Let’s get one thing out of the way right off the bat: If you don’t like martial arts movies, you won’t like The Man With the Iron Fists.

If you were taken by the trailers and go into the movie expecting to see Russell Crowe swashbuckling his way through 19th century China, you will be sorely disappointed (and, to be honest, I’m not even sure why you’re on this website). This movie is not going to win any awards and will probably be panned by many a self-styled film expert.

If, however, you go into The Man With the Iron Fists with your expectations properly managed, you leave the theater wanting to see it again.

The film marks the directing and screenwriting debut of The RZA, who is primarily known for his work as a member of Staten Island-based hip-hop group the Wu-Tang Clan, so you’ve got to know it’s probably going to be light on plot. Like so many of its action-packed predecessors, though, The Man With the Iron Fists doesn’t need to be “good” in a traditional sense to be very enjoyable to fans of martial arts cinema.

The opening credits feature a heavily-costumed UFC middleweight Cung Le laying waste to a cadre of opponents while the Wu-Tang classic “Shame on a N***a” provides a head-nod-inducing soundtrack. That’s pretty much all you need to know right there, isn’t it?

Co-scripted with Eli Roth (of Hostel fame/infamy), RZA’s tale of kung-fu revenge transpires in a place called Jungle Village and focuses on several characters whose lives and fates become intertwined. There’s Zen-Yi, the X-Blade (Rick Yune)—the son of a powerful clan leader who seeks revenge after his father is betrayed and murdered by his top lieutenants. Meanwhile, there is a shipment of gold passing through Jungle Village that has the area’s many clans—and other mysterious characters—ready to do whatever it takes to increase their capital.

Caught in the middle is Jungle Village’s blacksmith (played by RZA himself), who makes powerful weapons for anyone willing to pay (or threaten) him enough. He shows allegiance to no particular group, taking anyone’s money without prejudice in an effort to free his true love, Lady Silk (Jamie Chung, from the first season of The Real World: San Diego) from her duties at the local bordello, run by Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu). When events conspire to threaten the innocent citizens of Jungle Village, however, the blacksmith must unite with Zen-Yi and the opium-addicted Englishman Jack Knife (Russell Crowe, in a smirking turn) to save the day against the rogue members of the Lion Clan (Le and Byron Mann) and their seemingly indestructible hired hand, Brass Body (Dave Bautista).

From there, the movie is basically a series of fun, ultra-violent combat scenes punctuated by appropriately cheesy dialogue. The gore throughout the film is formidable, and there are a handful of moments that will make even the most hardened moviegoer react audibly. There were other areas, though, where the film seemed to hold back when it could have gone a more extreme direction (which is surprising given Roth’s reputation). Even still, this movie could definitely be classified as a “hard R,” and is definitely not for kids or the squeamish.

RZA definitely knew what he was making when he undertook this project years ago, and he made sure to pack the film with extras included especially for the kind of hardcore martial arts film fan he is. Many of the minor characters are played by legendary figures of Hong Kong cinema and there are several allusions to the films that influenced RZA peppered throughout his movie (including a fairly obvious homage to Enter the Dragon). The end result is a movie that ranks up there with the modern work of Tony Jaa and Donnie Yen for its wonderful showcasing of martial arts action.

There are some movies that you see because they’re good. Argo comes immediately to mind as a recent example. (Don’t sleep on Affleck … he’s becoming one of the best directors in the game.) But then there are movies that you see because they’ll probably be pretty cool, even if the movie has no chance of being considered for an Oscar. The Man With the Iron Fists positively falls under the latter category, but is a must-watch for any fan of martial arts on the silver screen.

Photo: The Man With the Iron Fists Poster (Universal Pictures)

About The Author

Eric Reinert
Staff Writer

Eric Reinert has been writing about mixed martial arts since 2010. Outside the world of caged combat, Eric has spent time as a news reporter, speechwriter, campaign strategist, tech support manager, landscaper and janitor. He lives in Madison, Wis.