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Tiresome ego trip for RZA with brief flares of talent that save it from being a complete dog
on 7 June 2013
The opening of this movie bursts with grindhouse brilliance, as a cast of actors looking exactly like the typical martial-arts characters of the 70's suddenly burst into thrilling, hyper-violent 'enhanced-reality' action, tearing limbs off each other and commencing the film with exciting 'kung-fu'.
Unfortunately what follows is bursts of high directorial talent mixed with a cast whose acting standard is as uneven as a tortuous rollercoaster, a plot that flatlines out of originality within ten minutes, and a lead who's a disaster.
When clan-leader Golden Lion is murdered after pledging to protect a vast shipment of the emperor's gold in a '70's TV' stylised historical China, evil son Silver Lion and his right hand man 'Bronze' set about plotting to seize the gold and wipe out their enemies the Wolf clan. Caught in the middle is the local blacksmith played by RZA, who is paying the local madam (Lucy Lui) to keep the girl in her brothel that he's fallen for to himself. Into this potent mix arrives Russell Crowe's mysterious 'Jack Knife'. Crowe is possibly the best thing about the movie, his character an amusing drunkard and lethal assassin who arrives in a shower of blood, and who realises that such an absurd and over-the-top movie demands a tongue in cheek, humorous performance. Lui is similarly amusing, and Byron Mann is deliciously evil and full of energetic charisma as Silver Lion.
Unfortunately, the plot is tacky stereotypical rubbish. The film wants to be a grindhouse fantasy of Chinese/American kung-fu seventies movies, but instead of being an inventive and postmodern re-invention it simply imitates them in the most tiresome of ways. Barely five minutes pass without yet another fight. The gravity defying wire-work and kung-fu get old very fast, and end up being the mainstay of the plot. The killers are defined by their weapons or what they can do, not any aspect of their acting or personalities. Worse still, RZA is dreadful. Giving a lumpen, dead-eyed performance that seems to be based on depression and apathy even when his dream of escaping with his love is at its peak, his one-note showing has all the charisma of a plank of floorboard. Amazingly, it remains flat and lifeless even when retelling his life story to flesh out his character from 1 dimensional to one-and-a-half, and the movie's plot is so badly written that his main character progression points are entirely missing. We get: callow youth escapes slavery, survives a disaster, watches people pray, then suddenly gets told he's amazing and has surpassed them all (without any apparent evidence of this), and then goes in a heartbeat from depressive skinny victim to ultimate (wildly unconvincing) badass.
It's a horrendously badly written role in a horrendously badly written movie, and reeks of ego, let alone miscasting.
The dialogue is predictable (you'll mentally finish almost every line for them before they say it, trust me), the story equally so.
There are moments of visual invention, and he may yet turn from a 'decent' director into a great one based on the evidence of this, but with this egotistical mess rushing from one plotless fight to the next for most of its running time, it's a shame that you may spend as much of the film as I did trying to rouse yourself from falling asleep.