I Wanna Try Big Iron
The Chinese martial arts genre have undergone some attempts at making it sexy again, with Stephen Fung flying the flag in the east with his genre mash up given that steampunk flavour, and RZA in the west adopting a mash up with the Western and hip hop music added to the mix. And RZA aka Robert Fitzgerald Diggs made The Man with the Iron Fists his labour of love, working the story together with Eli Roth, putting himself in the lead role, and having directorial duties, all with the stamp of approval from Quentin Tarantino, bringing all the goodness of those Shaw Brothers classics now updated for the modern audience.
Does it work? Very much, for the martial arts film fan in me, this movie has it all, with RZA going to painstaking lengths and making it all inclusive, with probably more genre elements put into this movie than any I can remember in recent memory. The only key difference is the use of the English language amongst a smattering of Chinese and Cantonese, and violence - not that the Shaw Brothers Classics didn't have their fair share - that were amplified to stratospheric heights with blood baths following blood baths, and possibly every kind of bodily dismemberment you can imagine. On one hand, this continues the discourse whether screen violence, which is getting more explicitly graphic, is necessary, while on the other with its ultra-realism, made it seem a little bit cartoony as well.
But as mentioned, what made this film stand out, is that adherence to the rules of the game, and ingredients that had made this genre a success. There are femme fatales, secret and hidden weapons, booby traps and dungeons, formidable opponents, assassins, clans and more clans, animal motifs, sexy-sounding names, a brothel that's more than meets the eye, inns serving renowned cuisine, motivations of revenge, corrupt government officials, gold, escort services, lovers wanting to call it quits and retire into the sunset, betrayals from within, and not forgetting some good old Shaolin involvement. Not forgetting the martial arts themselves, featuring a whole variety from those which are metal-enhanced, naturally with a title like that, yin-yang combination courtesy of the Gemini-Twins, enhancements with wire work, and made all the more fluid with real life martial arts practitioners, all under the choreography of Corey Yuen.
And RZA also wastes no effort in bringing together recognizable names from the East in roles big and small, such as Gordon Liu as a master monk, Cung Le as the number three in the Lions Clan, Daniel Wu as a supporting antagonist known as Poison Dagger, Chen Kuan Tai as Gold Lion under thick makeup, MC Jin and Leung Ka Yan. Other recognizable actors of Asian descent include Lucy Liu as Madam Blossom the brothel mistress, Jamie Chung as the main squeeze of RZA's The Blacksmith, Rick Yune as Zen Yi The X-Blade, the heir apparent of the Lions Clan, and the list goes on, with Westeners like Russell Crowe as Jack Knife, a man riding into town with a unique gun and rotating blade weapon, and others such as Pam Grier in a short tangent of a flashback, and Dave Bautista who plays Brass Body. In short, it is serious fun to see who pops up next, if you haven't already glanced through the cast list.
Nothing's too serious in this film, as narrated by RZA's Blacksmith, telling his tale about the time when the governor's gold has to pass through Jungle Village, and how many started to converge upon the village to set their sights on such treasure, while those minding their own business start to get drawn into the same series of events. Characters are split down the middle into good and evil, and fighting is just one other scene away. Given Western inputs, I'm not at all surprised by the level of sex and violence to obviously creep into the main narrative, with everything being too explicit rather than subtly suggested, but the hip-hop music worked with incredibly crafted visuals from the filmmakers.
If you, like me, are a fan of the genre, then perhaps you should make a beeline for this and witness how possibly everything get thrown into the story, and still coming up on top with its inventiveness and creativity at breathing some freshness into its version of an update. A definite recommend!