The RZA talks THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS; the story's origin, working with Tarantino and Eli Roth, casting Russel Crowe and more

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If there’s one movie that completely sideswiped me this year, it has to be rapper turned first time director The RZA’s The Man With the Iron Fists. Having known for years how much he and his fellow Wu Tang Clan members love Kung Fu, I expected a much smaller more traditional martial arts film. What the first trailer showed us though, was just downright insane.

Over the top violence, an anime inspired visual style, hell even a WWE Wrestler with gold skin; the movie appeared to have it all. And in a recent interview, RZA explained how all this Kung Fu kookiness came to be.

When asked about when this crazy story first took seed, and how kung fu movies appealed to him, the director responded:

“To be truthful with you, this idea probably came to me when I was kid walking to school on Staten Island. A lot of mornings I didn’t have a nickel to take the bus so I had to walk. When I walked, I would fantasize about movies. When I was eight or nine years old, my older cousin took me to the St. George Theatre on Staten Island to see a Bruce Lee movie and a Jim Kelly movie. Those were my first martial-arts films, and I fell in love with the genre back then. As I started becoming a kung-fu geek, I would start walking to 42nd Street [in Manhattan] to see these movies. I would cut school for them. But when I would go to school, I would dream about movies. This started in the mind of a young kid who was stuck in ghetto poverty and used this movie as escapism.”

“One day I saw a movie called The 36 Chambers of Shaolin. There is a scene where [star] Gordon Liu says, “I want to join the 36 chambers.” They say, ‘Where do you want to start?’ He says, ‘At the top’” So he goes to the top and when he gets there, they aren’t doing kung fu. They’re citing Buddhist philosophy. And that inspired me to read books about Buddha, research their philosophy, and read the bible. It helped me realize that the whole story is not just in my neighborhood or in my country—there’s a world out there.

It became a drive for me. So much of a drive for me that I went to Gordon Liu himself, and I cast him in Iron Fists. In my movie, he is playing the old man teaching the young guy the principles. Maybe some young kid will watch my movie and be inspired by me and maybe he will start up another Wu-Tang or something. I’ve helped save so many families with my music and inspire so many people . . . if some kid can watch this movie and get the same inspiration that inspired me, my job is done.

”

On how directors Quentin Tarantino 

and Eli Roth became involved and acted as mentors:

As a music producer, I was able to do a lot of music for a lot of people, including Quentin Tarantino on Kill Bill. I saw what he was doing and I was artistically drawn to it. I actually asked him, ‘Can I be your student?’ And he said, ‘Sure.’ He wanted to learn some things about music so we exchanged knowledge. He allowed me to come to the set of Kill Bill in Beijing. I flew to Beijing with my own money. I sat there for about a month watching him film, watching [director of photography Bob Richardson] do all of his D.P. tricks. I would write down notes and shit. The funny thing is that years later, when I was making Iron Fists, Quentin comes to my movie set and he sits beside me and he says, ‘Bobby, look: You started here [motions with his hand] and now you are here [raises his hand]. The student has now grown up.’

Jim Jarmusch, I’ll give him some credit as well. I did Ghost Dog for him. He is a filmmaker who let me do his score. We had a lot of talks about movies and he showed me a lot of movies of his that I didn’t know existed. I just started learning about movies as a cinephile, and fortunately I was able to meet up with people who weren’t shy about teaching me what I had to learn.

When I felt I was ready, I went back to Quentin and told him I thought I was ready to direct a film. He told me that he thought I was ready too, so then Eli Roth and I hooked up and we talked about my movie. He thought that the story was great, but he said that a screenplay is so important in Hollywood that if you step into a room without a proper screenplay, people won’t be able to envision your movie properly. I had never written a screenplay, so he said, ‘I can help you.’ So we sat there and we wrote this screenplay together. It took a year. We were Skyping each other and writing next to each other [at] other times. We finally got it together, and I did a table read with my family. They all thought it was great at the table read. So then I went and tried to sell it. 
”

Probably the biggest name actor on the film’s bill is Russel Crowe, who plays some type of gunslinger. The RZA spoke about how he snagged the Oscar winning actor for his movie:

“I was working with him on different films as I was writing the movie. I think it was during The Next Three Days when I mentioned it to him. We was just laughing about it and he thought it was interesting. As the screenplay got more and more developed, I talked to him about it. He said it wasn’t his cup, but artistically he believes in me as an artist. We became friends because he believes in me as an artist. He said, ‘I think you can do this. But I am a serious actor. This is what I do. This is not a game.’ So I made sure that I represented my best [on the film]. I talked to some people in the business to help make it work, and then he came and he rocked with us. “

You can read the full article over on Vanity Fair, where the RZA also spoke about his reluctance to score the movie, despite his musical roots, how he convinced usual villain playing actor Rick Yune to try to be a good guy, and how being part of a big family, as well managing a massive hip hop crew, helped him to deal with all the clashing personalities on site.

Last Updated: July 19, 2012

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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