Quentin Tarantino's The Man with the Iron Fists has a poetic simplicity to its narrative structure that is easily mistaken for lack of effort for narrative context in a gory, splatter-house flick. In truth, the simplicity mimics the narrative structure of many eastern cultures that sometimes appears inscrutable for its lack of specificity to the western mind.
A Thai aphorism reads:
Rloo lop, ben be
Rloo reek, ben hang
This means, roughly translated: "When reach, there is fish. When throw, there is bird."
The absence of subject raises immediate objections in a subject based language like English. Who is reaching? Reaching for what? What context is this? Repeat those questions for bird, then repeat for the entire construct together.
To make it slightly more legible, one could add a generic 'they' after when, or 'he', 'she', 'it,' but that deviates from its translation.
Many stories and myths from these cultures are written entirely in dual, non specific text. In Tarantino's film, the fighting is amongst rival gangs that are totemically animated with specific animals; Lions, Black Widows, Wolves and Rats all have dualities in cultural meaning. The bull, for instance, could represent a protector of life or sexual mischievous or inherit unfaithfulness. Driven by self minded interest, the bull's archetype becomes consumed with the act of procreation. In the absence of self, the bull takes on mythical power and can successfully combat ancient, many headed serpents that are poisoning rivers and cattle with their pollution.
Within Tarantino's story line, each animal family acts out its own story according to its totemic nature. The mice are easily overpowered in spite of their numbers. The lions are ruthless in and out of the pack, especially with competitors and quickly slaughter the wolves. The spiders wait for an opportune time to strike.
Against this back drop of competing animalistic evolutionary intelligence and behavior, three men participate in a triangle of matchup.
A second is a hulking daemon who flesh is an illusion, instead of flesh he is a creature with steel skin. Upon contact, the illusion is briefly dispelled and his true nature revealed. The man machine goliath is rarely affected by impact, regardless of appearance, and keeps churning on.
The last man is the son of a deposed monarch who is unable to resist the temptation to avenge a deed already done. The nominal hero leaves his wife in search of revenge and lands right into a savage thicket of warring savages that worship animals and a force of nature. The hero narrowly escapes with his life intact after coming into contact with the Buddha monk and his whore girlfriend.
Russell Crowe plays a knife wielding Englishman in town for business and pleasure. Crowe was in between fight scenes and played the id as narrative R&R in Tarantino's tail. Crowe's scenes are mostly filler, he enters the safari by killing a loan rhino and remains above the fray for the most part, ensconced in opium and vagina in his room at the bordello. Tarantino managed to embed a celebrity sex tape in his feature film as a movie in the movie, featuring a heavy, drug addicted gladiator pulling beads out of a watery crotch with his mouth.
The fighting choreography was beautiful, Cung Le needs more work. Everything was great in visual appearances except one minor problem.
The blacksmith's scenes are distractingly limp. There is no ostensible reason why Tarantino should have overlooked this detail. A master blacksmith that looks like he's testing for the anvil's reflexes when he drops the hammer is utterly unconvincing for the purposes he plays in the story. Drop the fucking hammer, DMZ, then get out of jungle town.
Pedantic technical quibbling aside, that Tarantino manages to capture the essence of non-dual narrative structure with his pastiche of expressively simple character plot devices is a tribute to his story telling. That he chose not to take a bolder risk in giving his story time to breathe is a mystery. And the choice to graft a banal redemption storyline pacing to the plot is a indefensible. Maybe he got Unchained during the middle of editing and dropped the other foot?