Saturday, March 23, 2013

Iron fists

I finally saw The Man with the Iron Fist. It fell just short of being something Kimberly Rae and I were able to make an exception to go out to last fall.

A kung fu movie by The RZA of The Wu-Tang Clan. Cool.

Of course, the word was not good, at least where my ear sat near the ground.

So, I sat down, unsure if I should watch the theatrical version and not spend longer than necessary on a movie that didn't work or take the chance that the extended version fixed the perceived problems. Well, just fuck it! I'm a guy who's more likely to like a longer movie and just jump in anyway, and despite it all, I was still reasonably optimistic.

And for me it paid off. I liked it. I'm kind of interested to see what opinions are from people who saw both versions and if that's having much effect or it's just that my opinion is significantly different. I'm not sure yet how much effort I'll put into finding out.

I found it engaging throughout. The action was solid and well-shot. The characters were iconic.

And the really cool thing, I thought, was that the lines and the line-readings all successfully evoked the sound and feel of an English-dubbed Kung Fu movie without ever being distracting or sounding like a joke. It reminds me of the way some serious Woody Allen movies evoke the feel of reading English subtitles for an Ingmar Bergman movie. In both, I suspect there's at least as many detractors as fans, but I'll count myself among the fans... and quite an extra impressed fan, because I find the sound and feel of English-dubbed Kung Fu movies to be frustrating most of the time, as opposed to the feel of reading Bergman movies, which is something I quite enjoy.

As the son of a blacksmith, though, I have to say, its understanding of the physics of metal is extremely lacking.

Usually I'd let something like that go.

This was frustrating to me personally for a number of reasons.

First of all, generally, evoking blacksmithing is a way to draw me into a movie. I grew up in and around blacksmith shops and blacksmithing. It was outside my natural skill set, which made it almost mystic. It was something my father was good at it... I would later discover genuinely brilliant at, and I couldn't make grasp in a most rudimentary way. I was always a story geek, reading books and watching movies. I was never good with my hands or manipulating the physical world or myself physically.

I spent several years, in fact, trying to work in blacksmithing, which seemed to work moderately, for a while, but that was certainly all about the revelation of The loud introvert and nothing at all to do with any innate skill at it. In fact, the constant need to work against my innate ineptitude was source of enormous and heartbreaking frustration for me. I love and hate blacksmithing more most people have even considered its existence as a profession.

Because of all of those things, blacksmithing immediately evokes a lot for me.  The Blade by Tsui Hark one of my undisputed favorite movies, and of course there are many reasons aside from the metalworking that the movie is so amazing to me, but that's something that immediately draws me in and gives me a connection to that world.

So, for The RZA to make a movie that included him as writer/director/star playing a blacksmith, he had an enormous opportunity to draw me personally into this movie and make it something very special.

Well, obviously he had no reason to need to do that.

And I'm sure that if you went to him and said that the physics of metal were off, I'd guess he'd say it was a movie thing and he was creating some effects that looked cool.

And here's where I'm not sure he traded up. I kind of think the things different metals would do in the weird extreme situations presented could be made to look cooler than the generic shattering effects the movie leaned on.

It reminds me of '80s action movies, which I watched a lot at the time, and still do. In fact, I'm still slowly but surely making up for various periods of pretention I went through during that time and wrote off a lot of the action movies at the time.

But at some point, after watching dozens and dozens of movies in which Molotov Cocktails just exploded, I saw documentary footage of a riot and saw what a Molotov Cocktail actually does and couldn't get over how much more visually striking it is. It's ridiculous that people in a visual medium missed this obvious fact. And, by and large, that has been fixed in more recent movies, so apparently I wasn't the only one who noticed.

Not only that, but like the Kung Fu movies he was so influenced by, the RZA was clearly trying to make a larger point about human behavior in how he labeled the different clans by animal types and modeled the way the looked and acted, their posture and their strategies, off the animals. Perhaps if I had grown up with a zoologist, I'd have similar issues with that.

Here, I really think RZA could have made use of the real physical qualities of iron and gold to really cool effect both visually and symbolically, both of which, for me, were essentially thrown out the window for me by effects that were ultimately used.

All of this criticism, I'm sure sounds like I'm joining the detractors, but I'm not. I liked it enough that I think it could have been something all the more wonderful if it weren't for that issue, which makes me unable to stop thinking about it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It’s an action packed dumb fun movie that pays tribute to the great martial arts films from every decade in existence. Not perfection, but worth a watch for fun. Good review.

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