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The former Wu Tang Clan member talks candidly with The Sentinel about music, Kung Fu, and his leading role in his new movie.
What do you get when you mix a former member of the Wu Tang Klan, Kung Fu, and Quentin Tarantino’s production skills? The Man With the Iron Fists is what. The new Kung Fu thriller set to release in theaters November 2nd is not only rapper RZA’s directorial debut, but his first time co -writing and starring in a major feature film.
Recently seen as the brash gangster, rapper cleverly named Samurai Apocalypse in the Showtime series Californication, RZA revisits the ninja motif in his new movie The Man With the Iron Fists. Working alongside an all -star cast including such heavyweights as Russell Crowe and Lucy Lui, RZA plays a character named The Blacksmith in 19th century feudal China. After a rising fleet of warriors, assassins, and a rogue war hero set out to seize his village, the humble blacksmith turns lethal martial artist to defend his township.
A former member of the group Rolling Stone once called “the best rap group ever,” the hip hop trailblazer’s ties to a Kung Fu thriller are presumably an unlikely union. Few know however, that the multi-faceted artist has been an avid Kung Fu junkie since the late 70’s. In fact, when the Wu Tang Clan formed in 1993, its name was derived from one of RZA’s favorite Kung Fu flicks, Shaolin and Wu Tang.
“I’ve fantasized about being a martial artist since I was a kid,” he reveals.
Since he was 9 years old, the Brooklyn native lived and breathed martial arts films from the Wuxia (movies with Chinese martial arts) to the Jidaigeki genre (Japanese films featuring samurai, craftsmen etc.) and beyond. It was after seeing the Shaw Brothers film, The 36 Chambers of Shaolin that his passion for martial arts films was significantly heightened, after realizing the similarities between the movie and his life. Again paying homage Kung Fu through his music, when the Wu Tang Clan debuted their first album entitled, ‘Enter the Wu Tang (36 Chambers)’ it was a way of paying tribute to the movie.
“36 Chambers of Shaolin is about a guy who is a student and there’s oppression going on,” he explains. As a student he feels compelled to be a part of the revolution and eventually he has to flee to Shaolin. On the way his friend flees with him and eventually sacrifices his life for him. So I’m seeing brotherhood. I’m seeing loyalty. I’m seeing the fight against oppression. These types of things I’m feeling in my own life, in my own neighborhood, being together with my crew being with my brothers, and fighting against the day-to-day struggles of life and what we feel to be oppression in the projects.”
Going to see these movies quickly became an escape for RZA, who would go to theaters and travel into a different world. Though watching Kung Fu movies felt like floating into a dream realm, actually directing his film was not an easy process. In fact, The Man With the Iron Fists is a project 6 years in the making. RZA admits that he was not the best screenwriter at the time the story idea was conceived, so he relied on the tutelage of those close to him in the film industry. Although RZA created the story, the film was actually co-written by his friend Eli Roth (Hostel, director, Inglorious Basterds, actor) and was produced under the guidance of award-winning film director Quentin Tarantino.
“I was advised by Quentin Tarantino to write my ideas down,” says RZA. “I wrote it [The Man With the Iron Fists] into a 90 page script. I wasn’t very good at writing screenplays I hadn’t studied it, I wrote songs, I use that talent.”
During the movie’s infancy, production companies, who suggested that the characters needed more development, initially shot down the script. After collaborating with his friend and director Eli Roth, who expressed interest in the story early on, the script was expanded and pitched again. After that the rest was history.
“My buddy Eli Roth heard about the story and thought it make a great movie and he came on board,” says RZA. “He took it to some people, some producers and they couldn’t really see the vision, so he took the 90 page script and rewrote it into an 130 page screenplay. Then they had the vision and saw what it was.”
Once he had a winning script, he needed to know that his directorial skills were up to par. After studying filmmaking under the well-seasoned eye of Tarantino for 6 years, he looked to his mentor for the green light.
“I had to be ready to direct,” RZA stresses. “Tarantino was in there but he wasn’t going to let me take any job unless I was ready… I asked him after 2 years he said, ‘Bobby I don’t think your ready.’ I asked him after 4 years he still didn’t think I was ready. But after the 6th year he said, ‘Bobby I think your ready’… Eli came to him told him what we had… and he gave us his blessings and we went for it.”
The Man With the Iron Fists is not the last we will see of RZA on the big screen. While the Wu Tang Clan and martial arts movies have played a momentous role in his life, they both led him to film; which in his opinion is the ultimate form of expression.
“When I saw Kill Bill [Quentin Tarantino’s award winning film] I saw the lane I wanted to go, I saw something that showed me that music is just one expression of myself,” he reveals. “Clothing and designing is one expression, writing is another. But there is a medium where I can take all those expressions and put into one package and that’s filmmaking.”