Martial arts films were a huge influence on the music of the Wu Tang Clan. It comes as no surprise that founding member RZA would eventually branch into making his own kung fu flicks. After jumpstarting his acting career with several supporting roles, RZA would write, direct, produce, and star in The Man with the Iron Fists, an homage to chop-socky cinema. While it won’t go down in the annals of kung fu classics like Drunken Master II or Once Upon a Time in China, Iron Fists was a fun throwback with an eclectic cast that included Lucy Liu, Byron Mann, Dave Batista, and a boisterous Russell Crowe.
The Man with the Iron Fists may not have lit the box office on fire, but that didn’t stop Universal from giving the green light to this direct-to-video sequel. For those who missed the original picture, the titular iron fisted individual is Thaddeus (RZA), a runaway slave made his way to China and became the finest blacksmith in Jungle Village. Thaddeus was forced to replace his hands with fists of iron after they were chopped off when he refused to make weapons for a local gang.
As the sequel starts, Thaddeus attempts a journey to the Wu Chi Temple hoping to find peace after so much violence. Instead, he is waylaid and badly injured. Thaddeus floats down the river and washes up in Tsai Fu Village, which has fallen under the ruthless rule of Master Ho (Carl Ng), leader of the Beetle Clan. Ho has forced the able-bodied men to toil in the silver mines. Anyone who dares to stand against him is quickly killed. The one man who has a chance against Ho and his minions is Li Kung (Dustin Nguyen), another warrior seeking to escape his previous life of violence.
In spite of being the title character, Thaddeus is a supporting character. After a brief scuffle during the opening credits, he disappears for the next twenty minutes. The plot mainly focuses on Li Kung’s struggles to free his village with Thaddeus assisting from time to time. No complaints here as RZA’s acting abilities have always been a little shaky. His wooden delivery only exacerbates the already stilted dialogue. Dustin Nguyen, best known for the original 21 Jump Street, does a fine job as the blandly heroic Li Kung. Unfortunately, the sequel lacks the energy provided by the over-the-top performances from Byron Mann and Russell Crowe. At least, part 2 has the one and only Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa glowering at every chance he gets.
Iron Fists 2 isn’t wall-to-wall action and the few fight scenes you get won’t impress anyone who grew up watching the same movies as RZA. Chalk up the pedestrian set pieces to director Roel Reine, the go-to director for direct-to-video sequels. Reine’s resume includes The Marine 2, Death Race 2, and The Scorpion King 3: Redemption. The workmanlike Reine isn’t getting steady gigs for being a flashy filmmaker, but for keeping things on schedule and sticking to the modest budget.
The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Much like Reine, the transfer is solid enough, but image quality isn’t anything spectacular. The picture is clean with bold colors and decent detail.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Sound is rather disappointing with action sequences lacking the additional oomph necessary to convey bone-crunching blows.
The Blu-ray includes an audio commentary with Roel Reine and RZA as they discuss working on a low budget, filming in Thailand, and choreographing fight scenes.
Chi Warriors: The Making of The Man with the Iron Fists 2 is a standard behind-the-scenes featurette.
Rounding out the bonus features is a selection of deleted scenes.
Film Value: 4
The Man with the Iron Fists was an enjoyable B-movie that paid tribute to the Shaw Brothers and their compatriots. The direct-to-video sequel is completely unnecessary and utterly forgettable. At least Mortal Kombat fans might get a kick out of the final fight scene since it’s basically Shang Tsung versus Liu Kang and Jax.