RZA Interview For ‘The Man With The Iron Fists’
Quentin Tarantino presents ‘The Man with the Iron Fists,’ an action-adventure inspired by kung-fu classics as interpreted by his longtime collaborators RZA and Eli Roth. Making his debut as a big-screen director and leading man, RZA – alongside a stellar international cast led by Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu – tells the epic story of warriors, assassins and a lone outsider hero in nineteenth-century China who must unite to destroy the clan traitor who would destroy them all. Since his arrival in China’s Jungle Village, the town’s blacksmith (RZA) has been forced by radical tribal factions to create elaborate tools of destruction. When the clans’ brewing war boils over, the stranger channels an ancient energy to transform himself into a human weapon. As he fights alongside iconic heroes and against soulless villains, one man must harness this power to become saviour of his adopted people. RZA, one of the greatest hip hop producers of all time and de-facto leader of Wu-Tang Clan (the legendary group that’s highly influenced by Asian culture and 70s martial arts flicks – hence the name), stars as the lead alongside Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Rick Yune, Jamie Chung, Cung Le, Dave Bautista, Byron Mann, Daniel Wu and Pam Grier. ‘The Man with the Iron Fists’ opens on November 2nd in the US and December 7th in the UK. My interview with Russell Crowe for the film can be read here, while my Lucy Liu interview can be found here.
You ate and breathed martial arts movies for the majority of your childhood….
RZA: Yeah. Martial arts films have been influencing me since I was nine, when I first saw kung fu movies and karate flicks on Staten Island at the St. George Theater. Double features, I’ll never forget. This one was called ‘Fury of the Dragon,’ with Bruce Lee in it as Kato, and the other was ‘Black Samurai,’ starring Jim Kelly. Later on, I’d go to 42nd Street and see movies like ‘Godfather of Hong Kong,’ ‘Fists of Double K’ and ‘Five Deadly Venoms,’ which got me addicted to the genre. Growing up in New York, we would break dance, hip-hop, graffiti, all these types of things, and we’d catch moves from the movies. I’d imagine martial arts films as I’d be walking to school, I’ve got a tonne of them up in my head (laughs). ‘The Man with the Iron Fists’ is one of them, or an accumulation of ideas meshed together.
‘The Man with the Iron Fists’ features a number of kung fu/martial arts legends. How did you convince them to join the film and what was it like to be able to direct them, these people who you have grown up watching?
RZA: That was one of the coolest parts of making this film, seeing my acting heroes. You look at Gordon Liu, Chen Kuan-tai, Leung Ka-yan aka “Beardy”, as they call him in his movies (laughs). You look at these three actors and you wouldn’t believe it, if you go to my catalogue, you’ll see almost every movie they’ve made. It was so much of a blessing for me. When I met Gordon Liu, he joined the film because of the philosophy I wanted him to give to the world. And the funny thing is, I’ll share this with you, his lines were not in the script. I wrote them separately and held them privately for a long, long time. And then when I met with him I read the lines to him. The producers, nobody had heard these lines before (laughs). He was moved by the lines, because it was part of how he feels in his own heart. He came on-board to deliver those lines to the movie watching public.
As far as Chen Kuan-tai, it was funny how he came on-board. I had hired Beardy first and we had The Lizard, The Toad, all these different Gods that I was going to bring in from ‘Five Deadly Venoms.’ So I asked Beardy who he wanted to fight, and he said Chen Kuan-tai. These guys haven’t done a movie together since the first ‘Iron Monkey,’ the original one. That was maybe 30 years ago (laughs). He really wanted to get back on screen with him. I was like, “He’s my favourite!” And he said to me that he’ll help me contact him, and our Honk Kong casting director, Mike Leeder, he found him and he came on.
It was funny, as I was directing them they’re so humble to the director, because the director is “the boss”. But then at lunch I’d want them to sit at my table, and I would tell them all these stories about how much I admire them and everything. I’m taking photos like a fan (laughs). Then when it was time to go to work we would go back to work. We would all focus and deliver what we needed to deliver.
And you recently presented Yuen Woo-ping with a Lifetime Achievement Award, how much of his style influenced ‘The Man with the Iron Fists’?
RZA: Woo-ping is one of the best, I actually wanted him to do the action on this film, but scheduling and I think the way things were going it just didn’t happen – and Corey Yuen, of course, another treasure. With Corey, we just got him luckily, his schedule was also very conflicting but he found a window for me and he came on-board. I had to compromise two weeks of preparation, we needed four weeks of prep but I had to compromise to his schedule. But I was prepared as a guy who had watched all these films, I actually had so many different clips put together that I could say, “This is the kind of style I want. I want multiple styles of martial arts.” So the Woo-ping style, I would say there’s a taste of it in there. But then there’s a taste of John Woo style in there, there’s American wrestling (laughs). With Russell Crowe we told him to just go ‘Gladiator’ (laughs). With Rick Yune, there was some Japanese Samurai there mixed with Shaw Brothers. There was a bunch of styles with the martial arts because I didn’t want the audience to become fight fatigued. And I think I delivered, where you see different things. But the one scene that I think truly paid homage to the Shaw Brothers is the Gemini Killers fight. That’s my homage to them, that’s my homage to Chang Cheh.
How was it working with Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu on their characters? They both told me that you were very open to their input and collaborating….
RZA: Well, I go both ways. Sometimes I’m a total dictator, then sometimes I’m a democrat and I deal in democracy. When you’ve got great talent like Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu, you know that they have an instinct and a taste of their own. So you’ve got to be open to hear what they have to offer, because they have to be their character. The fortunate thing for me, that I think helps keeps me open to their ideas is that I’m an actor as well. I’ve been in situations where the lines were mine. I have to edit the way the guy talks because the writer….when you’re typing a character, you’re just typing them. But the rhythm of speaking and the gesture of movement and the life that it takes when you become a character, that’s totally different. Sometimes it may say, “And I’m warning you, when I come back in here, I’m gonna break your face!” And that may be the lines, but the best way to say it in the moment may be completely different. I may just point and give a real stern look (laughs). So when people would come with ideas, me and Eli Roth would talk about it and would decide together what would work. And bong bong, we compromised and collaborated when we had to.
Do you have a favourite weapon in the film?
RZA: My favourite weapon happens to be the Gemini blades. It took about four weeks to design them and figure out. When they come together they make the Yin-Yang sign, and also, if you notice when they do the Gemini stance, that’s the symbol of the Chinese character, Gemini. So I was very meticulous about everything we did, but the Gemini weapons were my favourite.
This is a story that has been floating in your head for a long time. How was it to actually be able to make it, to share it with people?
RZA: It’s a great thrill. It’s a great fulfillment and accomplishment, you know? A lot of us dream and sometimes we don’t believe that dreams come, I’m here to attest that they do (laughs). And not only do they come true, I think that any positive idea, with the right willpower and focus, it will materialise.
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