A few years back, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the certifiably insane and consistently colorful action flick known as The Man with the Iron Fists. Despite a few (fairly obvious) flaws, it came across like an affectionate homage to martial arts movies (particularly some of the Shaw Brothers’ crazier concoctions) mixed with a kitchen-sink grindhouse fantasy film in which monstrous warriors, mystical wizards, and a drunken Russell Crowe somehow fit together quite nicely. Like any movie this bizarre, The Man with the Iron Fists made a quick exit from theaters, but also found itself a small but loyal fan base once it hit video.
Which certainly explains why we’re getting a video-shelf sequel a few years later. Nobody does “DTV sequels” quite like Universal — they do everything from Death Race to Dragonheart! — and apparently someone in their home video department noticed that The Man with the Iron Fists sold a lot of units. So here we are. Returning to pound more heads with his iron fists is producer / co-writer / star RZA, but don’t expect a whole lot of continuity between this entry and the last one. Mr. A has ceded the directorial reins to DTV veteran Roel Reine (12 Rounds 2, Scorpion King 3, etc.) this time around, and screenwriter John Jarrell (Romeo Must Die) steps in to assume the co-writing duties that once belonged to executive producer Eli Roth.
Got all that? Good. Because that, and a wildly limited budget, as well as some truly egregious editing choices, are what prevent The Man with the Iron Fists 2 from achieving the colorfully over-the-top tone that the first film delivered. For the most part, we’re stuck in a truly generic story about a small Chinese village that has been overrun by thugs who force everybody to work in the silver mines — until our mysterious blacksmith (RZA) comes floating down the river. A few of the villagers nurse the iron-fisted stranger back to health, so of course he decides to forge a bunch of weapons for the beleaguered townsfolk and lead a revolution against the horrid villains.
It’s all pretty straightforward, familiar, and poorly dubbed, truth be told. The consistently predictable plot could be overlooked if the first hour of the film offered anything else besides a few one-on-one kung fu fights and a persistently grating editorial style. (This movie has more random cuts than a Freddy Krueger victim.) Even when the filmmakers capture a nice shot of the Thailand-as-China countryside, it only sits on the screen for about six frames before we cut away to something else.
Fortunately for those who manage to muddle through the film’s first two-thirds, the big finale does offer a decent dose of onscreen action. Maybe it’s that the first hour of the film is so uneventful, or maybe it’s that 75% of the film’s budget went into Act III, but if we’re being fair, the last third of The Man with the Iron Fists 2 does boast a nice array of low-budget action, energy, and incongruous but strangely effective music. As an homage to the Saturday afternoon kung fu “classics” that we all know and love, this sequel doesn’t come close to the kooky craftsmanship and wild weirdness of its predecessor, but at least it goes out with a bang.
2 iron-fisted burritos for the whole movie. 2.5 if you watch just the third act.