Here is a movie that doesn’t attempt to be profound, deep or even good. It just seeks to be entertaining and it largely succeeds. This is a Kung Fu movie for people like me who like Kung Fu movies but are not aficionados. I don’t know all the actors and directors of every Hong Kong chop socky epic of the last thirty years. I could not tell you the difference between the styles of martial arts or the first time that people started defying gravity in these sorts of movie. I just know that hundreds are killed, moves are fetishized, and Russel Crowe shows up to kick butt along with all the other names in the picture.
There is one immediate drawback for me. The soundtrack includes a lot of urban music that uses a certain word which people in polite society refrain from. No, not that one. The one I am concerned about starts with n and ends with er. What that music is doing in a film about 19th century China is a little confusing. Since the writer/director RZA, is apparently a music figure, I guess it is his right to mix in the genres. I was put off by having to listen to the use of the “N” word a couple dozen times in the Wu Tang Clan song that opens the film. Later in the film, when the score is cribbed from Ennio Morricone, I was more tolerant because there are some themes from old westerns in these movies. The connection to any of the plot is tangential for most of the tunes. They appear to simply have a sound that the director felt worked with the scenes.
Waring clans in silly wigs and costumes, populate the picture. None of it makes much sense but then it doesn’t need to. We don’t need to understand anything more than this group want to kill that group. The reasons don’t matter, only the amount of blood splattered is going to make much difference. I did find that the frequent use of CGI blood, undermined the film a bit. Quentin Tarantino is a producer on the film. He introduced a red band trailer for “Django Unchained” that is playing with this film. It is clear he is not relying on CGI to make his upcoming epic bloody, and it looks all the better as a result. The flying acrobatic kung fu moves in the movie are all fun to watch, but I did sometimes long for Jackie Chan to show up and just do the same things without the wires and slow motion.
The director RZA, casts himself as the title character. That is unfortunate because he can’t act a lick. His face is primarily blank and motionless. His body movements seem so rehearsed as to be mechanical. His voice never seems to vary, he has the monotone of a bored shaolin monk. There is an elaborate backstory created for the character, but no one needed it and I know I didn’t care anymore about him after it was revealed than I did before. In contrast, Russell Crowe seems to be acting just enough to sell the character he plays without investing enough of himself to make it more memorable than his hat and weapon. RZA’s blacksmith character also relies on a costume to act the part for him, too bad his look was dull instead of the ridiculous look that Crowe sports. Not to be too insensitive here but Crowe is fat. At least for this movie. Now I know what middle age fat guys look like, and intimidating is not it. They shoot him in full costume most of the time but he is just a couple of Big Macs away from Col. Kurtz wandering around in the dark. There is one silly scene where he is muff diving for beads out of a prostitutes money maker, in a bathtub. His are the only breasts seen in the movie, and it is a wet tee shirt moment we can live without. Other than that he was fine.
This movie is silly, violent, well choreographed and badly scored. It will sit on the shelf with a dozen other English language Kung Fu epics that entertained without enthralling us. For the two hours I was watching, it was fine. I’d watch it again on satellite just about anytime. I won’t be adding it to my video collection or putting it on any must see lists. Catch it quick. Better stuff is out there and better things in this violent action genre are coming soon.