Starring: RZA, Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Rick Yune, Byron Mann
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Runtime: 95 mins. Reviewed in Dec 2012
Action and rap music booking during the opening credits, but the setting is China long ago. This is a matinee movie for adults who like to indulge in this kind of martial arts saga. It is full of action and stunt work and even fuller of special effects to make the action more spectacular. And a range of extraordinary weapons and traps.
I was going to say, ‘forget about the plot’, but that might not be so helpful as I am not sure I ever grasped the plot in the first place. Gold is being stored in a village, and in the basement of the local brothel. The emperor is concerned about it. The villain has killed his master for it. The master’s son arrives bent on revenge. The madam has schemes to hold on to it. The local blacksmith (a marooned American slave) makes weapons that can defend it. A very pommy Englishman rides into town and teams up with the goodies. A sinister emissary also turns up to secure the gold. And a big man who can produce bronze armour over his skin as needed does some dastardly deeds. That outline doesn’t necessarily spoil the action for potential audiences. All that plotline does is provide the occasion for martial spectacle.
The slave is the title man – who has lost his arms but has been able to produce and connect hands, arms and, especially, fists of iron while working as a blacksmith. He is played by rapper RZA who co-wrote the film with Eli Roth (Hostel) and directs. It is a Chinese production, but also presented by Quentin Tarantino (echoes of the Kill Bill films).
Recently, some respected Chinese directors have been opening their films for western audiences by including American characters and employing American actors (Christian Bale in Zhang Yimou’s siege of Nanking film, Flowers of War, and Adrien Brody and Tim Robbins in Xiaogang Feng’s Back to 1942. But, by contrast, Geoffrey Rush appeared in the Korean martial arts film, Warrior’ Way. And here is Russell Crowe, with a plum in the mouth accent as the visiting Englishman. Lucy Liu is obviously enjoying herself as the extravagant madam, lots of costumes and jewelry, in the lavishly appointed brothel.
It is all acted in highly melodramatic fashion, slash and gush, (with some tongue-in cheek episodes spouting blood episodes) with some arch dialogue like ‘I lost a father but have gained a brother’ or Lucy Liu’s exhortation to the brutal soldiers, ‘Partake of the women’.
It’s like a spectacular comic strip come to life. What else would the audience be expecting!
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