Life is cheap in wicked, whore-mongering Jungle Village, a muddy, noisy hellscape filled with warring tribes of psychopaths. And that’s on a good day.
When word gets out that a large shipment of the emperor’s gold is passing through town in a few days, a motley crew of murderous weirdos and creeps show up, including metal-skinned muscleman Brass Body (Dave Bautista), dandified sex freak Jack Knife (a plump Russell Crowe), and blade-shooting leather enthusiast Zen Yi, The X Blade (Rick Yune), all of them eyeing the pile of booty and swearing bloody revenge on each other.
At the centre of this gore-spurting kung-fu riot lies a lowly blacksmith named, sensibly enough, Blacksmith (writer/director/star and Wu-Tang Clan-er for life RZA), who forges the village’s myriad instruments of destruction and also provides pithy narration (“Now, these motherfuckers had Gatlin guns…”) to help sort out the meandering storylines and heaping piles of chopped-up corpses.
Co-scripted by splatter-prince Eli Roth, The Man With The Iron Fists is the work of hardcore videogame enthusiasts with an extensive knowledge of hyperactive, badly dubbed ’70s chopsocky flicks and Master Of Kung Fu comics.
As such, there is very little characterisation, and the dialogue is mostly threats and grunts, which frees RZA up to concentrate on the eye-bulging visuals and the non-stop action.
Like Quentin Tarantino’s films - QT ‘presents’ this one - TMWTIF exists in its own universe, one that could be 1930, or possibly an alt-world, steam-punky 2012.
It looks like a Chinatown gift shop exploded all over it, every scene crammed with karate-flick clichés, a riot of skulls, dragons, ribbons, smoke, and gushing geysers of grue.
The sound design is just as intricate and busy, all chittering, clanking and hissing, anchored by a post-hip hop soundtrack of B-movie beats. There is little for A-listers Crowe and Lucy Liu to do, aside from lopping off heads, but they do it well enough.
Alas, it’s RZA’s portrayal of the humble blacksmith that almost derails proceedings. He is clearly not an actor, and his attempts at emoting are cringe-worthy. The tone, too, is bizarrely stoic, even though everything about TMWTIF is as campy as a John Waters BBQ.
Still, you’re getting what you came for - if that’s eye-gouging, limb-rending, thrashing, smashing, slashing, claret-caked mayhem.
Watch the trailer
Grisly and goofy, this ode to the Shaw Brothers’ ’70s-era kung fu epics serves up 96 minutes of murder and mutilation and not a lot else. Sweet soundtrack, though.