(Published in The Sunday Guardian, on January 13, 2013, retrieved from http://www.sunday-guardian.com/masala-art/from-killa-to-masta)
Cast: The RZA, Russell Crowe, Rick Yune and others
Director: The RZA
Rating: 2.5 stars
The opening sequence says all there is to say about a martial arts film starring Tarantino protégé and hip-hop star, RZA – this will be an orgy of three-point landings, flashing knives, flying limbs, bone-crunching, and blood-gushing...lots of it. It’s populated by characters with names like Golden Lion, Silver Lion, Bronze Lion, Copper Lion, Brass Body, Lady Silk, and Poison Dagger. There are Gemini Twins, who appear to have some incestuous thingy going. There’s a Wolf Clan whose members dress like wolves. There’s a Hyena Clan whose members dress like hyenas. And the plot’s about as unimaginative as the names.
RZA appears to have figured that making music for Quentin Tarantino qualifies him to make movies. And that watching the Shaw Brothers’ movies qualifies him to write a martial arts film. He’s had the good sense to fill it with actors who are martial arts experts, so that the action remains a treat, if you like watching people kick each other in the gut after elaborate leaps and spins. But it also means there’s nothing original about the film, except that it may be the first martial arts film that stars people of diverse races.
Leading the international section of the cast is Australian Russell Crowe, playing British Jack Knife, whose weapon of choice is a...wait for it...knife. Having rescued a harlot-in-distress from a fat customer, he wins brownie points with the Madame (Lucy Liu), and spends his night in shining amour with four hookers. RZA plays Blacksmith, a young man who escaped slavery in America to forge weapons in China. Somewhere between saving up to buy a prostitute he’s in love with, and sticking to his principles, he gets into enough trouble to become the movie’s eponymous character. WWE star David Bautista stars as Mr Kwan a.k.a Brass Body, an invincible brass-bodied baddie. Joining them is Rick Yune as X-Blade, who has so many hidden blades in his costume it would be very unwise for him to get drunk.
With lines like, “Never turn your back on a wolf; it will bite you in the ass” and “Your journey doesn’t have to end here. By that, I mean your life journey”, we figure the jets of blood that spurt from sundry limbs at regular intervals are rather more subtle than the dialogue.
The Verdict: Remember those vague Oriental movies that were dubbed so badly in English that the actors’ mouths would move for seconds after the line ended? If you loved them, you’ll like this.