Now I know what two of you are probably thinking…..“The Man with the Iron Fists”? Doesn’t that sound like the name of a James Bond movie? In actuality, the title of hip hop producer/rapper/actor RZA’s (pronounced rizzah) first feature-length film does, in a way, sound like that of the 1974 James Bond film “The Man with the Golden Gun” starring Roger Moore (the fourth greatest actor, in my opinion, to play Agent 007, with Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig and Sean Connery taking the top 3 spots), Christopher Lee – a.k.a. Saruman of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy- as the villain, and Herve Villechaize – a.k.a. everyone’s favourite dwarf Tattoo from “Fantasy Island” (“DE PLANE! DE PLANE!!” – remember that shit?!) as the villain’s henchman.
Mind you, I’ve never seen “The Man with the Golden Gun” – mainly because it’s ranked among the WORST Bond films ever made. And that’s reason enough for me not to give a fuck about it anyway. But it is a coincidence that two of the films I’ve been eagerly anticipating all year (“The Man with the Iron Fists”and “Skyfall”) sound like Bond films, but only one has “007” written all over it.
“Skyfall” is the 23rd film in the 50-year-old James Bond film series, and the third film to star Daniel Craig as the iconic British secret agent with a license to kill and a penchant for sleeping with every woman within a 1-mile radius (just exaggerating, of course). “The Man with the Iron Fists”, however, is a martial arts film, produced by Eli Roth (known for directing the excruciatingly gory “Hostel” and “Hostel II”) and “presented by” Quentin Tarantino. Apparently, Quentin is such a bad-ass writer/director that he just needs to ADD his name to a film of which he had partial involvement in, and the common folk will arrive in droves just to see it. Not only is the film a throwback to the martial arts films which inspired the music and ideology of the legendary hip hop group, the Wu-Tang Clan (of which RZA is the de facto leader), but it’s also an opportunity for RZA to showcase his writing skills (with the help of Eli Roth), directorial skills (which he learned by observing Quentin Tarantino during production of 2003’s Kill Bill Vol. 1), musical score composition (with the assistance of Howard Drossin) and possible acting capabilities (with Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu and ex-WWE wrestler David Bautista in the film’s cast).
I’ve had high hopes for both of these films, so let’s see they they were worth the wait. Let the ass
kissing kicking begin!
“THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS” – Set in 19th century China, our story is centered on a blacksmith (played weirdly, ironically and ever so conveniently by RZA – a BLACK man! Funny, I know.) who lives in Jungle Village and makes a living forging weapons of death for various groups of warriors. One of these groups is the famed Lion Clan. Zen-Yi, the X-Blade (COOLEST….NAME…..EVER!!) (played by Rick Yune) is the son of the murdered leader of the Lion Clan and he seeks revenge against the man who organized his father’s assassination – the vicious Silver Lion (Byron Mann). Along with his second-in-command Bronze Lion (Cung Le), Silver Lion’s scheme is to ambush a group of warriors called the Geminis, who’re sworn to protect the Emperor’s gold. A ruthless mercenary called Brass Body (Dave Bautista), who’s capable of turning his body into metal – hence his nickname, is hired by Silver Lion to act as enforcer to the Lion Clan. Meanwhile, Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu), the crafty madam and owner of the Pink Blossom brothel, has her eyes set on the gold as well. One of the prostitutes working at the Pink Blossom is Lady Silk (played by the smoking hot Jamie Chung) and she just so happens to be the blacksmith’s girlfriend (thus proving my theory that there were indeed black Asians in ancient China!). The blacksmith wants to raise enough money so he can leave the violence and mayhem of Jungle Village, and start a new life with Lady Silk. But reality kicks our hero in the ass after an unforeseen encounter with Silver Lion and the Lion Clan. However, fate steps into the picture, as a British soldier named Jack Knife (Russell Crowe) (whose weapon of choice is a specialized knife that can cut through human flesh…..SWEEEET!!!) offers to assist our hero in stopping Silver Lion. And now, three men – Jack, Zen-Yi and the blacksmith with his tailor-made IRON FISTS OF DOOM (the last two words I added in) – will square off against Brass Body and the Lion Clan within the confines of the Pink Blossom. Bones will be shattered, blood will be spilled, and glorious hip hop music will play in the background. But who will be listening? And who will be left standing?
