AUTHOR: Kara Warner,

Photo: Universal Pictures

What do you get when a hip-hop legend decides to cross over into the world of kung fu movie acting and directing? If you’re Wu-Tang mastermind RZA, you earn the blessing and guidance of renowned kung-fu director Quentin Tarentino in order to get your dream project off the ground, then you assemble an A-list group of production designers and cinematographers and a star-studded cast to make “The Man With The Iron Fists.”

If that sounds like a lot to take in and/or just plain unbelievable, you’re going to have to go check out the movie for yourself this weekend, particularly since most early reviews are praising the first-time director’s carefully calculated creative efforts. Prepare to meet your master as we high kick our way through “The Man With Iron Fists” reviews!

The Backstory

“After his interest in filmmaking was sparked by his soundtrack work for directors like Jim Jarmusch and Quentin Tarantino in ‘Ghost Dog’ and ‘Kill Bill,’ The RZA — one of the architects of the Staten Island hip-hop force called The Wu-Tang Clan — wanted to make a movie. But ‘The Man with the Iron Fists’ — even with its combo-platter approach mixing classic martial-arts cinema in all of its glorious excess with the beats and breaks and attitude of hip-hop — isn’t the work of a slumming dilettante. It’s a real film, and a fun one, made with gonzo good humor and plenty of action from the opening brutal battle over which the sound of The Wu-Tang Clan’s 1993 single ‘Shame on a N—a’ roars. The RZA’s love for king-fu is evident in every frame here, and while the film’s attitude, violence and throw-it-in-a-blender approach will appeal to young and aging hipsters both, it’s also hard to imagine the film becoming a crossover success on the level of ‘Kill Bill.’ ” — James Rocchi,

The Plot

“‘The Man With the Iron Fists’ is, like [other exploitation] films, the progeny of a deep cinephile passion. …It mostly takes place in a fictional feudal town, Jungle Village, at the juncture of King Hu and Sergio Leone, filmmakers whose shadows loom heavily over the movie. It’s here that Western name actors, notably Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu, rub elbows and clashing accents with Asian talent like Daniel Wu and Gordon Liu in a knotted story involving the usual mad grab for power and gold. Lucy Liu plays Madam Blossom, who runs a flamboyantly, amusingly smutty, pinked-up brothel packed with smiling lovelies who look like an Orientalist fantasy by way of Victoria’s Secret. In a misguided move, RZA has cast himself as the narrator and story hub, a character known, with a touch of wit, only as the Blacksmith. A hardworking soul, the Blacksmith makes weapons for the local warring clans, squirreling away his money so that he can leave town with Lady Silk (Jamie Chung). ” — Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

Energizing the Kung-Fu Genre

“It’s no wonder that this film was produced by Quentin Tarantino, who did something similar with his own ‘Kill Bill.’ ‘The Man with the Iron Fists,’ though, unlike its stylistic forebear, seems to play less as an homage to very specific kung-fu flicks from the ’60s and ’70s (there are online rundowns of every single visual reference in Kill Bill), and more like a modern tribute to kung fu flicks. In a way, Iron Fists take a bolder step than most action films, trying to update a moribund genre with big steaming scoops of ridiculous awesomeness. It occupies a middle ground between the ’70s-obsessed eye of Tarantino, and the bold magical silliness of “Big Trouble in Little China.” — Witney Seibold, Crave Online

The Direction

“For the first half-hour, nearly every shot seems to contain a dramatic reveal or zoom; things are frenetically mashed together with scarce lockdowns or breathers to establish a concrete sense of space or mood. The finished film was apparently chopped down from a four-hour initial cut, and RZA’s urgency to incorporate all his favorite footage at the expense of coherence or pacing is obvious and overwhelming.

Yet the stewy, overheated enthusiasm eventually proves contagious, and by the time the pic finally finds its groove toward the end — subdividing the screen into comicbook-like panels and splashing slow-motion rivers of blood in graceful patterns across the camera — an anything-goes midnight-movie mood triumphs.” — Andrew Barker Variety

The Final Word

“It’s all sufficiently well done and amusing enough to satisfy the appetites of fans who mainline this sort of thing, but it also sports a concocted, second-hand feel common to this sort of throwback homage when it lacks the stylistic inspiration and imaginative flair for genre reinvention of a Leone or Tarantino. In this sense, RZA seems more the dedicated student than a new heir apparent. Fun does come from the wildly imaginative weapons designs, Liu’s crafty manipulations of everyone who sets foot in her house of pleasure, Crowe’s sporting holiday in a role that would have been relished by his late Gladiator co-star Oliver Reed, the cramming of so many Asian martial arts hallmarks/cliches into one scenario and the weird conjunction of Chinese setting and mostly hip-hop-style soundtrack. Production values are certainly better than those on most of the films RZA idolized in his youth, while his visual handling is more industrious than stylish.” — Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter