Fans of Quentin Tarantino may be crestfallen to learn that the "presented by" credit he receives in "The Man with the Iron Fists" isn't backed up by any other real credit (say, director or producer or key grip). The hip-hop impresario and performer RZA (pronounced RIZZ-uh) stars, directing a screenplay he also wrote. You may remember RZA from such immortal New York supergroups as the horrorcore pioneers Gravediggaz and the inimitable Wu-Tang Clan, who routinely sampled old martial-arts flicks and honed a gangsta-fied kung-fu aesthetic into something approaching a true mystique. (Tiger style!) Even if Tarantino didn't do much on "Fists," you can see why he'd want to sign this throwback. In true Wu-Tang fashion, the more names the merrier.
Perhaps the best thing about "Fists," then, is that it exists at all, and that it appears as a fully realized vision of RZA's ideal campy martial-arts flick. Is it a good movie? Nah. Will it make you laugh, cringe, gape and cheer? Yeah, probably. Inspired, you'll run home and dust off "Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style" on old-school PlayStation while cranking up your scratched-up "Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)" CD.
Along the way to this sublimity, you'll have to overlook a couple of traditional sticking points for film snobs, namely, "quality acting" and "coherent story." Russell Crowe naturally holds his own as an English dude named Jack Knife (note: he kills people with an awesome knife), but the second-best performer in the movie might just be Lucy Liu as the madam of a massive brothel called the Pink Blossom. Typically when Lucy Liu is the second-best actor in a given movie, it's time to worry.
At least RZA is decent as a blacksmith who, due to some disarmingly unfortunate circumstances, reluctantly joins the fight to save his dumpy Chinese hamlet, Jungle Village. The main bad guy is played by Byron Mann channeling an evil Ziggy Stardust. Another hero is played by Rick Yune, looking exactly like the animated prince from "Mulan" in a crazy mechanical knife suit that lets him kill thugs by the bushel but which fails spectacularly against a metallic titan played by pro wrestling superstar Dave Bautista. Virtually every woman in the cast is a prostitute except for Liu, who of course is in charge of all the prostitutes.
Here's the storyline: A shipment of government gold is coming through the village. Rival gangs all want it. Some stuff happens. RZA's girlfriend (Jamie Chung) is forget-your-name gorgeous. Orphan kids get into trouble. Mostly, people fight. For the R-rating, it doesn't indulge in nudity. Seriously, it's just fighting, with some dialogue to move us toward more fighting.
But it looks and sounds fantastic. If there is high art contained in "Fists," it's in indulgent gore and magical combat scenes. You will see people killed in fashions most ridiculous, all crushings and stabbings and beheadings and poison dartings and dismemberments and whatnot, often set to tunes from the likes of Kanye West, the Black Keys and, yes, re-orchestrated versions of Wu-Tang classics.
RZA has said the final result represented 85 percent of his vision. God help anyone who runs into that remaining 15 percent in a dark alley.