RZA recently spoke with rootshed.com about “The Man with the Iron Fists” – a new martial arts actioner that he wrote and directed, officially marking his transition from music to movies.
In “The Man with the Iron Fists,” which opens Friday, Nov. 2 in theaters throughout the Valley, RZA plays a blacksmith who has been forced by radical tribal factions to create elaborate tools of destruction channels an ancient energy to transform himself into a human weapon. Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu also star.
Question: When and how did you discover that you wanted to be a director?
Answer: I had spent some time as an actor, which was something that was offered to me. It was not something that I pursued. I had done a thing in “Coffee and Cigarettes” and some people saw it and thought I was cool. Then, Harvey Weinstein put me in “Derailed.” That opened up doors for me but composing was my natural progression from music. Jim Jarmusch asked me to make the score for “Ghost Dog” and that was right on time for where my mind was at that time. But after spending time with Quentin Tarantino, I knew that directing was something that I wanted to do and he gave me the last bit of advice that I needed to hear – “Write your stories.” So I went for it.
Q: Was that challenging?
A: Of course. Having never written a screenplay before, I was not properly prepared. But I could write a good story. So I wrote and it was good enough that when I showed it to people they liked it. I showed it to Eli Roth and he wanted to help me get it done. But when he read the screenplay, he told me that the story was great but it did not translate on paper. He told me that it sounded better when I said it. So he put his wisdom into it and took me from 90 pages to 130 pages. He fluffed out a lot of the technical things as well as the creative things. I asked Quentin three times over the course of 5 or 6 years and when he said that I was ready, that is when I got in the water.
Q: So then why the martial arts genre?
A: There is a reason that my first film is a martial arts film. Maybe my second one will be, too. I am not sure. But my first one had to be because that I started in my whole career by assimilating martial arts music with American ideas – which, for me, is hip hop and urban life. And I think that there is a bright future in the genre because “Kill Bill” sparked a huge fire that still has some sparks in it. If we kindle it, we can have one of these movies every year or two. This movie is a test to see if the genre is still a good investment for studios.
Q: What, in your opinion, are some of the reasons that the martial arts genre has – and has not – endured over the years?
A: Martial arts has endured because it has been translated to other films, like “The Bourne Identity” and “The Transporter.” It is always going to entertain us. It seems mystical but it is such a human thing. It excites us. But the genre has not endured because of the taste of the creators and the consumer. The aesthetic of the martial arts film is done from the Asian perspective. Therefore, whether it is subtitles or the sense of humor of whatever, it does not resonate with the average American audience as much as I would like it to. But when American directors get a hold of it, whether it is the Wachowskis doing “The Matrix” or Quentin Tarantino doing “Kill Bill,” they bring an American sensibility to it.
Q: Finally, what did your experience working on “The Man with the Iron Fists” teach you about yourself?
A: I feel like I was able to make a film that if you just sit in the movie theater and close your eyes, you are still entertained. Or if you take the sound and music out and you just look at it, you are still entertained. It taught me that with a focused mind and less use of substance – weed is good but I did not even smoke weed through this thing – I am actually able to be a great leader. I was a leader of between 400 and some days 700 people and they all served the purpose and they served it well. And we all left happy saying that the two best films to ever come to China were “Kill Bill” and “The Man with the Iron Fists.”