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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Man with the Iron Fists (Blu-ray)
The Man with the Iron Fists (Blu-ray)
Universal // Unrated // February 12, 2013 // Region A
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted February 2, 2013 | E-mail the Author
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Okay, so The Man with the Iron Fists is a chop-socky flick starring, directed by, and co-written by the RZA, plus Eli Roth produced and fielded some of the writing chores, and the whole thing's brought to
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you courtesy of Quentin Tarantino. At least on paper...? This is the movie that 14-year-old-me daydreamed about while devouring movies like Mad Monkey Kung Fu and Death Mask of the Ninja on an endless VHS loop.

But, hey, you've listened to more than your share of Wu Tang, you're definitely familiar with the RZA's scores for Kill Bill and all that, and maybe you've even given his commentary on The 36th Chamber of Shaolin a spin. We're talking about a guy who doesn't just like these sorts of movies; he eats, breathes, and sleeps Shaw Bros., and The Man with the Iron Fists is the RZA's blood-spattered valentine to '70s kung fu cinema. The lavish production design, drop dead gorgeous period costumes, and...hell, even the old-school optical opening titles are all pitch-perfect. True to form, the premise doesn't take more than a sentence or two to sum up: a bunch of warrior clans fight to the death over a fortune in gold, and...well, that's pretty much it, actually. That lust for gold results in a staggeringly high body count and leaves a hell of a lot of collateral
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damage in its wake, and the resulting war hinges on a handful of the fighters caught in the middle, among them a nameless blacksmith played by the RZA who...yeah, eventually winds up being a man with iron fists.

If you tune into The Man with the Iron Fists for a few minutes at a time, it's exactly what you'd think it is. Not much in the way of plotting or characterization, no, but the visuals are insanely gorgeous with a real eye for vintage chop-socky cinema authenticity. The kung fu battles -- choreographed by the legendary Corey Yuen! -- are numerous, epic in scale, deliriously over-the-top, and sopping with geysers of crimson red. The word going around was that the first cut of The Man with the Iron Fists clocked in at four hours, to the point where the RZA was considering splitting it in half and releasing it as two separate movies, taking a cue from the Kill Bill playbook. Expanded from the R-rated theatrical release, this unrated cut may only run 108 minutes, but...well, it sure feels like it takes four hours to slog through.

Early on, yeah, I was totally into it. I was swept away by the inspired visuals, and the hyperviolent disemboweling and dismemberment completely eclipsed anything I could've hoped to see. With very little story and such anemic characterization, there's not really a movie here. It's just a bunch of cool-lookin' crazy shit that happens. For the first thirty minutes and change, that's perfect. After that, I desperately wanted to fast-forward through any scene that wasn't drenched in blood. By the time the depraved, demented, there-aren't-really-words-for-it climax rolls around, I couldn't even appreciate it 'cause every micron of interest I once had was long gone. There's not a single memorable line of dialogue. Barrel drums of blood are brilliant, but not when it's so distractingly digital like it is here. The direction and editing try to be too
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stylish and modern, and that frequently stomps all over the beauty and brutal elegance that The Man with the Iron Fists has to offer. Why put someone like Corey Yuen on the payroll if you're gonna make it so difficult to see the elaborately choreographed fights? There's also the whole thing where a big chunk of the movie is set in a brothel, complete with a couple of orgies and a lengthy group bathing sequence, and yet there's not even a fleeting glimpse of nudity. Just sayin', if you're gonna be an exploitation flick, go ahead and exploit!

The RZA is kind of the focal point of the flick but blandly and disinterestedly sleepwalks his way through most of it. With one exception, there's no real hook to any of the characters...no boo-hiss-worthy-type villains or heroes you wanna root for. Rick Yune makes a huge impression initially as a warrior whose blades are embedded in his armor, but after a while, I kept forgetting he was even still in the movie. The only real standout is Russell Crowe as a wildly charismatic cowboy-ish British hornball-slash-opium addict who stands by the blacksmith's side when things are most dire, and...hey, with that many random words strung together, how could I not love the guy?

