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Video Reviews

Plugged In Rating
Content Caution
MPAA Rating
Credits
Genre
Drama, Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, War, Horror
Cast
RZA as Blacksmith; Rick Yune as Zen Yi 'The X-Blade'; Russell Crowe as Jack Knife; Lucy Liu as Madam Blossom; Dave Bautista as Brass Body; Jamie Chung as Lady Silk; Cung Le as Bronze Lion; Byron Mann as Silver Lion; Daniel Wu as Poison Dagger
Director
RZA
Distributor
Universal Pictures
In Theaters
November 2, 2012
On Video
February 12, 2013
Reviewer
Paul Asay
The Man With the Iron Fists

The Man With the Iron Fists

The people of Jungle Village are not known for their subtlety.

In Jungle Village (which is a village located in a jungle), people call a spade a spade, a house a house, and a dog a dog. Indeed, if the people of Jungle Village (known, perhaps, as the Village People) were prone to own dogs, each one would surely be simply named Dog. Every time an owner would call for his pooch he'd holler "C'mere, Dog!" and all 17 mutts in the immediate area would dash over to whine for Milk-Bones.

This might explain why the people of Jungle Village don't seem to like dogs.

Some do have an affinity for rats, wolves or lions, though. Many are members of either the Rat Clan, the Wolf Clan or the Lion Clan. And just like their plainly monikered animal namesakes, all love to fight.

It's the 19th century in China, and the Lion Clan—once a noble organization—is in upheaval. Longtime leader Gold Lion has been killed by his two top lieutenants, Silver Lion and Bronze Lion. Now Silver Lion's angling to hijack a massive shipment of the Emperor's gold, and he plans to use all of the Lions to do it (Nickel Lion and Manganese Lion? Are you ready to rumble?)

But Silver Lion will first have to take out Gold Lion's son, Zen Yi "The X-Blade," who's no martial arts slouch. So he calls in a massive gladiator named Bronze Body who predictably has … a bronze body.

Protected and healed by a blacksmith known as Blacksmith, Yi somehow manages to escape the worst of Bronze Body's metallic wrath. All the while, a strange visitor named Jack Knife (who carries a knife) eyes the carryings-on with a bemused interest for purposes only he knows.

Which, by this point in the narrative, might describe those in the audience who have not yet walked out on The Man With the Iron Fists. Why are they there? Only they, reflecting with bemused interest, know for sure. Perhaps they want to find out what happens to the gold. Perhaps they want to see how it all leads to the inevitable, climactic bloodbath. Perhaps they want to watch the dogs beg for their Milk-Bones.

Positive Elements

Blacksmith tries to buy the freedom of his brothel-working girlfriend (Lady Silk). And the brothel's madam (Madam Blossom) saves a child from a hurtling weapon of doom, sacrificing her own life in the process. Jack Knife prevents a squadron of gun-wielding soldiers from firing on a dozen or so innocent children.

Spiritual Content

Freed slave Henry Smith (otherwise known as Blacksmith) kisses his Bible before packing it away and shipping himself off to China. But all too soon he's converted to Buddhism. He (and we) hear a great deal about Buddhist tenets and see a variety of Buddhist statuary. Thus, when he loses his arms, Blacksmith tells Jack Knife it was due to the "pendulum of karma."

Blacksmith's newfound beliefs give him the ability to do magic, it would seem. For he soon fuses his body with arms of iron. His Buddhist lessons have somehow communicated to him the weak points in Bronze Body's defenses. And when he goes to finish him off, the force of his punch creates some bizarre, in-building maelstrom that sucks Bronze Body off into who-knows-where.

Oddly, the Buddhist monk who teaches Blacksmith says, "God bless you."

There's an awful outburst from Jack Knife involving a gynecological instrument, prostitutes and Catholics. A person's chi, or life essence, is referred to—sometimes with a sexual tinge.

