The Man with the Iron Fists (2012)

the_man_with_the_iron_fists_2012Starring RZA, Rick Yune, Russell Crowe, Byron Mann, Lucy Liu, Dave Bautista, Jamie Chung, Cung Le, Daniel Wu, Zhu Zhu, Gordon Liu Chia-Hui, Andrew Ng, Grace Huang, Andrew Lin, Chen Kuan-Tai, Leung Kar-Yan, MC Jin, Pam Grier, Jon T. Benn

Directed by RZA

Expectations: Low, but hopeful.

twohalfstar


The Man with the Iron Fists is a strange movie, without a doubt. But I don’t think it’s bad; it’s more oddly misguided than anything else. What’s weird is that it feels this way based almost completely on how much RZA gets right in his homage to the classic kung fu films of the Shaw Brothers. Yes, “right.” The sets are magnificent and recapture the opulence of Shaw sets beautifully, the wirework is delivered with top-notch Hong Kong skill, and the story is filled with the wide range of colorful characters that any good wuxia demands. The weapons are suitably eccentric, and the battles are all well choreographed (by Corey Yuen), too. If you didn’t know any better, you might think that The Man with the Iron Fists was actually a Chinese production. RZA actually managed to resurrect the spirit of classic kung fu films, but — and this is where the “strange” comes in — the lens we experience all this classic kung fu goodness through is that of modern American filmmaking.

So because the film has so much good working for it, the bad sticks out and demands to be reckoned with in more apparent and frustrating ways than would otherwise be noticeable. The choice to film primarily in English is an expected one, but, at least for me, many of the actors sounded more like ’70s kung fu dubbing than actual actors in a scene. This could be bad acting, poor direction, or it could be by design. If it is intentional, that’s one hell of a bold choice for an unproven, first-time director making what is essentially a large-scale vanity project, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was true. I’m sure RZA grew up watching the dubs that made their way to the States in the ’70s, and as a result has a nostalgic fondness for them. No matter what the reason, though, it’s off-putting, especially to someone like me that has never really grown fond of those iconic dub jobs.

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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

guardians_1Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio Del Toro, Laura Haddock, Sean Gunn, Peter Serafinowicz, Christopher Fairbank

Directed by James Gunn

Expectations: Super, super high. If I don’t like this, I’m going to be crushed.

threehalfstar


Guardians of the Galaxy is easily one of the best Marvel films yet. Other than The Avengers, I don’t think a single film in their line-up comes close to the amount of pure entertainment on display in Guardians. Pinpointing exactly why Guardians is such a successful piece of entertainment isn’t something that needs to be done, but if I want to write more than, “OOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHH GUARDIANS WAS DOPE!” I have to come up with something to talk about, right?

So let’s talk about the characters. While every Marvel movie is generally known to be a hit before it’s even close to a release date, Guardians of the Galaxy was a different story. Where characters like Iron Man and Thor allow most of the audience to bring some knowledge into the theater, most people have never even heard of the Guardians of the Galaxy. I read a lot of Marvel comics growing up and I only had a very limited, passing knowledge of their existence. This was Marvel’s first attempt at a film without the name recognition of a big character, and it was a huge gamble. But the film’s success proves that the public doesn’t specifically care if they know who’s who before entering the theater; they care more about seeing a fun movie, regardless of origin. So if you’re a big shot Hollywood exec reading this, take note! Stop raping our collective childhoods for rebootable franchises! The public will always be hungry for original content! (And yes, Guardians is technically adapted and not original content, but in the eyes of the average moviegoer this is an entirely new thing.)

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