I hate to say it, but The Man with the Iron Fists is kind of terrible. If I ever attempt to watch it again, I'm pretty sure I'll wind up fast-forwarding through two-thirds of the flick to get straight to the gruesome good stuff. There are enough highlights to make The Man with the Iron Fists worth a rental, but I really wouldn't recommend shelling out twentysomething bucks to buy it sight-unseen. Rent It.


Video
If The Man with the Iron Fists has anything going for it, it'd be the breathtakingly gorgeous art and production design. That comes through beautifully in this razor-sharp, richly detailed, and vibrantly colorful high-def
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presentation. I'm really impressed that even though this is a 2D release, there's such a strong sense of depth and dimensionality that I easily could've been fooled that it had been shot with 3D in mind. I don't have much more of a review to write than that; I'll just say "pretty much perfect" and move on.

The Man with the Iron Fists is dished out on a dual layer platter. There are two versions of the movie on here, but this Blu-ray disc uses seamless branching to be as efficient as possible about it. The flick's presented at an aspect ratio of 2.39:1 and has been encoded with AVC.


Audio
I wish I could keep my review of the six-channel, 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that short and sweet. Surprisingly, the lossless audio is kind of a letdown. The music throughout The Man with the Iron Fists has a bad habit of overwhelming everything else in the mix. The surrounds are cranked up so high that it distracts from whatever it is that's happening across the front channels, dialogue struggles somewhat for placement, and, bizarrely, few of those flurries of punches, kicks, and colliding weapons are reinforced in the lower frequencies. The subwoofer sounds as if it's belching out a dull, indistinct rumble rather than really punctuating the action. I appreciate that the sound design is this aggressive -- effects are constantly whizzing across the soundscape, and there are more pans across the fronts and rears than probably anything else I've watched in the past 12 months -- but the mix is kind of a mess.

Also included are lossy DTS 5.1 dubs in French and Spanish as well as a stereo DVS track. Subtitles are served up in English (SDH), French, and Spanish, and owners of constant image height projection setups should note that some of the subs in the movie itself spill over into the letterboxing bars. The Man with the Iron Fists also supports D-Box bass shaker rigs.


Extras
There are two cuts of The Man with the Iron Fists piled on here: the R-rated theatrical release which, realistically, no one will ever watch again as well as an unrated version. This new unrated version runs around 12 minutes longer, but presumably there are some alternate takes and stuff that amount to a larger difference than that. I could barely make it through The Man with the Iron Fists once, so I'm not really up for meticulously comparing both
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versions for specific differences. I'm guessing the fights are more gruesome and that some beats in the story are fleshed out in greater depth, so you've gotta take the good with the bad.
  • Deleted Scenes (24 min.; HD): There are five deleted and extended scenes, beginning with "The Saga of Gold Lion" that runs fourteen minutes (!!!) and would've bloated the first act of the movie to the point of being unwatchable. There's also a different introduction to Russell Crowe's Jack Knife, more with Zen Yi's diarrhea-prone sidekick, and a lengthier mirror maze assault.

  • Micro-Featurettes (9 min.; HD): Bizarrely, there's pretty much nothing else in the way of extras. "A Look Inside The Man with the Iron Fists" is a quick two minute promotional piece hosted by the RZA, breezing through the premise, recording the score, and why he felt compelled to make the movie. "A Path to the East" pretty much just says "hey, we made it China with Chinese people!" I was kind of expecting "On the Set with RZA" to be a feature-length documentary or something since it gets its own submenu and everything, but it's a set of minute-long clips that don't amount to much, concentrating heavily on the visual end of things. On one level, the lack of extras are a disappointment, but on another, I was pretty eager to mash 'Eject' anyway.

The Man with the Iron Fists comes packaged in an embossed slipcover, and a DVD and UltraViolet digital copy code are lovingly tucked inside.


The Final Word
We're talking about a movie so batshit insane that I didn't even get to the part where Dave Batista's skin turns to brass when struck with a blade or where Russell Crowe yanks anal beads out a hooker's ass with his teeth, and normally, yeah, I'd be the target demographic for something that far out there. It's just that The Man with the Iron Fists has these awe-inspiring bursts of brilliance but is otherwise kind of sloppy and tedious. It's too wildly uneven to recommend with any real enthusiasm, but you might find this Blu-ray disc worth a rental just to fast-forward to the highlights. Rent It.
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