No, the title is not a metaphor. In this bombastic kung-fu epic, the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA (also the co-writer and director) slips on a pair of literal iron fists and straight up murders some fools. That alone demonstrates his lack of subtlety as an artist. He lacks many qualities, as a matter of fact: polish, restraint, and–above all–experience. That’s okay, though: his earnestness and enthusiasm more than make up for these shortcomings.
RZA plays a disillusioned blacksmith. His role in the narrative is to forge fantastic weapons for the warring clans of Jungle Village, observe the ensuing carnage, and tell us the sad, sad tale. But fate and karma soon conspire to make him a key participant in the bloody conflict–and once his fury is unleashed, teeth, eyeballs, and shards of shattered bone start flying like leaves in the autumn wind.
Unfortunately, RZA is neither a great actor nor an especially talented martial artist, but these are hardly crippling flaws; after all, he’s merely a set of eyes through which we view a vibrant cinematic world and meet its many interesting inhabitants. Two characters of particular note are Falstaffian English adventurer Jack Knife and ambitious brothel owner Madame Blossom, portrayed by Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu, respectively; handed a screenplay in which the only real stars were the numerous references and homages (see how many you can name: The Crippled Masters, Five Deadly Venoms, Enter the Dragon…), Crowe and Liu apparently decided to abandon all pretenses and compete to see who could devour the most scenery.
Not to malign the script (a collaboration between RZA and the infamous Eli Roth), which is, if nothing else, imaginative. The two scribes manage to squeeze a hired killer capable of transforming his flesh into brass, a pair of ornate swords that clasp together to form a Yin-Yang pattern, and an army of sexy goth chick assassins into one lean, ninety-minute package; I can forgive the (glaringly obvious) pacing issues. Even the incredibly stilted dialogue sounded to me like poetry, evoking a shoddy or rushed translation:
“Tiger Style!” the blacksmith exclaims as one opponent adopts a stance. “I thought that clan was extinct!”
“It is,” the villain replies. “I killed them!”
How could I possibly bring myself to dislike such a magical experience?
[Originally written November 3, 2012.]