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Kicking it with The Man with the Iron Fists'

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RZA film an homage to classic kung-fu

Let's get this out of the way right up front: 'The Man with the Iron Fists' is not a good movie.

However, when you're walking into a theater to see a kung-fu movie written by, directed by and starring RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan (and produced by Quentin Tarantino), you're already operating under different expectations with regards to what 'good' means.

It isn't a good movie. That doesn't mean that it isn't a lot of fun to watch.

RZA is the mysterious Blacksmith, a man with a shadowy past who lives and works in a place called Jungle Village. His only goal is to earn enough money to buy the freedom of his true love Lady Silk (Jamie Chung, 'Premium Rush') from the brothel owned by Madame Blossom (Lucy Liu, TV's 'Elementary').

To do this, he makes weaponry for the various warring clans throughout the land. However, when Gold Lion, leader of the Lion Clan, is betrayed by his second-in-command Silver Lion (Byron Mann, 'Cold War'), a huge shipment of government gold to the armies of the north is threatened. This leads to the appearance of a mysterious Englishman by the name of Jack Knife (Russell Crowe, 'Robin Hood'), who has his own plans to ensure the gold's safety.

But when the clans go to war, the Blacksmith finds himself pulled into the midst of the fray. He has to decide who he can trust and find a way to save his village and the woman he loves.

'The Man with the Iron Fists' might just be the 'Citizen Kane' of hip-hop kung-fu movies. RZA's love of the genre is well-documented it's one of the foundations of his music career and that love has led him to go full-on auteur here. It fails about as often as it succeeds, but RZA's affection for his material is undeniable, which makes what could have been a sadly painful 90 minutes into something that is eminently enjoyable, if still not particularly good.

Let's be clear; what RZA does in this film shouldn't be considered 'acting.' He's just being RZA and he has the basic charisma to more or less pull it off. He's a bit mumbly, a bit wooden, but despite that he's an awfully engaging screen presence

(Quick aside: any fans of the Showtime show 'Californication' know that RZA did a season-long story arc playing a rapper-turned-actor by the name of Samurai Apocalypse. This is a movie that Samurai Apocalypse definitely would have made.)

Most of the supporting cast is just OK, but this needs to be said: Russell Crowe absolutely crushes it. He is a mugging, leering force of nature as Jack Knife, turning in a performance that manages to be simultaneously ridiculous and sublime. He's a lunatic wielding some sort of bizarre knife-gun, a hedonistic mercenary subject to momentary outbursts of lunatic rage. Crowe clearly understands what kind of movie he is in and is having what appears to be an absolutely magnificent time.

RZA the director is still finding his way. There are occasional strong moments, but they are too few and far between. Too often, the camera lingers on weak shots too long and leaves great ones too quickly. The impact of the big action set pieces is diminished by over-editing. The script (actually co-written with Eli Roth) is decent, though it probably could have stood another round of edits. The score and soundtrack are a delight, as you might expect.

'The Man with the Iron Fists' is an unapologetic homage to the 1970s kung-fu films that RZA grew up with. It is a love letter to a genre that, while not 'good' per se, is entertaining as all get out.

3.5 out of 5

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