[Contains spicy noodles and SPOILERS!!!]
Generally speaking, the movies that Quentin Tarantino “presents” are vastly inferior to the ones that he writes and directs… to the extent that it’s almost become a badge of dishonour… but The Man with the Iron Fists (2012) is well worth watching, regardless of Q-T’s damning endorsement. Admittedly, the haphazard blend of throwback kung-fu hokum and hip-hop beats won’t be to everyone’s taste, and it did occasionally make me feel like I was watching it drunk, despite being stone-cold sober… but once I gave up trying to makes sense of the plot and just let it wash over me, there was a lot to admire here.
For one thing, I was pleasantly surprised by the restraint that first-time writer/director RZA showed when it came to depicting the many female characters seen on-screen. The DVD scored an “18” certificate, and there’s plenty of gratuitous gore and salty swearing to justify that rating, but there’s never so much as a nip-slip or bare breast on display, despite much of the action taking place inside a brothel! Even when the ladies are bathing or engaging in enthusiastic coitus, they’re all strategically covered and framed, so as not to reveal any rudery. I know some male viewers may find that frustrating (and/or fake-y), but I found it rather refreshing, given the context.
I also dug the fact that when things really started kicking off, the prostitutes of The Pink Blossom emerged as an intimidating army of assassins, inspired by their steely mistress ‘Madam Blossom’ (Lucy Liu), rather than being reduced to mere sword-fodder. At first I was just enjoying Liu’s performance as a supporting player, wringing laughs out of lines that might have fallen flat in the mouths of lesser actresses… but then she pulled out her dagger-fan and set about kicking some ass, and I swooned all over again. According to an interview Liu gave to Flicks and Bits, she sweet-talked RZA into giving her more action sequences, to emphasise her character’s strength, and to his credit he accepted the suggestion, and redrafted the script accordingly. Sadly, she doesn’t survive the final battle, but she does at least die a noble death, protecting a young girl from the crossfire. Bless her.
Meanwhile, Grace Huang appeared as ‘Gemini Female’ (aka “Mrs Gemini”), the fairer half of a deeply committed couple of acrobatic bad-asses, charged with protecting The Governor’s precious shipment of shiny, shiny gold that everyone ends up squabbling over. Sadly, she doesn’t live to complete her mission, but she does get a few charming off-duty scenes, as well as some great action sequences, before her untimely (and ignoble) demise. Jamie Chung appeared as ‘Lady Silk’, a highly-prized prostitute who was saving up for early retirement, with the help of the story’s hero, a besotted blacksmith played by RZA himself.* A flashback to explain how he ended up in old-timey China in the first place also featured a brief cameo by Pam Grier, as his doting mother. And last, but not least, Zhu Zhu appeared as ‘Chi Chi’, the abandoned fiancée of one of the Good Guys, who set off to avenge his father’s murder, claiming that they’d never be safe until he did so. Drama!
* Come to think of it, Lady Silk gets killed off as well… so maybe I was a bit hasty when I said the women weren’t just “sword-fodder”? Hmmm…