Man with the Iron Fists (2012)

PHiddsy10VkRll_2_mHere I am, struggling to write about RZA’s would-be martial arts epic when the question arises in my dormant mind, why didn’t I watch a better film? Silver Linings Playbook, and Moonrise Kingdom are films I still haven’t seen from last year, which look absolutely fantastic, and I’m stuck writing about this piece of drollery. Directed by Wu-Tang Clan headsman and producer RZA, Written by Eli Roth (ALARM BELLS, ALARM BELLS..) with that ever meaningless endorsement ‘Presented by Quentin Tarantino’. The film is an homage film to the martial arts epic and very much mimics the general idea, but with a budget. I think as a general overstatement the charm and style of a martial arts epic is made by it’s low-budget, incredibly bad dubbing and grainy super-film quality. In addition it made the very over-ambitious mistake of having an ensemble cast, instead of one leading man, so you end up with a very watery toned-down narrative that doesn’t really follow a particular person or strand.

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The film stars RZA himself as the title referencing ‘Man with Iron Fists’, an emancipated slave (In china? who knows?) turned blacksmith has his arms cut off by an evil corrupt gang known as ‘the lions’ who recently mutinied under their former heroic leader. As a result he grafts himself iron hands which he controls with a thorough understanding of Chi, and Chakra. Eli and RZA originally shot about 4 hours of footage, when the studio and producers told  them they had to adapt to a 1:30 structure. RZA wanted to push the format into two films (dear god!), and considered abandoning the project as Eli Roth persuaded him otherwise. You can tell the film is heavily cut as the film focuses quite heavily in it’s supporting characters who have no business being in the majority of the screen time (as they can act) where as, title character…Blacksmith Guy? (Sure) barely has any lines or character development. This is probably the editing team doing the best of a bad job because RZA cannot even vaguely act.

iron-fistsHowever, regardless of the prying eyes and harsh restrictions of a studio and producers, I can’t really pretend The Man with the Iron Fists was ever going to be vaguely paletteable as a film.  Featuring supporting roles by Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, they do their very best to carry the film’s narrative structure not that there ever was one. Russell Crowe plays the British…former army..? I don’t even know. Some guy. He’s on vacation. Or something. Anyway, his name is Jack Knife. Because he’s jack, and he has a knife. Lucy Liu is a whorehouse owner, who are also trained assassins. The action scenes are somewhere between good, and over the top. It’s set pieces are a bit too fancy and just look ridiculous as opposed to cool. Particularly the whole Yin-Yang blade, man and wife thing they had going. Also where’s the consistency? Warriors who can fend off a ridiculous amount of soldiers at once, but a dart kills them. Why are darts so overpowered!? I just don’t even..

The film has a mix of orchestral score, and soundtrack written by RZA. Along with the fairly clashing sounds and the dreadful slow-mo effects and horribly recorded special effects sounds it’s pretty garbled. The whole thing is atonal, the hip-hop simply doesn’t go with the style of film, and chimes in at random moments. It needed one or the other really, not both. And the sound effect noises, are unlike anything I’ve ever heard. Horrible clangs, and clacks that overwhelm the visuals and are a horrible mar to the ears.

The film is also very crude and explicit in regard to sexuality, and I never want to see Russell Crowe in a hotel room with three oriental hookers ever again. Did I mention the whorehouse is called ‘Pink Blossom’?. Sigh. Just no. That’s it for this time, I have nothing more to say about this. It’s pretty shit, don’t watch it, and it has little redeeming features. I guess you could say RZA shows a clear understanding of the conventions and codes of the martial arts film, just no idea how to plot-structure, write dialogue, and such. Although that was Eli Roth’s job, why am I not at all surprised. Guh. Until tomorrow, when I review A BETTER FILM. Ta da for now, and follow me @Sams_Reel_Views

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Black Dynamite (2009) or ‘Fiendish Dr.Wu, You dun fucked up now!’

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Black Dynamite (2009) is a comedy, blaxploitation, martial arts film paying deep homage to the blaxpoitation films of old, with deep use of satire, reference, and sharp-witted humor. The film stars Michael Jai White, and now has a spin-off animation show animated by the same studio as The Boondocks, and is quite a big part of Adult Swim’s current U.S line-up, or so I’ve read. I hadn’t really heard anything about the film before I decided to give it a go, aside from the animated Tv Show.

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Black Dynamite has a very loose story structure, doesn’t exactly have a main goal or purpose. Mainly our protagonist Black Dynamite (Michael Jai White) being a hero in various ways, freeing orphans from the addictions of smack, fighting gang-wars while establishing himself as alpha male, and most importantly leading a team of highly honed warriors onto Kung-Fu Island in which they slay the vicious Fiendish Dr.Wu. The masterplan unravels to reveal a malt liquor that the government has been pushing has a deadly chemical that shrinks the male anatomy, behind this masterplan, none other than, RICHARD NIXON! (GASP!) So primarily it’s just 2 hours of Black Dynamite fighting ‘The Man’ in numerous ways, which is absurdly hilarious. Oh, and there’s a revenge plot involving his dead brother (How did I forget this?) The film ends after he defeats Nixon in a kung-fu battle, as he produces an epilogue about his conquering of the white house, and how he will lead his people to justice.

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Black Dynamite is a film of incredible style and substance, it’s filmed in Super 18 giving it a really retro feel, and the dialogue is hilarious. The way it combines action and gunplay along with martial arts is superb, whilst maintaining that shaft blaxploitation style. Michael Jai White definitely pulls his weight as Black Dynamite, and the whole cast was fine. An excerpt I loved particularly:

Bullhorn: Oh, you’s a corn-fed fool with a lot of muscle mass. But it’s time for Bullhorn to get up in that ass!

