Anyone who has followed the career of rapper/actor/film composer/enlightenment-and-martial arts nut the RZA knows that The Man with the Iron Fists was always in the cards for him. As the most dominant, Eastern-emulating wordsmith of the New York hip-hop clique the Wu-Tang Clan, the man is also a martial-arts movie scholar — to him, Citizen Kane ain’t got shit on such chopsocky classics as Five Deadly Venoms and The 36th Chamber of Shaolin.
Now he’s co-written, co-scored and directed in his own karate-unleashing extravaganza — starring as the titular character, of course. RZA plays a 19th century runaway slave turned weapon-making blacksmith, living in a Chinese village that's a combination of Dodge City and Kill Bill's House of Blue Leaves. He’s forced to get involved in a war against Silver Lion (a gleefully corrupt Byron Mann), the village’s traitorous militia leader, once dude orders both the blacksmith’s arms cut off. But the grisly scenario concocted by RZA and goremeister Eli Roth gives our noble hero the opportunity to literally come up with his own hands of steel.
Although RZA gives himself limbs that are lethal weapons, he’s the least badass of all the warriors who populate this vividly violent yarn. (RZA’s limited acting range has him coming off more emotionally stunted than silent-but-deadly.) Keep in mind this film also has a rather portly Russell Crowe, having one hell of a time as a mysterious, knife-wielding Englishman; a dangerously sexy Lucy Liu as a devious brothel owner; former WWE wrestler Dave Bautista as a mercenary who can turn his skin into impenetrable brass; and veteran Asian-American heavy Rick Yune as a vengeful warrior. All get their ass-blasting moments in the sun, thanks to the dynamic fight sequences RZA captures on film (staged by go-to martial arts choreographer Corey Yuen).
Stylish but shallow, The Man with the Iron Fists nevertheless succeeds at being high-flying, high-kicking pulp, imagined to the tiniest detail by its obsessive auteur. Above all else, it finally gives the RZA the chance to live out his kung-fu fantasies, bringing da ruckus in the bloodiest, most balletic way possible.