folk hero Wong fei Hung defeats evil foreigners. Here an english colonial, an american black immigrant and the son of the murdered leader of the lion Clan teams up . I like how their motives intertwine to take down the corrupt Silver Lion.
The plot is a token Shaw Brothers one, with an overambundance of colourful characters,a complex narrative, lush and elaborate sets and complicated martial arts choreography, but with an amazing ecclectic soundtrack adding to the mix. The framing in the fights are less "stagey" than the usual Hong Kong Cinema compositions, making for much tighter close-ups and intimacy to the fights but is unfortunatly not good enough to rival the long tradition of showcasing the impressive chinese martial arts on screen. On the other hand there are few real practioners on screen so it can be forgiven. Gordon Liu is one of the few, but he just trains RZA not doing any physical stuff himself.
What really is amazing is seeing Russell Crowe in a straight up kung fu movie. He seems to relish the opportunity of a larger than life character and he truly is memorable in this one. He has a gimmick in form of a rotatable knife and it is used admirably. The other actors are also good, RZA as the weaponsmith is central because he gets the iron fists but also the WWE wrestler Batista as a brassbody motherfucker, also a token of the genre but a really menacing and good foe to fight. Rick Yune ( Die another day, Olympus has fallen) plays the lost son who need to get revenge and is good to see in a different role.
Which brings me to the lead villain played by Byron Mann (Belly of the Beast) who I think is a real scene stealer if he gets opportunity to. He does here and he is a tremendous villain. Underrated actor and a great villain.
I think this movie has all the things going for it at this time. It is not an exclusive nationalistic epic kung fu movie like the ones being produced in HK at this very moment but a very transnational one that I feel is a helluva lot better than Ip Man or Legend of the Fist or True Legend. Those movies are nationalistic at their very nature. But The Man with the Iron fists is something else. It has nothing to do with nation, race or colour. It is about the love of a genre. And that is what should really matter.