[Bullhorn proceeds to land a chop on the thug, which is blocked. He then punches the thug in the midsection. He blocks a punch and slaps the thug in the face]

Thug #1: Motherfucker!

[Scene cuts to a retake of the fight scene, only with the thug replaced with a stunt double. Bullhorn punches the thug in the face before landing multiple punches to the chest and a kick to the face]

Bullhorn: Let everybody know and suckers be warned that this is the outcome when you mess with Bullhorn!

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Verdict = Sensational 8/10. Elaboration: I didn’t entirely expect a lot from a film that was immediately made into a cartoon series after it’s release. While entirely not a lot analyze as it’s a comedic parody, Black Dynamite oozes style and substance, with a slick, clean surface. Filmed in Super 18 it has a beautiful grit to the image, with a fantastic script, premise, and surprisingly good action scenes. Everyone should probably give Black Dynamite a whirl, you’ll be surprised. Until next time I’ll leave you with a trailer and suggest you Follow/Comment/Like if you like what you’ve seen, and follow me @Sams_Reel_Views. Cheers!

– Sam.

Enter The Dragon (1974) or ‘Bullshit, Mr. Han-Man’.

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Wupah! and welcome to Sam’s Reel Views as we take a look at 70’s classic, Enter the Dragon!, starring none other than Bruce Lee, directed by Robert Clouse. Enter The Dragon is of course, a Martial arts film, however it’s kind of a hybrid in the way that it’s not so concerned with the action sequences, and actually focuses on story, plot, and character development (to the degree a 70’s martial art film can). I guess what I’m saying is Enter The Dragon surprisingly has a story to it, in regards to what I expected. With a 7.6 on IMDB and something similar on Metacritic, I decided to give it a try, primarily because it’s something a bit different. 

Han's gigantic army of martial artists.

Han’s gigantic army of martial artists.

Lee (Bruce Lee) is a Buddhist monk, and an incredibly skilled martial artist, as a British intelligence worker wishes him to infiltrate a criminal’s island stronghold in order to convict him of crimes and find evidence. His mission is to go to Han’s island under guise of a martial arts tournament, while he uses his time there to sneak around the island, and survey. The narrative is told from the point of Lee, Roper (John Saxton) and Williams (Jim Kelly). The evil mastermind Han, realizes there’s someone snooping around his castle, and interrogates Williams suspecting him, Williams fights him, but is ultimately killed. All of this leads to Roper and Lee fighting his henchman, and Roper goes on a tour of his castle and discovers he’s exporting opium and running some bizarre kind of brothel, as the film climaxes in one of the best martial art scenes in cinema (I’m told) as Lee confronts the deadly Han. 

Definitely not a Bond villain...

Definitely not a Bond villain…

The film strangely enough, feels a lot like a bond film. In particular you could draw a few odd comparisons to Dr. No (1962) particularly in it’s use of tropics, and the cliche’d evil lair/fortress thing. Both antagonists both have fake hands, instead opting to use a metal one instead for sinister intentions. The other thing is the whole bond style briefing at the beginning, with braithwait. Also the fact it’s based on espionage (apparently) instead of brute force. Enter The Dragon is odd because it’s quite playful, funky, and flirty in it’s style, score, view of women and dialogue. Often at times it’s very playful, however at the same time it can be absurdly brutal as it draws from it’s genre, so with the amalgam of these two things you get a very odd mixture of 70’s quirkyness, with heavily sinister undertones. The dialogue overtly isn’t very good, at points it doesn’t work, and Williams is an awful character who just embodies black exploitation and stereotype in the 60’s and 70’s completely. 

Han: We are all ready to win, just as we are born knowing only life. It is defeat that you must learn to prepare for.

Williams: I don’t waste my time with it. When it comes, I won’t even notice.

Han: Oh? How so?

Williams: I’ll be too busy looking gooood.

No, I didn’t add the extra o’s, and yes it does sound far worse than it could possibly ever read. Seeing this oriental mastermind beat the living crap out of this goofy, token black character who’s appearance just isn’t necessary was actually quite disturbing. Especially with the laughing, presumably high women who just laugh as Han beats him to a bloody pulp. Oh, and when Bruce Lee’s sister killed herself with a shard of glass to avoid rape in earlier scenes in a flashback.  Regardless the acting is bearable, while the action scenes arranged by Bruce Lee himself are fantastic and do very much stand up to modern day action sequencing. While Enter The Dragon is dated, with it’s sexuality, dialogue, tone and style as it’s really a culture piece of the 70’s it’s a good kind of dated. The kind of dated where you can kind of feel the culture radiate off the film, like a history lesson of what entertained people and what people considered entertaining cinema in the 70’s.

The famous and often parodied 'mirror' scene.

The famous and often parodied ‘mirror’ scene.

So, in conclusion Enter The Dragon is a fun martial arts film, with some impressive scenes, a really cultural score, but relatively unremarkable acting. Regardless of it being horribly dated, it’s still worth watching, and is really quite enjoyable, especially considering to what’s happened to the martial arts genre (If it really still is one?) in modern times. So, i’d say it’s worth watching, I certainly enjoyed it. I’ll leave you with this eerie fight scene between Lee and Ohara before I go, and ask you like/follow/comment if you feel like it. Until next time film fans!

– Sam.