From the film’s action-packed intro, complete with yellow Chinese text reminiscent of the kung fu films of the Shaw Brothers era, and a fucking CLASSIC cut from the Wu Tang Clan’s first (and greatest) album “Enter the Wu Tang: 36 Chambers”, you know exactly what you’re in for with “The Man with the Iron Fists”. It’s wild, over-the-top, and completely ridiculous. And most importantly, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Even when it tries to take itself seriously – like the blacksmith’s flashback which begins with a young RZA as an American slave (actually it is the same RZA, but sporting nappy-ass hair) and ends with him becoming a monk at Shaolin Temple – there is no need for you to take it seriously either. Don’t even look for logic in this film. If you could get past Dave Bautista transforming into a brass-skinned killing machine, and RZA being able to move his fingers in his large iron gauntlets, then you can handle the rest of the film. But amidst the CG-created blood and carnage presented on screen, you can see RZA paying loving homage to the glory days of 1970s martial arts films. And it shows with the film’s epic scope and feel, gorgeous cinematography and set design, and of course, the film’s impressive fight sequences. Die-hard fans can easily spot, and appreciate, the film’s references to martial-arts classics like “Five Fingers of Death (King Boxer)” and “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin”, among others. However, like most martial arts flicks, there are flaws within the script of this film. The characters are mostly two-dimensional (RZA’s character is the only one with backstory), the story is uneven and a tad bit convoluted (plot points/characters are showcased in the beginning, forgotten/ killed off in the middle, and resurfaced/killed off in the end), the editing is haphazard, and the dialogue, intended to be epic and dramatic, sounds cheesy and unintentionally funny at times (take Silver Lion’s line for example: ‘Are we not the strongest?! HUH?!! I say we MOVE with power and STRIKE NOW!!”).
The ironic thing about that line is that it was embedded in my brain after listening to the Wu Tang Clan track “Six Directions of Boxing” from the movie soundtrack (which is actually a decent album, by the way) quite a number of times. Ah fuck it, it’s one of my favourite tracks off the album, so sue me! On the subject of music, the film score of “The Man with the Iron Fists” is a hybrid of epic music mixed with hip hop beats produced by RZA, snippets of songs from the aforementioned soundtrack and a touch of Ennio Morricone-inspired Spaghetti Western music (I could almost imagine Quentin Tarantino smiling from ear to ear every time it’s played). The performances throughout the film are passable. Byron Mann (Silver Lion) plays a REALLY GOOD bad guy, Lucy Liu is every bit as authoritative and deadly as she was in Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Russell Crowe steals nearly every scene he appears in. RZA, sad to say, is out-shined by the cast thanks to his moody performance and novice acting skills. And speaking of cast, I truly appreciated the fact that it consisted mostly of Chinese performers. It added a much-needed authenticity to the film, making me forgive RZA for casting himself as the lead character.
As a fan of both Shaw Brothers martial arts films and everything Wu Tang Clan, I had fun with “The Man with the Iron Fists”, though not as much as I hoped. It is what it is – a pervasively violent martial arts film with the occasional sex scene or two thrown in for the hell of it. But if more emphasis was placed on a better-written story, and better performances, especially from RZA, then the film would have been better. Perhaps if Quentin Tarantino stepped in and assisted with the storytelling and acting, it would have been greater than it deserved to be. But it is RZA’s first directing gig, so you have to forgive him for his missteps. But you have to admit… it is a damn impressive debut film! If you’re a martial arts enthusiast, or if you’re a Wu Tang Clan fan, you should definitely give this film a look. If you’re not a fan of either, but you’re willing to sit through a mindlessly fun action flick, then feel free to check it out. Just make sure to keep your expectations low, or you will be thoroughly disappointed. But if its flaws have already turned you off from seeing it, then don’t bother. But the soundtrack is still worth checking out, by the way!
