The first Man With The Iron Fists didn't sell as well as they hoped, and so the second one is on a budget. The setting's new (a small village in rural China), the actors aren't as known (unless you watch a lot of martial art movies), and the movie isn't so much about The Man, as it is about his journey, and the small mining town he stumbles upon whilst on it.
Here's the story surmised via IMDB:
When a stranger, Thaddeus, is found badly wounded near the village, miner Li Kung and his wife Ah Ni offer him refuge. As he heals, he becomes entrenched in a conflict that pits the townsfolk against the evil Master Ho, his nefarious Beetle Clan and the terrifying Lord Pi.
Theatrical, no? The description captures that part nicely, and that's one of the things I like about these movies! I'm happy they made a sequel.
Though RZA doesn't have as prominent a part in the fights he does have plenty of involvement with the soundtrack, and it definitely builds the setting well. The main characters may not be as famous either, but the martial arts are on a new level too.
When Thaddeus isn't the main one fighting (considering I doubt he has the martial art skills any of the other skilled martial artists here do) the fights do come across a lot more authentic, even if he always seems to land the heaviest punches. When he fights it's with special effects, fake blood and props. When the others fight it's pure skill. I'm undecided as to which kind I like most, though I do have an affinity for authentic action. Stunts. Props. As much material action as possible, even if it's acted.
The props are brutal too. Blood. Flying heads and limbs and what-not. Expect a bit of everything. Good stunts too, though nothing spectacular.
The plot's easy to follow, although it sometimes jumps around a bit with apparently no reason, like how when Thaddeus appears at the arena... nobody questions his being there. Suddenly it's like he's been in the village forever. And why did the bad guy try to teach the kids about Chi? In such a spontaneous way too. And: lots of other why's. Some of the music with lyrics doesn't really fit in either, even if I like the atmosphere they build, and the fights aren't always as fluent as they could be.
Fun fact: The editor's name is Charles Norris, and as a gag he's credited as Chuck Norris.
The movie has a few throwbacks to the early Mortal Kombat movies too, and there is a certain similarity with the tournaments. It's a strange mix between traditional martial arts movies and the more modern ones. Both new and improved and old and traditional... and the gray area in between.
Seigi Ozeki, Dustin Nguyen, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Carl Ng - the cast's a real mesh of origins too. Japanese, Vietnamiese, Chinese, part British, part American, American, They've got it all.
I like the style, I like the props, I like the action, and overall: I liked the movie! It's like a homage to the action movies of old, and a bridge between times and cultures at the same time. Not to mention a feast of action. It just doesn't play in the same league as the one before it.
rated 3/5: not bad