It’s been said elsewhere but I will certainly second the thought that director/writer/star RZA’s The Man with the Iron Fists is the best bad movie in a long time. It’s bad but it’s kinda great and not entirely due to irony. What it lacks in sophistication, it makes up for in lack of sophistication.
The film is an homage to the martial arts genre and is itself a product of the genre, co-written and produced in part by Eli Roth. There is a convoluted story revolving around a number of clans and a clan war taking place in “Jungle Village”. But the story’s center is around RZA’s character, a freed slave, who has learned Eastern wisdom upon his arrival in China, but for some rather unclear reasons now works as a pacifist weapons maker. Of course, when his girl is killed and his hands are chopped off (for helping someone escape), he is forced to craft some “iron fists” (which he can control with his spiritual wisdom) and seek revenge.
It’s a sprawling chaotic mess but it’s pretty fun throughout. The action is quick, over-the-top, and frequent. Characters are a bit too numerous to keep track of but it’s just more heads to roll. Lucy Liu shows up as a brothel madam/leader of a secret love-girl clan of assassins. Russell Crowe shows up as a gun/knife-wielding hedonist who sides with the good guys. And surprisingly notable is pro wrestler/mixed martial artist/bodybuilder David Bautista as “Brass Body”, the menacing figure with an impenetrable physical trait of turning to metal when attacked.
The most laughable aspect of the film is the flashback to the slave narrative. RZA himself plays his character seriously and very understatedly, while most of the cast chews scenery left and right with great camp (though Crowe is sort of on his own level, actually deporting himself quite well within the strange confines of the film kind of like he’s the only one successfully “acting”). But RZA’s slave hairdo is something right out of parody.
The whole thing is just goofy fun, though I think part of the fun comes from the fact that the film is written in such earnest. It’s perhaps an arguable statement to say that the martial arts genre is loaded with campy over-acting, crazy action violence, nonsense kung fu, flying, nutty tricks and near magic. RZA uses traditional FX where possible (those geysers of blood actually spewed on a set somewhere), though he employs CG FX in clever ways, too. The qualities of the film are not entirely ironic. The action is often successful as it is intended to be. It’s just the whole film is a hectic, energetic mess.
Most bad movies are not enjoyable, they’re just bad. Those of us who like to enjoy a good bad movie often sit through any number of movies that are just genuinely bad and not enjoyably so. The Man with the Iron Fists actually delivers much more what you might want from a crazy, goofy, convoluted martial arts action film, homage or not, kitsch or camp, or not.