The musical mastermind behind hip-hop’s legendary Wu-Tang Clan has teamed up with film directors Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth to write and direct his own testosterone-filled übertestament to the kung fu flicks of old. The Man With the Iron Fists bites off of martial arts classics with sexy characters played by Lucy Liu, Russell Crowe and, well, men with iron fists, one of whom is played by RZA himself.
“It’s been at least a five-year process from conception to reality,” says RZA, née Robert Diggs, fresh from a trip to Thailand. “It started with me loving martial arts, and a buddy of mine told me I should write my own film.”
Ninety pages later, both Roth and Tarantino helped make the script more “Hollywood.” A killer hip-hop soundtrack was added featuring many in RZA’s massive address book, including Wiz Khalifa, Kanye West, Ghostface Killah, the Black Keys, the Flatbush Zombies, Frances Yip and soulful Brit Corinne Bailey Rae.
“Me and Eli are both students of Quentin’s,” says RZA, who began shadowing Tarantino about seven years ago while also snagging roles in American Gangster and Californication. “Quentin gave us the blessing, and we went and reworked this thing into something that isn’t just a martial arts movie but a movie with martial arts in it.”
Of course, it helps that Tarantino is a Wu fan and that RZA has already worked on soundtracks, including Afro Samurai and Kill Bill. That’s another story. RZA started making movies a few years ago but never showed them to anyone.
“Yeah, I skipped the line a little bit,” he says. “I had a great teacher, and it’s like the old kung fu movies where the guy becomes a master and goes back and beats the old master because the teacher was good. I studied well, and hopefully, it’ll translate to the film. When I did [production for Raekwon’s epic storytelling album] Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, that was my only way to make a movie, you know? Except you had to listen to it. Now? I want to do it visually.”
RZA portrays a blacksmith living in a small town in China at the height of the Opium Wars. “Are we men or are we beasts? That’s the question they gotta ask themselves from their own personalities and from being viciously greedy and from how they treat their women,” he explains, adding that the movie kicks off right when guns were brought to China and a particular smelting method is invented that allows blacksmiths to make the strongest metal ever. (Presumably, that’s where the iron fists come in.)
“When I was writing it, we thought of it like Star Wars: It wasn’t real, but you still go to the bar and have a drink and sh*t,” says RZA, adding that one of his sets of iron fists weighed 55 pounds, and historically speaking, it’s easy to find ancient Shaolin monks who were Black. “The part I play is the blacksmith who emerges out of this f------ village of crazy people.”
Of course, Wu fans will have their insider fun, too. “I know I gotta slip a few Mickeys in it,” says RZA. “36 Chambers is in effect.”