Man with the Iron Fists, The (UK - BD)
Chris tackles the RZA's homage to old school martial arts movies on Blu-ray...
Isolated in rural Jungle Village, the town’s blacksmith (RZA) works tirelessly supplying the warring local clans with weaponry in order to pay for his and his lover’s (Jamie Chung, Sucker Punch) passage out of the desolate region. When Gold Lion, leader of the lion clan is brutally murdered the violence escalates to a whole new level and the town is inundated by dangerous strangers including the infamous Brass Body (Bautista), foreigner Jack Knife (Crowe) and the deadly Poison Dagger, all eager to join the fight and lay their hands on the governor’s gold. (Taken from the PR.)
RZA's cliché-ridden tribute to old-school martial arts films is, to put it bluntly, very silly. Packing virtually every genre trope you can think of into its mercifully short running time (I say mercifully because the original cut ran four hours in length), those looking for realism, or indeed competent acting, are going to be disappointed. Let's be honest, RZA is no Tarantino, and The Man with the Iron Fists comes off as some sort of second-rate Kill Bill rip-off. The problem isn't the action - no, that's actually pretty good as long as you don't mind wire-fu - it's everything in between. Clumsy dialogue, clunky exposition, pedestrian direction, and slipshod editing are the order of the day, and as for the performances... well, let's just say no one here is going to be clutching a little gold statue any time soon. With that said, and in spite of my better judgement, I still enjoyed it. The frequent bouts of bloody action aren't ground-breaking, but they are reasonably well-realised and viscerally satisfying. The supporting characters are the most interesting, particularly the villains, although it's Russell Crowe's 'so-bad-it's-almost-good' portrayal of British soldier 'Jack Knife' that will likely linger in the memory. (Crowe is apparently a convert to the Nicolas Cage school of bad acting in bad movies.) As for RZA himself, he can't act and his character is a charismatic vacuum, but that's largely incidental in a film packed with so many colourful characters. It isn't a good film by any stretch of the imagination, but I did find myself laughing out loud on more than one occasion (mainly at the super bad dialogue) and it proved diverting enough when approached in the right frame of mind.
Although unpublicised prior to our receipt of the disc, the Blu-ray actually includes two cuts of the film: theatrical and 'unrated' (yes I know we don't technically have unrated material in the UK). The unrated cut runs around twelve minutes longer and offers up a little more violence, along with a few scene extensions and the like, but there's nothing substantially different.
The Man with the Iron Fists eschews the sort of 'grandhouse' presentation you might expect from this sort of genre homage, and instead arrives with a very modern looking 2.35:1 (1080/24p AVC) image that delivers bold primary colours, deep black levels, and spot-on contrast. Some of the sets are eye-wateringly lovely; Madame Blossom's bordello is possibly the most beautiful location, with its intricately designed interior and striking cherry and gold colour-scheme. It doesn't hurt matters that its populated by a legion of Asian beauties even more striking than the scenery. The image is every bit as detailed and clean as you'd expect from something shot using Red cameras, and aside from some fleeting macroblocking during a couple of scenes I didn't spot any distracting anomalies. To cut a long story short, even with the aforementioned minor artefacts this is one of the most visually impressive discs I've seen this year.
The accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is every bit as impressive as the visuals. While the sound design is decidedly modern, the exaggerated '70s style' effects pay respect to the movies that inspired them. Punches and kicks sound like someone beating a mattress with a baseball bat, while the hyper-stylised whistling of blades and projectiles slicing through the air will have you ducking for cover. The numerous fight sequences offer up plenty of directionality, with seamless pans across all five channels. Indeed, the rears are particularly lively during these moments, ably supporting the frontal array to immerse the viewer in the action. Bass is incredibly potent (in fact it's almost too potent at times) and the various musical pieces set the mood perfectly, particularly the hip-hop tracks. Surprisingly dialogue is generally intelligible in spite of the surrounding chaos. There are one or two moments where it struggles to assert itself above the other elements, but they are few and far between and I think they could actually be by design. Either way, this is great stuff.
- Deleted Scenes: Five deleted/extended scenes are present on the disc, including a rather bloated alternate opening entitled 'The Saga of Gold Lion'. It provides a little more back story to the events at the beginning of the film, but it goes on and on. The other scenes aren't particularly memorable either.
- A Look Inside: The RZA hosts this short EPK that focusses on how he came to create, star in, and direct the film.
- On the Set with RZA: A collection of short promotional featurettes, each focussing on a different element of the creative process. Unfortunately they're way too short and superficial to be of any real interest.
- A Path to the East: Yet another very brief behind-the-scenes promo piece with RZA, this time focussing on shooting in China.
If I'm being honest, The Man with the Iron Fists is a pretty bad film, but for me it was one that transcended its limitations to deliver a reasonably enjoyable viewing experience. It's a definite guilty pleasure, but if you can't find something to like in a film featuring Russell Crowe playing a psychotic English soldier gleefully slicing people up before engaging in an orgy with a bevy of Asian beauties, all while whacked out of his gourd on liquor and opiates, you're taking life too seriously. If you do fancy a dabble you won't be disappointed by the fantastic audio-visual presentation (minor visual issues aside), and the extras, while slight, are about par for the course these days. I wouldn't go so far as to recommend the film, but if you enjoyed it at the cinema or are a fan of any of those involved, you should be more than happy with the technical side of things.
* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 1st April 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS 5.1 French, DTS 5.1 German, DTS 5.1 Italian, DTS 5.1 Spanish
Extras: Deleted Scenes, Featurettes
Easter Egg: No
Cast: RZA, Rick Yune, Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Dave Bautista, Jamie Chung
Length: 107 minutes
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