Sexual Content

Almost all the women in The Man With the Iron Fists are prostitutes. For most of the movie, they're depicted as weak, pliable sex kittens, giggling and moaning when shown attention. Most are dressed in outfits baring significant amounts of skin. And in one extended scene several are obviously having sex with customers. Three different sexual positions are chronicled, with each couple engaged in much moaning and writhing and shaking and thrusting.

Later, they turn into assassins— still skimpily dressed.

A visiting martial arts expert also fights in scanty clothing (perhaps her undergarments). She and her male fighting partner perform several lethal moves together—including one where he fires projectiles from a device tied to her thigh. An almost-naked statue of a reclining woman (showing bare breasts) hides a secret lock in her crotch area: Blossom reaches between the statue's legs to open a door.

Jack Knife hangs out in the brothel for several days, saying he's on vacation. He asks Lady Blossom for three women "to start with." We see him engaged in sex play with them, including giving oral sex to one while his head is submerged in a bathtub. He strokes another woman's private parts and engages in some explicit sex talk with Blossom.

Violent Content

"All men are the same," Blacksmith is taught by his Buddhist mentors, "and all life is precious." That is indeed true. But you'd never know it from what we witness here.

Dozens, maybe hundreds of people die—falling to swords, knives, axes, shuriken, metallic claws, brass arms and, of course, iron fists. And they don't just die: They explode like blood-filled piñatas. Heads are punched off bodies. CGI-created whip/chain weapons unleash cascades of blood as they pass. Sometimes even the slightest of scratches seems to unleash a fatal geyser of arterial flow—reminding me a little of those old 1980s action shows where a car was liable to explode if it went over a pothole too quickly.

Jack Knife jigsaws his knife up a man's torso, spilling blood and revealing scads of organs. (Blossom titters while having the body hauled away.) Silver Lion orders Blacksmith's arms to be cut off; we see the process of this literal disarmament in excruciating detail. Some people are killed by poisoned projectiles; they die as the poison runs black through their veins. Zen Yi graphically kills several people with his spikey armor. (These unfortunates tend to expel burbling blood or white gore from their mouths.)

One man is dragged to his death when a chain he's attached to gets tangled in some gears; the camera watches as he's crushed and punctured, a shower of blood cascading over the cogs. Another kills himself by collapsing a roof. A third man's arm is ripped away from his body, revealing a mass of muscle and sinew. A fourth dies after hitting his head on an anvil. A snake slithers out of a decapitated head. Dead bodies litter battle sites.

Women are also beaten and killed. One is hurled around like a rag doll in a particularly painful-looking death scene. Surviving females, in turn, dispatch their lust-filled customers with knife-like/wrench-like devices attached to their tongues, stabbing them into men's necks.

Crude or Profane Language

Ten or more f-words in the dialogue, plus several more featured in songs. One s-word. We hear "a‑‑," "b‑‑ch" and "h‑‑‑." The n-word is flung around more than a dozen times. Crudities are applied to critical body parts.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Jack Knife smokes (sharing his thin cigar with Blacksmith at one point) and drinks cognac, often to excess. Others drink as well.

Other Negative Elements

A man is seen (from above the waist) relieving himself.

Conclusion

If the residents of Jungle Village were tasked with re-naming The Man With the Iron Fists to better reflect its true nature, they'd simply call it Bad Movie.

No, make that Very Bad Movie.

I'm not speaking just from an aesthetic standpoint here, through that would be a fair assessment too. The film's sexual content is extreme and grossly insulting to women. The violence pegs not just the Plugged In meter, but also any other meter you might like to use. The worldview is confusing at best, loathsome at worst.

Yes, the film's supposed to be a salute to all those pulpy martial arts flicks from the 1970s, and some will argue that in that schlocky sense it works. That all the filth and stupidity and violence is a 90-minute inside meta-joke. But I'm not laughing.

Many movies, even those that are difficult to watch, have a purpose in mind—a lesson to bestow or an emotion to trigger. The only thing The Man With the Iron Fists triggers in me is my gag reflex. The only lesson it teaches is just how many people there are in the world who will watch such things … with a bemused interest for purposes only they know.

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