“SKYFALL” – Now that I’ve nearly exhausted myself with my lengthy review of “The Man with the Iron Fists”, I’ll use the rest of my energy to talk about “Skyfall”. The story: James Bond (Daniel Craig) is presumed dead after a botched mission to recover a computer hard drive stolen from MI6. This hard drive contains details of almost all undercover NATO agents in terrorist organisations. Bond, of course, isn’t dead. He used his presumed death to retire from MI6, locking himself out from the world’s affairs in the process. However, when an explosion occurs in MI6 Headquarters, Bond returns to London. He confronts his superior M (Judi Dench) who eventually puts him back into active duty. Bond’s search for the perpetrator leads him to Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), a former MI6 agent with a personal grudge against M. While M’s past literally comes back to haunt her in the form of Silva, James is forced to look into the past in order to defeat him.
The past is the major running theme of “Skyfall”. Throughout the film, James tries to regain the edge he had as a secret agent before he got all washed-up. Also, he’s constantly reminded that the “old ways work best”. And this is where the film ultimately shines. As it is the 50th anniversary of the James Bond films, “Skyfall” pays tribute to quite a few of the classic Bond films of the past. Everyone’s favourite MI6 quartermaster Q (played for the first time in film history by a young man – Ben Whishaw) makes his first appearance in a Daniel Craig Bond film. A couple more familiar characters and some clever references to other Bond films appear in “Skyfall”, but don’t worry – I won’t ruin the surprise (you may sigh in relief now!). The relationship between James and M (his apparent mother figure) is the centerpiece of the film. Daniel Craig delivers a strong, convincing performance as a Bond unclear of his future, and M, played excellently by Judi Dench as a character who’s accepted her fate, is given more depth than in the previous films, making “Skyfall” more emotionally moving than “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace”. Javier Bardem, well-known for his Oscar-winning performance as the terrifying Anton Chigurh in the Coen Brothers ‘ “No Country for Old Men”, plays a TERRIFIC Bond villain, and arguably one of Bond film history’s greatest! He’s creepy, compelling and – like Heath Ledger’s Joker from “The Dark Knight” – maniacally intelligent. But what makes him so special is that unlike the Bond villains of the past, he’s not in it for money, or world domination, but for REVENGE! He really has a fucking grudge on M, and desires to see her and the rest of MI6 fall for his twisted satisfaction.
The story is well-written, the dialogue is sharp and the action sequences are exciting, engaging and well-edited. “Skyfall” marks the second collaboration between Daniel Craig and director Sam Mendes, the first being Tom Hanks’ “Road to Perdition” (2002), one of the best – and most emotionally powerful – gangster films I’ve ever seen. Like that film, “Skyfall” is chock full of stunning cinematography (worth seeing in IMAX if you can cough up some more dollar bills) and stirring music by Thomas Newman. And of course, the title sequence KICKS ASS, with a great title song performed by British singer/songwriter Adele, and visually-stimulating imagery which hearken back to the innovative title sequences (created by the late, great Maurice Binder) of the older Bond films.
In short, “Skyfall” works as a hearty tribute to the Bond films, a return to form for Daniel Craig’s 007 after “Quantum of Solace”, and a re-invention of an iconic character for a new generation. It is, like DURRRHH, one of the best movies of 2012, and for that reason alone, you should invest your time and money on this film. From 1962 to 2012, James Bond stood tall among all the secret agents of cinematic history (yes, even the Spy Kids). Here’s to another 50 years! Now gulp down the rest of that dry martini, which was hopefully shaken and not stirred, and go see “Skyfall” already!
“THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS” – 3 out of 5 stars (“It was aight”)
“SKYFALL” – 4 out of 5 stars (“See this movie”)