Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Man with the Iron Fists


An African American blacksmith (Rza) creates deadly weapons to earn enough gold to buy his prostitute girlfriend's freedom from Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu), the owner of Jungle Village's popular brothel aptly named the Pink Blossom. Their love story gets entangled with a series of events such as the arrival of a mysterious Englishman by the name of Jack Knife (Russell Crowe), the assassination of the Lion clan's leader and the eventual return of his heir for throne and revenge, and the betrayal of the emperor and his gold.

One is sure to dismiss this as one of those films with the usual senseless bloodbaths, but when you go see a movie that has anything to do with Quentin Tarantino, no matter how indirect the connection, you know you should be there to appreciate the artsy execution instead of all the violence and gore. Needless to say, this is one visual spectacle that will leave you in awe, for all the imaginable reasons. The story, and the acting even more so, should rank low on the priority list. This is a flashy action movie, not a Meryl Streep Oscar vehicle.

The weird thing is how there seems to be some sense of ambiguity as to how to categorize the movie. For one, majority of them look Chinese, but speak fluent English with an American accent. The production design lends enough credibility to the setting, using various Chinese structures aided by smoothly rendered CGI to paint some jaw-dropping backgrounds focusing on Mother Nature. Lucy Liu code switches to Mandarin once in a while. And all that jazz.

Perhaps a lot of people would hate on this for many reasons. Tarantino often dabbles with Eastern culture to add some spice to his Hollywood movies, and most of the time the result is something truly impressive if based on aesthetics alone, even though most people would have a different opinion when it comes to the other elements. For some, it would certainly look like a direct bastardization of Chinese culture exploited for the benefit of Hollywood commercial gain. For others, it would just be a guilty pleasure cool enough to get you through a boring weekend.

Crowe's Jack Knife is a far cry from his Javert. Here, when he introduces himself after butchering the Crazy Hippo with his knife emblazoned pistol, you think twice before not acknowledging his presence instead of trying hard to think whether to laugh at or cry because of his straight tone. Liu plays the role of another slasher chick hungry for power. Typecasting, anyone? I guess her only advantage is her status as a recognizable Hollywood actress who can convincingly play with swords. In any case, Zhang Zi Yi is more likely to do a better job. Fan boy musings aside, Liu does a good job here, and her character even gets some sympathy points along with a lot of bonus for playing around with the bladed fan. If someone is to be commended in the acting department, it has to be that guy who portrays Silver Lion. His villainous giggles will give you shivers, but it is just too bad that his convenient death scene disrupts all the momentum he gained for being cool.

The first half of the movie is interesting enough to keep you hooked, but the second half with the royal rumble in it gets really messy, both in a literal and figurative sense. The choreography of the fight scenes will get you through it, so no need to worry. Oh, and yes, they do fly, but the shots are captured in certain angles that make them look so cool, unlike those legit films from the mainland which feature flight in long shot, which consequently makes them a bit ridiculous, or maybe I am yet to appreciate Kung Fu movies the way they should be. Sorry, not a very big fan of the genre.

In the end, you realize that it is as though you are watching a Namco video game in live action. This movie trumps that flop big screen adaptation of Tekken anytime.  Because of the setting and the variety of weapons used, perhaps Dynasty Warriors is the better point of comparison. In any case you have been warned of the blood and gore. Squirm and squeal at your own risk.

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