As far as tributes to the VHS-era of crappily-transferred, poorly subtitled Shaw Brothers kung-fu movies go, the RZA’s long-awaited bonkers dream project The Man with the Iron Fists comes up lacking. Structurally abominable, it’s a hodgepodge of too many characters working at cross-purposes to such a point where the movie has reportedly been salvaged from a four-hour cut by producers Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth, utilizing a patch-job narration (half-assedly intoned by the star/filmmaker himself) and some mystifying edits obviously laid on in post-production.
That said, it’s still kind of fun, but in a seriously shitty way. Unlike Tarantino’s and Roth’s labored homages to the grindhouse movies of their childhood, you never get the sense here that RZA is slumming. He believes in this picture, so much so that he even plays the title character though he can’t act his way out of a paper bag. The Man with the Iron Fists is a crazed vanity project, allowing the filmmaker to goof around with expensive toys and finally become the star of all those junky movies he grew up with. And in that respect, it’s pretty much adorable.
Warring clans and lifelong grudges all find their way to Jungle Village, where exploitation legends like Gordon Liu and Pam Grier make cameos, and Lucy Liu presides over a cut-throat whorehouse called The Pink Blossom. There isn’t enough space in this entire newspaper to make room for so many convoluted backstories, or explanations of characters like the twin Gemini killers, or that guy named Brass Body who can turn his skin into metal.
All that matters here are cockamamie anachronistic music cues, low-rent filmmaking and one spectacularly hammy turn from Russell Crowe, lording over the action as an opium-smoking, perpetually horny man of mystery. The porcine Oscar-winner cavorts around a whorehouse toting a startling variety of sex toys, channeling Ol’ Dirty Bastard by way of Oliver Reed. It’s unfathomable that Crowe would ever stoop to being in a picture like this, and even weirder that it looks like the most fun he’s had in years.