The WuTang Clan rapper RZA, aka Robert Fitzgerald Diggs, takes on acting, writing, directing, composing and rapping duties on his film, “The Man with the Iron Fists.” That makes him, what, a quintuple threat?
And a threat to what? He’s a terrible actor, an incompetent narrator, a mediocre writer and paint by numbers director.
His N-word and F-bomb laced music — he participated in three songs on the soundtrack — we’ll leave to others to parse.
A guy with a serious Samurai Jones — he had a samurai cameo in Jim Jarmusch’s “Ghost Dog,” popped up on “Afro Samurai” on TV and has a recurring role — “Samurai Apocalypse” — on TV’s “Californication.” So the movie, which torture porn king Eli Roth helped him get on the screen, is as variation of the “Blind Swordsman” series of Japanese films. Set in China, with no samurai.
RZA plays a narrating blacksmith caught up in power struggle between clans in some late 19th century fantasy China out of ’70s grindhouse martial arts movies. Characters fly at each other, practice exotic forms of kung fu, turn to bronze when it suits them and hack each other to bits in epic brawls where only the minions bleed out.
The blacksmith, an ex-American slave, has his arms lopped off at one point. And since Quentin Tarantino “introduces” the movie with a trailer to his “Django Unchained,” think of this genre-and-history bender as “Django Unarmed.”
Hey, when the tag-line in your ads is “You can’t spell Kung Fu without F and U,” you’re playing it for laughs. It’s a pity there aren’t any.
Though Russell Crowe’s first entrance, playing a plump and dapper English slasher named “Mr. Knife, but you can call me ‘Jack,'” is worth a chuckle. It’s a good look for playing police inspector Javert in “Les Miserables,” though shows the Oscar winner’s leading man days are 50 pounds in the past. Crowe has never given a worse performance, but RZA was in Crowe’s “The Next Three Days,” so that’s where that connection came from.
The trouble with virtually every rapper to make the leap to acting is how much their musical guise limits their screen range. RZA could never be in a serious period piece, because he sounds too modern, too street. Reading his own narration, he sounds like a rapper narrating his favorite Chinese folk tale. Badly. And it’s badly written, too.
“Meanwhile,” he says, stating the obvious, “Zen Yi was getting closer to Jungle Village.”
Jungle Village is where this ax and sword and poison dart showdown between the Lion Clan, the Hyena Clan, the Wolf Clan, the Eleven Rodents, The Gemini Killers, etc., is to take place. Zen Yi, clumsily played by Rick (formerly Ricky) Yune, is the son of a clan leader who is traveling in his Suit of Knives to Jungle Village for revenge — and to interfere with the theft of some government bullion. That’s what has brought Mr. Knife/”Jack, to you,” there. That feud, which requires lots of weapons, has been helping the blacksmith pay off his prostitute girlfriend’s debts to the madam (Lucy Liu, of course) at her brothel. And that feud is how the blacksmith becomes Django Unarmed.
We’ve never seen Crowe romp with an orgy of Chinese hookers before — “Let’s pretend we’re Catholic” — and never seen him eviscerate a foe with his twirling Swiss Army knife-pistol. So there’s that.
And on the page, the various silly ingredients suggest a funnier, more over the top genre spoof than RZA delivers. His narrator mutters about one group having a — let’s call it “a ‘Fuddrucking’ Gatling Gun, and more bullets than China had rice.” Liu’s cunning and deadly madam warns swordsmen of traps that will “make women of you.” A character whose skin turns bronze at the slightest threat is told, “I thought your clan was extinct.”
“They ARE extinct. I KILLED them!”
But it’s more tedious than fun, a movie that botches most details and dwells on others — any involving lopped off arms, legs and heads, viscera, and cauterizing wounds.
There’s a reason this sword, sorcery and spatter pictures were never more than cult films in the first place. Still, it’ll be interesting to see if RZA can break the rapper’s curse — minor screen stardom, starts using his real name, forgotten and a bit player two years later. With pals like Roth and Tarantino, he already has a leg up — though with “Fists” he whacks that sucker off and lets us watch the stump bleed and bleed.
MPAA Rating: R for bloody violence, strong sexuality, language and brief drug use
Cast: RZA, Ricky Yune, Cung Le, Lucy Liu, Russell Crowe.
Credits: Directed by RZA, written by Eli Roth and RZA. A Universal release.
Running time: 1:34