It’s always interesting what someone who didn’t aspire to be a director chooses to do as their first picture. RZA was a first rate musician and music producer who wandered into cinema by accident, it seems. With a handful of throwaway roles in big films complimenting his true influence on cinema, musically, RZA becoming a director was one that was sort of puzzling. A part of one of the most influential hip hop groups of his era in the Wu Tang Clan, he seemed more destined to be a great musical composer for cinema.
It was a bit off to see that he was directing a film properly as opposed to being the musical tour de force behind one; RZA produced one of the great albums in “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)” and it would almost feel natural that RZA would become a great musician for film scores. While he also scored The Man with the Iron Fists, as well as directed and co-wrote it, RZA stars in the title role of the film. And it has an interesting historical parallel: Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi.
RZA stars as the Blacksmith, a man who makes some of the best weapons in a small village. When rival clans commission him to make some weapons to tackle a gold shipment from the Emperor, he winds up in the middle of it all as an English knife master (Russell Crowe), a hired killer (Dave Bautista) and the madam of the local whorehouse (Lucy Liu) wind up in the middle of it all.
It’s a fairly standard martial arts film that winds up becoming a bit of a mess because RZA isn’t a veteran enough hand of a director to be able to craft a film of the epic nature he’s shooting for. Edited down to 90 minutes from an initial four hour cut, apparently, the film has a lot of threads to work with and jumbles them up to the point where the film tends to be hard to follow. It doesn’t help that RZA shoots the action scenes, of which there are plenty, in such a haphazard matter that what should be stellar sequences wind up becoming difficult to follow as well.
It’s a shame because you can tell there’s something there that RZA has to say. He has a style to his film that combines some great orchestral scoring with music alongside some beautiful scenery. In the lead RZA shows some style and screen presence; he may not be Denzel Washington, far from it, but he has something to him that warrants further exploration on a cinematic level. With some more seasoning this would be the sort of kung fu masterpiece on film that RZA clearly had in his mind; there’s so much there that’s good that the big glaring errors obscure it.
A good way to look at this film is as his version of El Mariachi. That film wasn’t all that good but you could tell by watching it that Rodriguez was onto something. There’s potential there, like watching a professional prize fighter a year or two before he takes the step from prospect to title contender. RZA shows so much potential in this film that the final result is disappointing because of how good he is going to be. This is a film he should be making in 2016, after a couple of films are under his belt and he’s on his path to being a great director. That’s the director I wish could’ve made this film.
Writer: RZA and Eli Roth
Notable Cast: Russell Crowe, Cune Le, RZA, Lucy Liu, Byron Mann, Rick Yune, Dave Bautista, Jamie Chung