Why Iron Fist is Exactly What We Need
You've probably seen the criticism. Maybe you've been part of it. The latest Netflix-Marvel partnership in The Defenders universe has been torn apart by everyone from critics to martial arts fans to non-practicing folks who enjoy good TV.
I am not one of them.
If you poke around the web you'll see a number of news stories attempting to explain why Iron Fist is so terrible. People have blamed the writing, the choreography, the shooting schedule, the fact that star isn't Asian and many other reasons.
It doesn't matter.
We live in a time with increased attention on everything that's released, whether that's television, movies, music or your personal Twitter account. We live in the age of the trolls, and Iron Fist is easy to troll. It's not perfect, and it doesn't have the same magic that the other three Defenders series had on Netflix.
If we were to compare Iron Fist to much lauded martial arts action films of the 60s and 70s, and do so objectively, we'd feel differently. The disappointment that critics have placed on Iron Fist comes from their lack of understanding of martial arts. The criticism from martial artists comes from (mostly) the quality and inconsistency of the fight scenes.
We do this to ourselves. We're so broken, so divided as a martial arts community that when something comes out we feel the need to tear it down. Even Into the Badlands, with a big budget, ratings success, great actors and amazing martial arts action, gets flak.A lot of it. Go take a look at Rotten Tomatoes and the consensus for Into the Badlands. Go ahead, I'll wait.
It's an age where we have nearly nothing on television that's for us, for the martial artists. Unless you count the fight scenes in big-network dramas, and a proliferation of MMA, which I don't. Fighting and martial arts are not the same, and Iron Fist is a martial arts show. Forget the acting for a minute, forget that some of the fight scenes needed work. (Ok, some of them were terrible.)
This show was made for us.
When was the last time we saw a martial arts class portrayed with some accuracy on tv? How about an accurate, respectful portrayal of the student-teacher relationship? Weapons beyond swords? Someone practicing kata (forms)? It's all there in Iron Fist, and more. There's a lot of context, a lot of nuance that many seem to have missed, or didn't have the experience to recognize.
If we do nothing but poop on Iron Fist we won't get another season. Which means the next time someone pitches a martial arts show it's more likely to get shot down. "Hey, Netflix couldn't make this work," they'll say.
The show will likely get better. We don't criticize white belts for not being experts, and this cast isn't exactly flush will experienced martial arts actors. Let's support them, let's show them we're in this for the long haul with them, and keep our minds open to what the show can become.
Or we can just end up with 24 hours of reality tv. Your choice.