Jack Knife (Russell Crowe) meanders into a small 19th century Chinese village where the main attraction is Madame Blossom (Lucy Liu) and her girls, The Black Widows, who are experts in their trade in more ways in one. They entertain in a beautiful old tea house, a highly professional house of ill repute, just the place for Jack to settle down (with more than one girl in a bed) after knocking out the immediate competition. Slowly, we learn about a feud between rivalling clans. Members of all seven clans have arrived in town in anticipation of a well-guarded shipment of gold, which is expected to arrive soon. Even before this precious metal hits the town, there is a systematic attempt by each of the leaders to eradicate the others. There is The Brass Body (Dave Bautista), who is literally that – someone quite impossible to knock out. There is ZenYi aka the X-Blade (Rick Yune), kind of an Edward Scissors Hand. There are The Lions whose leader, the Golden Lion, has passed away, to be succeeded by a rivalling Silver or Copper Lion. Compared to these muscle men with magical skills, the simple blacksmith is almost a wimp, a former black slave from the United States. He escaped from his owners onto a ship which left him stranded in China. Although not blessed with such magical powers, still with the help of Jack Knife and Madame Blossom, he can influence the course of the plot. Then there are the Gemini guards and the urchins.
This is more than your typical kung-fu film. The tea house and all of the girls are gorgeous; besides your usual hand-to-hand fighting while floating in the air, you can be captivated by the stirring music, beautiful sets and costumes of the 19th century, as well as more blatant sex than you would find in a typical Chinese kung-fu film.
The genius behind the creation is RZA (real name Robert Fitzgerald Diggs from Brooklyn). He has enjoyed a successful career in his young life (now 43 years old) writing and performing music for his rapper group Wu-Tang Clan. He also writes and composes for film, acts, works in hip hop, and is a successful business man. The surprise is not that he directed his first film, but, actually, why it took so long. Perhaps the encouragement of friend Quentin Tarantino was the deciding factor. RZA plays a leading role of the blacksmith.
Every character is strong and good-looking and sometimes difficult to differentiate. Perhaps Russell Crowe could have been replaced by Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt or any other big name. His responsibility seems not to present a unique character, but to draw in an audience; the lesser-known, but nevertheless fantastic, actors won’t disappoint once you’ve come to the cinema. They will convince even kung-fu deniers. (Becky Tan)
Started November 29
Original language: English