THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS: A Conversation with RZA

With his directorial
debut arriving in theaters this weekend, the Wu-Tang overlord talks film,
hip-hop, Quentin Tarantino, and more.

 

 

BY A.D. AMOROSI

 

What sort of movie would RZA, the de facto mastermind behind Wu Tang Clan and its hip-hop dynasty, make
if he had a chance to direct one? We wouldn’t know precisely what kind because The Man with the Iron Fists, RZA’s
directorial debut that he co-wrote with Eli Roth, wasn’t made available to
screen before this interview. But you could guess from his background in the
theology of martial arts – the skill and its films and their influence on Wu
everything – to say nothing from a reel where he, Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Rick
Yune, David Bautista and Jamie Chung run roughshod across19th century China. It would
be a fast paced bloodbath, especially since it’s being “presented by” his
cinematic mentor Quentin Tarentino with whom RZA has worked on several film
scores.

 

Plus, RZA created most of the score to The Man with the Iron Fists when he wasn’t developing red Chambers headphones
(and the sleek black zip-up pouch it comes in) and trying to get the entirety
of the Wu Tang Clan in fighting action for 2013. Despite Iron Fists being RZA’s directorial debut with nothing proven in the
box office department, somebody other than Tarentino must like him. The Hollywood Reporter reports that RZA will
direct a movie based on the life of Genghis Khan, written by Apocalypse Now scripter John Milius, as well as a third film after
Khan’s tale in No Man’s Land, an
action thriller. 

 

BLURT spoke to him from the Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles. (In photo above: David Bautista as “Brass
Body” and RZA as “The Blacksmith.”)

 

 

 

 

 

BLURT: What was the
first movie that you absolutely loved?

RZA: Star Wars. It’s an amazing film
still. I even love the whole saga.

 

 OK. What was the first film that moved you to
pay attention to its direction, to decide that making movies was something that
you’d like to do someday?

 Wow. I’m going to have to get back to
you on that. I can say the first film that I found remarkable enough to want to
know more about was Five Deadly Venoms, then The 36th Chamber of Shaolin after
that. Once those hit I probably began to look at films from the standpoint of
how they were done. The Godfather, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – these
were masterpieces of cinema that you wanted to get inside of. I watch films
with a different eye because of that. Like when I saw The Grey I felt like I was in a rainstorm the whole time. I got
cold.

 

 Do you find it hard to just enjoy a film
without picking it apart now that you’ve directed one?

 Yeah, I can. I’m not
jaded yet. Every time I go to the movies I’m excited. I might not walk out
excited. (laughs)

 

 If say the phrase “Shaw Brothers” what comes
to mind?

 Those guys were one of my schools of movie
making. They made me who I am AND they are responsible for my single most
favorite collection of films ever. I pride myself on that collection.

 

 Were you freaked out the first time you
stepped before a camera for Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost
Dog
?

 I didn’t know what to think. It just
felt cool to be on a big screen. Somebody told me something about me sticking
out, that I looked right up there. Then I did Coffee and Cigarettes for Jim and that was even cooler. I was
basically being a version of myself but that was fine. Plus you had to figure
that on that first film I had two words to say: “power” and “equality.” Coffee and Cigarettes I had ten minutes
of dialogue.

 

 Do you remember how you felt hearing yourself
for that long on screen?

  I’ll never forget being in this theater
in San Francisco
watching it. I shrunk in my seat. I tuned to butter and started melting away
because I was so nervous I was almost embarrassed, right. Then a minute in,
people laughed. Then more people laughed. All of a sudden I wasn’t shrinking
anymore. As they laughed throughout the skit, I started growing. By the time
that bit ended I was all the way up in my seats. I felt good. It was like that
feeling when you make a girl happy. It was a real wow sensation.

 

 Tarentino has talked about having you beside
him while he worked on set. Before Quentin, what did you pick up about
filmmaking from Jarmusch?

 We became buddies and
have had lot of conversations. When I did my Bobby Digital film package, it came in part from hanging with Jim as
we did that without a script. That’s
his style. But Quentin is my teacher. I sought him out. Not just a friend where
I’m taking advice – but I wanted to learn, hands on. John Woo talked to me.
Jarmusch talked to me, but Quentin was serious and made me get more serious. Go
to the set. Get behind the camera. Some days I was over his shoulder, watching
everything from three feet behind.

 

 

 When did you know that you were ready to be a
director?

 I thought I was ready
in 2007. I tried again in 2009. Then on New Year’s Day of 2010, after I
finished a big part of the screenplay, I knew it was a go. Months later, I
stepped into Universal and we were ready to start. By December 2010, principle
photography was on.

 

 What did Eli Roth bring to the table?

 He helped fleshed
these characters out. I’m not a screenplay writer, too. (laughs) I can tell you a story and I can make you see the whole
thing but to make it into a screenplay with the necessary details? I’m not
there yet. It’s a map. You got a make it readable for line producers on down.
Everybody has to know what the vision is or it won’t come to life. That’s why
the book is sometimes better than the movie…

 

 Any butting of heads? I heard you had nearly
four hours ready to roll.

 That was my mistake
for saying that out loud. A first-time director loving everything that he do
type-of comment. We had four hours of assembly – something I thought would be
worth two movies. I figured cut here and come back with a second half. That
would have been taking a big risk. Jarmusch has a style, a long shot where
nothing’s happening, which gives you an opportunity to ponder what an actor’s
character is thinking. Quentin would fill that scene with constant brilliant
dialogue. John Woo would use that same scene to have tables turning and birds
flying and guns blasting. What I had to do was find my balance. I didn’t have
that sort of balance for a four hour assembly. After I got my first director’s
cut, it was only 2 hours and 17 minutes. Most of which you‘ll see on the screen
with 96 minutes. I have a lot of eye candy for the DVD extras.

 

 How did you get Russell Crowe? It’s weird
thinking of him here.

 I asked him. I saw
him in my head as “Jack Knife” and he believed in me as an artist, simple as
that. He came on board to support the vision and he kills it.

 

 As you were writing the film, were you coming
up with the sound track or was that separate?

 It was mostly
separate but I wrote the film to music that wasn’t mine. It could’ve been John
Frusciante’s music or the soundtrack to Carrie.
I didn’t know that I was going to score the film. Funnily enough, I had a
keyboard and a guitar with me in China and started writing music,
but not for the film. When I couldn’t sleep at night I wound up writing and
riffing. Those songs then wound up being perfect for the score, especially this
one temple scene… You saw the film, right?

 No. They weren’t screening it.

 Don’t worry. You’ll
love it. Anyway, I wrote this one song during a long night and it fit the scene
and the synergy of being in China.

 

 Was it tough filming there? Was the government
cool about everything?

 They were mostly
cool. They had some demands. They had to proofread the script and there were a few things that they were
uncomfortable with – too much reality for a fiction film. (laughs) But the Chinese crew was incredible, very ingenious and
quick.

 

 

 

 

 

 What’s the most personal scene in the movie,
the one that reveals who you are as a director?

 Hmm. OK, there’s a
scene where “Jack Knife” starts his villainous purpose. From that point up to
the scene where he meets up with “Madame Blossom,” which is Lucy Liu, and she
starts her villainous purpose, that whole chunk is great movie magic. Keep your
eyes peeled.

 

 You ready for the Wu reunion?
 I am. Only if they are – and for real this time.

 

The Man with the Iron
Fists
opens in theaters today, Friday – Nov. 2.

 

 

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