As Wu-Tang Clan's principal producer and myth-maker, Robert "RZA" Diggs translated the group's rugged urban background into the language of Wuxia flicks and '70s Marvel Comics. These elements are accounted for in the RZA's first film, the 19th-century-China-set The Man with the Iron Fists. The director plays the blacksmith of factious, violence-torn Jungle Village, which is invaded by brigands who have absconded with the governor's gold as well as outsiders with grudges to nurse, Englishman Mr. Knife (Russell Crowe) and Zen Yi (Rick Yune). As Iron Fists gets rolling, you immediately have the sense of watching a movie made by someone who has no immediate expectation of making another, and has consequently decided to throw in every bit of chop-socky business all at once, cluttering the screen with all manner of outlandish weapon-accessories, superpowered characters with axiomatic names (Brass Body, the Gemini Killers), and calligraphy writ with arterial spray. As a narrative, it is about as cohesive as Bobby Digital in Stereo, the action scenes are often too cluttered for legibility, and, curious to say of a movie made by a musician, the film has broad swaths without tempo. But if Iron Fists is sometimes badly made, it is refreshingly badly made. It has a homemade charm that comes from a sense of having gestated in a lifelong obsession: A flashback showing the RZA's blacksmith escaping his plantation to wash up on the shores of China gets at Wu-Tang's essential cross-cultural tension, curiously touching in its suggestion of a young Robert Diggs gaining a sense of personal nobility (and a bowdlerized primer on Buddhism) through the conduit of kung fu VHS tapes.
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