After seeing the trailer most people are going to know if they’ll enjoy this blacksploitation-cum-Asain martial arts inspired flick or not. Written by Eli Roth (best known for Hostel) and RZA who also directs and stars (?). This is RZA’s directorial and writing début. Coming with a “Presented by Quentin Tarantino” should be no surprise (also a producer) with the style involved. Is the style coming watered down from recent homages (Kill Bill etc.) rather from the source material and missing something for that? That material being kung fu action, Japanese mega gore and aforementioned blacksploitation.
The plot revolves/spirals around a cache of gold to be delivered to the Emperor’s army. Various gangs and groups have designs on ensuring its delivery, either to the army or themselves. Each group has a theme, wolfs, lions, Gemini, it’s more of the characters fitting the names than the names fitting the characters though. “Cool” ideas abound. According to IMDB the initial draft of this was four hours long with RZA floating the idea of splitting it into two movies. In the end, at 90 odd minutes it hardly rips (geddit?) along.
On to the characters and we have RZA as the “Blacksmith”. From the initial voice-over to the final credits this proves the poorest aspect of the movie. RZA may not be dire as an actor but comes pretty close. There is a certain expectation of clawing at the scenery in this type of movie and Russell Crowe starts at 11 and tries his best to crank it up. “Where is 12 on this thing?” you can imagine his character (Jack Knife) saying. In all honesty the characters are forgettable, which is a shame as it’s not for a lack of trying on the scripts part. Maybe it worked out better in that 4 hour draft? Lucy Liu plays a madam, this is the type of role she can sleepwalk through and pretty much does as little it really required of her. The character a retreating of her role from Kill Bill to all intents and purposes. Then there are others you are supposed to care about, mostly notably the blacksmith and Ms. Silk his working girl girlfriend. If there were any less chemistry between them I fear they would start to break down.
All over, too much thought has gone into this without enough execution. I’m quite surprised at the lack of a prequel comic. With all that “spare” script on the floor. Requiring a comic prequel is in no way a “good thing” but those so inclined might have enjoyed the movie a little more with a better back story.
If you like this sort of thing it may scratch an inch but won’t welcome repeat visits. Having just watched Lady Snowblood I say a Snowblood, Black Dynamite and Iron Monkey screening might be a better idea.
2/5 (Does that bronze cover everywhere?)
A quick roundup of films I’ve not had time to review:
- Agro: See it. It sounds boring but isn’t.
- End of Watch: See it. Contrivance in terms of plot but character moments are superb.
- ParaNorm: An interesting modern fable if lacking a little in nuance.