A humble blacksmith (RZA) finds himself having to protect his village and friends from a band of warriors, some mean assassins and a rogue British soldier (Crowe) when they all descend on the place looking for some allegedly hidden gold previously owned by the original leader of the band of warriors. The blacksmith has his hands removed by the bad guys and ends up with two iron hands, which he uses to good effect against the villains during the last reel of the film.
Although the film is set in China it plays out more like a Western with a few nods towards kung-fu films of old.
This is former member of the Wu-Tan Clan, RZA’s first feature film and unfortunately it shows. You can’t fault his enthusiasm but, in the final analysis, the film falls short of pretty much everything it was obviously trying to achieve.
I class myself as the sort of person who RZA was aiming this film at – someone who enjoys a good Grindhouse film and is also a fan of the old Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest kung-fu flicks of the 70s and 80s. However, this film fails at being either one of these and only just achieves a kind of slight Western feel.
The plot gets pretty convoluted at times with too many subplots and too many characters, the dialogue is generally pretty bad and the level of acting is poor, although I would blame RZA – the director – for this since I’ve seen most of the cast perform much better in other films.
For something which purports to be a kung-fu flick the film lacks many decent fight scenes and the ones which have potential are ruined by too many fast cuts and close up shots so it becomes difficult to see who is doing what to whom. The Bourne films have a lot to answer for!
Kung-fu fans watch kung-fu films because they like watching the martial arts performed by experts – yes, many fights in classic Shaw Brothers movies are highly stylised and ridiculous but that added to their charm, but at least you could see what was happening! RZA is so keen to demonstrate all the toys at his disposal in his special effects and editing suite that he’s created a real clunker instead of a classic.
It seems apparent that I wasn’t alone in my reaction to this film when I wasted £8 to see it at the cinema. I was expecting a bit of brainless but enjoyable entertainment and found myself groaning throughout most of its painful runtime. I haven’t been this disappointed by a film for a long time and it seems (judging by the likes of IMDB etc) that there are a lot of others out there who had the same reaction to this film as me.
It’s a shame really as a lot of the elements I like in my martial arts movies were present and correct but somehow they just didn’t gel here and, after a while, the dreadful scripting, substandard editing and poor acting just got to me. This was definitely a case of enthusiasm winning out over sense and expertise – RZA should have just focused on one activity and not directed, produced, co-written and acted in the same film. He definitely spread himself too thin – a bit like JCVD did with Eagle Path!
So was there anything good about the film to overshadow RZA’s wooden acting and script? Well the set design was pretty good, the photography looked amazing in places, it had a couple of interesting characters, including Crowe’s Jacknife, but these just weren’t enough to save the film from a poor rating. And talking of Crowe, I thought he looked like he was having a great time playing a sort of boozed-up Jack-the-Ripper type of crazy soldier and he reminded me at times of Oliver Reed during his more sozzled era!
All in all I think Tarantino should have backed another horse rather than RZA’s as this felt too much like an ego-trip for the star rather than a good idea. At times it felt just like an excuse for an extended music video featuring RZA’s rather unsuitable – for this film – music. A sad waste of talent and everyone’s time, including Eli Roth’s, who really should know better by now!
Reviewer: Justin Richards