The film starts up to some pretty cool music that gets your head nodding as you watch bizarre scenes of the weird and wonderful occupants of a little old Chinese village. Rapper RZA has co-written, stars in and directs this film. His narration kicks in at the beginning and is reminiscent of the kid from Shogan Assassin to explain the world we’re about to enter.
The plot is confusing with too many character and side stories, but basically when it comes down to it, there are several gangs converging on this village and they are all after stolen gold or stopping people from taking it. In the middle of it all is a humble blacksmith played by RZA himself. He is a famous weapons builder and all of the gangs want his services. He tries to stay as neutral as he can until he finds himself up to the anvil in the bad guys plans.
There are some mad characters in here that I suspect Tarantino had some involvement with and some pretty wild hair doos going on. This is full of classic kung fu cliche’s but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The acting is mixed in its abilities. Lucy Liu is OK. Russell Crowes drunken whore loving British Officer is great. I must admit, I wasn’t expecting to find him in this film. By the looks of him, he looked a bit surprised too. Did he lose a bet? When he gets into rampage mode, his character becomes very interesting! David Bautista, well his presence can be felt through the telly without trying. His acting is pretty much the same as in Guardians of the Galaxy.
There are some pretty graphic but well made CGI scenes here of various limbs being removed. There is a bit where a guy gets his head literally kicked off with a jumping reverse spinning kick! The fight scenes range from scrappy to OK to good and is very reliant on wires and CGI.
RZA himself is still developing as an actor. By no means the worst, but his cool quiet demeanor doesn’t give him enough on screen gravitas to be one of the leading men at this stage. His martial arts is a bit wooden and swings punches like he’s in a set of stocks. As a film maker though. He’s not bad. You have to take this with a pinch of salt. Love it like you would the A team or the 1960’s Batman series. It is obvious that RZA is absolutely in love with the classics and has tried to desperately throw all he loves in to this film. It would be a great watch with the lads after a few beers at 1am. I want the soundtrack.
Again, great music intro with ‘Badest Man Alive‘. This film is likely more RZA’s vision without all the madness of the first. In fact, a character digs at another characters hair do from the previous film. A sign post that this is going to be a different film. Roel Reine’ is in the directors seat this time. RZA himself is not in this one as much. The plot revolves around another small village put into more or less slavery to work in the local mines but there is also an evil spirit about sucking the life out of the villagers. The story is carried forward by villager Li Kung (played by Dustin Nguyen) a hidden martial arts master, who takes all the grief around him on the chin to avoid a fuss until circumstances force him in to action.
This film is much more subdued with a focus more on story and substance than the distracting live manga characters from the first. This is a strength but also a weakness. Without the distractions, I kept wanting the film to start ramping up. The fight scenes when they arrive are very good with very minimal wire work.
The baddie, Master Ho is played by Carl Ng. He is good but constrained to a role of stereotypical bad guy baddiness. Cue the manic evil laugh. Dustin Nguyen gives a very good performance of a man battling his morals and as a man pushed too far.
Its difficult to criticize these films as you can genuinely feel the love RZA has for them and all Martial Arts. I want to encourage him because with his passion , I’m sure he’s going to make some great MA films in the future. Unfortunately, he’s not quite there yet and has yet to find his own style.