The Man with the Iron Fists the directorial debut of music artist RZA is clearly a love letter to all of the Wu Tang frontman's passions. An old school kung fu movie infused with hip hop beats and a comic book aesthetic Iron Fists rarely makes a lick of sense but it's a collage of imagination — and that earns it a few points. Like a cinematic version of the backyard games we all used to play RZA casts himself as a Chinese town's resident badass who teams up with a cowboy to take down an army of ninjas assassins. The freeform style allows him to run wild rarely providing actual thrills but resulting in an action movie overflowing with heart. Bloody bloody heart.
The manic script for Iron Fists written by RZA and Eli Roth (Cabin Fever Hostel) interlocks a handful of colorful characters with varying degrees of success: The Blacksmith (RZA) a freed slave who hopes to earn enough bucks to whisk his love prostitute Lady Silk (Jamie Chung) away from the Pink Blossom brothel; Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu) the brothel's owner (and local mobster); Silver Lion (Byron Mann) a murderous gangster out to overtake the city with the help of his magical metallic underling Brass Body (Dave Bautista); Zen Yi a.k.a. The X-Blade (Rick Yune) whose father was killed at the hands of Silver Lion and now seeks revenge; and Jack Knife (Russell Crowe) a mysterious British gunslinger taking residence at the Pink Blossom who may have ulterior motives. Iron Fists bounces between the plot threads without much worry — you never really know who is doing what or why. But if characters say what they're thinking with conviction then beat the daylights out of their opponent it's supposed to suffice. More often than not it does.
What Iron Fists lacks in coherency it makes up for in absurdity. RZA pumps up the volume on every element of the film from costumes that shoot daggers to flamboyant overacting evildoers to Jack Knife taking the goriest route to defeat an enemy (in this case using a knife gun to rip up a heavyset man's insides). Taking a page from mentor Quentin Tarantino's book anything can happen in this Eastern martial soap opera and everything does happen. It's money shot after money shot the rapid pace reminiscent of channel surfing — likely the way most kung fu fans stumbled upon the type of films that inspire Iron Fists back in the '70s and '80s.
Not every moment pops — unlike Liu and Crowe RZA doesn't exactly light up the screen when given the freedom to go crazy. Blacksmith is a muted mumbling character who doesn't throw himself into a fight the way a kung fu movie demands from its lead. Behind the camera the fight scenes are choreographed similarly to how the movie is structured: randomly with the occasional inspired moment. But the inventiveness of the mechanics keeps Iron Fists working. A scene with two twins using contortion to throw and kick and punch their way through hoards of bad guys is a joy. Seeing Crowe (obviously not an expert in martial arts) lay down a few moves is pure fun too.
The Man with the Iron Fists isn't as expertly crafted as Tarantino's Kill Bill but it has more mind-boggling oddities. RZA unleashes his passion into the film so even when the story or action isn't working something else on screen is.
In the opening scene of Wristcutters we see twentysomething Zia (Patrick Fugit) cleaning his room for what appears to be the first time in ages; it’s also the last. He isn’t straightening up for a guest or for the hell of it but rather to leave a clean room behind when he slits his wrist moments later. Cut to Kamikaze Pizza the restaurant where Zia works in what he thinks is purgatory. The only way in is by committing suicide and the only way out is if there was a mismanagement in your death circumstances and you wound up there by accident. Zia hates every second of it and is happy to find someone in Eugene (Shea Whigham) with whom he can commiserate over beers at the local dive bar—which is really the only place to go anyway. The afterlife brightens up even further when Zia gets word that his ex-girlfriend back on Earth Desiree (Leslie Bibb) has offed herself too and is er descending upon the area. So Zia and Eugene go on a road trip through the most desolate highways and byways you’ve never seen in an attempt to track down Zia’s lone post-suicide regret. Along the way they pick up a hitchhiker Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon) who believes she’s there by mistake as well as a very twisted sort of enlightenment. It’s always impressive when actors are able to acutely grasp the most complex scripts and their subtext (i.e. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and the gang from Wristcutters is in that rare company. Fugit who broke out in 2000’s Almost Famous and has remained well under the radar since is the oddest of protagonists—a suicide “victim ” if you will whose afterlife you’re rooting for—and it’s hard to think of another actor who could pull off what he does here. It's because he’s somehow compellingly blasé which is obviously no easy feat and is clearly as lost post-life as he was during it. Sossamon (A Knight's Tale) is spunky quirky and unpredictable in a way that’ll be as attractive to viewers as it is to Zia. There really is something troubled and normal about her character that adds potential validity to Mikal’s claims of not belonging in this apparent purgatory. Rising star Whigham (All the Real Girls) as the heavily Russian Eugene rounds out the trio of roadtrippers with initial comic relief followed later by dramatic relief. Two of the more Bizarro performances we’ve seen in a long time come appropriately from a flying Tom Waits (whose record Zia puts on in the opening scene to die to) and Will Arnett possibly as the messiah. Who needs a huge budget when you have a huge imagination like Wristcutters’ Croatian writer/director Goran Dukic does? And what a perfect premise to have no money for because the afterlife he dreams up is a wasteland of nothingness where traffic-less roads stretch forever possibly as a punishment. But it’s not all about visuals or lack thereof in this adaptation of an Israeli short story (Kneller’s Happy Campers) by Etgar Keret even though the film’s most arresting scene features a deserted beach at sunset. See Wristcutters is a genuine romantic comedy under the guise of a grim deed and ramshackle no-budget “indie-ness”: The comedy is everywhere albeit very dry and romance is something of a Holy Grail for which the characters are unwittingly searching. But don’t write off Dukic’s effort as whimsical or obtuse because after some (literally) supernatural twists towards the end Wristcutters turns profound—in a way that is wholly unpretentious and thus surprising for an independent film.