Starring: RZA, Rick Yune, Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Dave Bautista, Jamie Chung, Byron Mann, Cung Le, Daniel Wu, Zhu Zhu, Chia Hui Liu, Grace Huang, Andrew Lin, Osric Chau, and many more.
Directed by: RZA Screenplay by: Eli Roth and RZA Cinematography by: Chi Ying Chan Original Music by: Howard Drossin
Premise: A blacksmith and his lover are planning to run off together but get caught up in murder, disloyalty, and greed when the leader of the Lion’s Clan is murdered after signing a deal with the governor to protect a passing shipment of gold through his territory. (Rated R)
1) Acting – Thumbs Up: RZA did well in his role as the blacksmith. So did the rest of the cast. But only two seemed to actually shine and grab the audience – they were Lucy Liu and Russell Crowe. Both actors had great presence and even sparked amazingly well against one another. Their performances made you want to know more about their characters almost instantly.
2) Special Effects – Neutral: For the most part the blood and gore were standard and occasionally overdone. All the hidden knives of the X-Blade were fun. And though no explanation was ever even hinted at on how Brass Body does what he does, the effects for his body were definitely awesome and the highlight on the special effects side of the film. If such care had been shown elsewhere, it would have definitely increased the overall impact of the film.
Did love the chi tattoo which flared then disappeared during the blacksmith’s bonding ritual. Nice! Also the Widows’ cutting sashes were pretty cool. But like I said, aside from a few exceptions, the rest was pretty standard fare.
3) Plot/Story – Neutral: I’ve seen a lot of martial arts films. Normally they have a simple plot – just enough of one to support the violence to come. And while the one used for this film isn’t particularly clever, as expected, they then tried to go too far with it, actually hurting the film’s overall impact. The flashbacks in the middle of the film only served to slow the whole movie down, despite the need for some of the information for what happens after. It could have all been abbreviated in the film’s original speech sequence and gotten out of the way early, but it wasn’t.
What made it worse was that while they did cover a lot of back info on the blacksmith, they never really touched on any for those who either had supernatural skills or who turned out to be in positions definitely needing more backstory for how they got there. There were also other details that were unneeded and made no difference to the plot whatsoever but were highlighted, as with Zen Yi’s betrothal, his promise never to leave her (then doing so 10 seconds later), and their matching tattoo session.
The fact one of the bag guys does nothing to try to save himself when he has several long seconds to at least try something was very deflating.
Sadly, what few surprises were part of the plot got pretty much spoiled by the previews. They might have salvaged part of the film, but they’d already given it all away. The dialogue also didn’t do the film any favors – too many anachronistic or cliched lines were involved.
4) Stunts – Neutral: There were some definite bright spots, but overall the stunts were undermined by gimmicky filming and filming way too close during the action. Martial art scenes are best viewed with a little distance so the audience gets the full play of the action. But most of the shots were close up, forcing the attention into a very narrow window of all that was going on. The beginning sequence battle is a perfect example of something that would have been a lot better with a little panning back of the camera.
5) Locations/Cinematography – Thumbs Up: All the buildings looked great. Too great. For a supposed village, several of the buildings seemed much larger and grander than what could be supported by those living there. Yet the number of men per clan pretty much screamed this should have been a city, something that would have made more sense. Not sure why they pounded the fact Jungle was a mere village. It didn’t fit with what the audience was shown and kept bugging me as I watched the action move on.
6) Costuming/Makeup – Total Thumbs Up: The costumes were excellent. Very nice, detailed work went into them – for both the asian costumes and those from other countries. Though the poor people costumes may have been somewhat overdone.
Conclusion: Flashy and colorful but with little substance. Normally the fun martial arts make up for that, but sadly not in this case.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 (Hubby’s Rating: Better On Cable)