Next to Quentin Tarantino, RZA is probably one of the biggest martial arts movie fans in Hollywood. The motormouth auteur and the drawling rapper are friends and previous collaborators (RZA composed the score to Kill Bill: Vol. 1) so it makes perfect sense that Tarantino would ‘present’ RZA’s directorial debut.
Set in the 1900s, this is a story set in Jungle Village, a place where the local Blacksmith (RZA) is actually black. Yes, this is that kind of movie.
I’m not going to get into the narrative here, because, to be honest, it doesn’t look like the writer/director/star spent too much time on that aspect. This is one of those movies that feels like it was written by cobbling together a series of “wouldn’t it be cool if” scenarios. The wackier the better. So characters are given names like Gold Lion, Silver Lion, and Bronze Lion. The local brothel is called the Pink Blossom. A secret door is opened by inserting a key between a female statue’s legs and…yeah, I think you get the picture.
Russell Crowe shows up, overweight, and thoroughly enjoying himself as a womanizer named Jack Knife whose weapon of choice is a gun/knife combo that looks like a lot of fun to operate. Rick Yune is one of the good guys, Jamie Chung is the prostitute whom Blacksmith wants to free from the rule of Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu), and so it goes. On and on.
Needless to say, a lot of blood is spilled (in that fountain-of-red way made popular by cable TV shows like Spartacus) and people get punched, kicked, and generally treated like fancily dressed crash test dummies. But it all adds up to little more than a sizzle reel of fancily staged fights. The narrative pacing is off, the title character’s voiceover is sort of comical, and it is impossible to look at this as anything other than a joke movie.
Final Analysis: If you’re in the mood for a martial arts movie that makes the average Jackie Chan picture look like high brow cinema, this is probably for you.
My Advice: Rent House of Flying Daggers, or Kill Bill instead.