You don't know kung fu, Iron Fist

Commentary: Marvel and Netflix's latest series has gotten plenty of bashing from critics, but really the main character just sucks at fighting back.

Aloysius Low Senior Editor
Aloysius Low is a Senior Editor at CNET covering mobile and Asia. Based in Singapore, he loves playing Dota 2 when he can spare the time and is also the owner-minion of two adorable cats.
Aloysius Low
3 min read

Marvel's latest Netflix series based on comic superhero Iron Fist has struck a terrible chord with critics so far. To be fair, reviewers only had six episodes to work with, so it couldn't be all that bad, no?

Unfortunately, my initial enthusiasm from the first three episodes soon faded away to a slow, bubbling pot of hate as I pondered how "Iron Fist" feels like a budget "Daredevil" ripoff except that the hero has a glowing fist.

As a Chinese guy who grew up as part of the Chinese majority in Singapore, the cultural aspects of white male lead (Finn Jones, in this instance) playing a kung fu expert didn't quite faze me. What did faze me, though, is the complete inability of Iron Fist/Danny Rand to lay the kung fu smackdown on his enemies.

I don't know about you, but I grew up watching Chinese kung fu flicks, with reels of Jackie Chan and Jet Li as my childhood mainstays. I was blown away by Li's character, Wong Fei Hong, doing his signature shadowless kick and by Chan's acrobatic footwork as he fought his way around obstacles and enemies.

Watching Rand fight the baddies in "Iron Fist," though, is like watching a poser trying to be a poor man's (well, in Rand's case, a rich man's) idea of a kung fu martial arts expert. He strikes up a fancy-looking kung-fu-ish pose, then proceeds to just punch people like in a street brawl.

There's none of that elegance I expect from a kung fu master, and he gets hit way too easily for a trained expert. Most of the time, fights end with Rand brutally beating up someone, instead of using a knock-out kung fu chop to the neck. (Fun fact: That doesn't work in real life.)

And don't get me started on how he really only has one fist to work with. It's like Rand didn't bother with dual fist day and only trained his right arm. When he (spoiler alert!) finally has to use his other hand to fight, he can barely do anything.

Marvel really missed an opportunity to make "Iron Fist" stand out. It could have had beautiful fight scenes like "The Matrix" or elegant dueling scenes like "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon." Even Netflix's "Marco Polo" had better kung fu, and you could tell that the old blind monk was a kung fu master because he had such kick-ass skills compared with Danny Rand.

It says a lot that one of the best fight scenes in Iron Fist involves the classic technique of drunken fist, and Rand was basically still punching instead of showing off his kung fu to his opponent, who was whipping Rand's butt but lost to the inevitable invincibility of Rand's plot armor.

For a guy who's done nothing but train since he was 10 and somehow managed to defeat a dragon to become the Iron Fist, Rand really needs to go back to kung fu school (or even maybe a Shaolin temple) to figure out just how to kick ass and chew bubblegum, because we all know he's terrible at it.

Check the clip below to see how to actually do performance kung fu from the masters of action themselves, Chan and Li. Maybe better fight scenes would have saved "Iron Fist" from the gaping plot holes. But as it stands now, you're better off hoping that the upcoming Netflix miniseries "The Defenders" won't suck.

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