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RZA on The Man With the Iron Fists, Wu-Tang, and Writing With Eli Roth

The RZA. Photo: Getty Images

RZA’s martial arts action-comedy, The Man With the Iron Fists (“presented” by Quentin Tarantino), arrived in theaters this weekend — and the movie is as insane as you’d expect. Among other things, it stars Russell Crow and Lucy Liu, and the soundtrack features the Wu-Tang Clan. We spoke with RZA ahead of the release (and before he’d lined up his next two directing projects) about his love of kung fu, how it influenced Wu-Tang’s music, and co-writing a screenplay with Eli Roth.

RZA: Did you see it? What did you think?

I saw it last night with my boyfriend. I’m proud to say I didn’t close my eyes or turn away for any of the gory scenes.
[Laughs] That’s impressive, yo. I knew it was a guy film, so I’m glad when the girls like it too.

Lucy Liu and the other women get to kick ass in it.
That particular [fight] scene — when I first wrote my 90-page screenplay, I sent it to Jim Jarmusch to read and he said that scene was so unexpected to him and so rewarding. He basically said I did a good job. That is what made me feel confident that I can write. I mean, it’s Jim Jarmusch. Of course, it still wasn’t a great screenplay; it still needed the interior and the exterior — there’s just so many things in a screenplay.

Tell me about Eli Roth getting on board to co-write?
When he got on board, he helped me shape and mold it from 90 pages to 130 pages and created a complete vision that not only I can see, but a vision that I could give to a costume designer and he could see or a production designer and they could see it. That’s important. Once I got there, I felt I had graduated. [fist-pumps]. I look at [Eli] as my classmate. He was invaluable to me because he’s been through this already. He’s been through the hard times of Hollywood. He didn’t have an easy path. He told me a story of making his first movie and running out of money and having to put it on his credit card. And that movie is Cabin Fever.

Not bad.
Right, and he goes on to make a hundred million dollars with that movie. So because he had already jumped over land mines he was able to give me warnings. Sometimes you learn from your mistakes, but sometimes if there’s a land mine, it’s good to have someone warn you: “Land mine! Jump motherfucker!” He did that for me.

But this isn’t your first film.

Any desire to resurrect Bobby Digital or Golden Pheonix?
I don’t know. I think of those as amateur films. We’ll see how that goes. See what life does. Maybe we’ll release them as amateur films on DVD not on the big screen. This is my first real film.

You’ve had plenty of experience being in charge. How is RZA the director different than RZA the leader of Wu-Tang?
Wu-Tang prepared me for this. The Wu-Tang Clan prepared me for this because I was — I am —  the abbot of Wu-Tang and I had a lot of things to worry about and fine details that I had control over. I edited those albums like a movie. I always thought I was making movies when I was making those records.

I’ve heard you say that before. What exactly is that process?
I would consciously want people to pick up these CDs and put them on in their car and see a fucking movie in their head, without having to use their eyes, ‘cause they have to drive. You hear in the corner, Ghost starting off on Cuban Linx, and you follow it. On Cuban Linx, people don’t realize it that U-God is only on the first song, because I took an idea from Once Upon a Time in America, when Noodles died and he doesn’t re-appear again. So the Wu Tang Clan doesn’t appear on the album until later on when the deal is the bigger deal and more people have to help out. Basically, they started as small time hustlers and then get bigger and bigger.

The other thing that prepared you for this role was your encyclopedic knowledge of kung fu movies.
That had a huge impact. I mean, it impacted our lyrics, music, everything. For me all the kung fu movies have inspired me and helped invite me into the world of entertainment as an artist. But to me it was a one-way street.

What do you mean?
I’m being inspired by it, but I’m not giving back to it. Or I didn’t know I was giving back to it consciously. Donnie Yen said I gave back because of Wu-Tang the DVDs started selling and people started rediscovering that stuff and trying to match it up to our songs. But with The Man with The Iron Fists I got to personally and physically give back myself. I got to go into China with Universal and millions of dollars and hire a whole Asian cast and crew —

And Russell Crowe.
Ha, right. So hundreds of people got a chance to feed their families. Even some of the actors themselves are actors who have appeared as sample voices on my albums. On Wu-Tang’s Ain’t Nothing to Fuck With, you know how at the beginning it goes, “Tiiiiger style”? Well Gold Lion [a central character in The Man With the Iron Fists played by Kaun Tai Chen] says that in Executioners from Shaolin [1977 Kung Fu film], that’s were the line comes from. And Wu-Tang’s first album is, Get to the 36 Chambers. Well, Gordon Liu [a.k.a. Chai Hu Liu] played in a movie called the 36 Chambers of Shaolin. And Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s album, he has a song called Raw Hide where it goes, “Horse fist and dragon fists, Bastard I didn’t know who you were.” Well, that’s the Hyena Chief [character in The Man with the Iron Fists played by Ka-Yan Leung].

People seem just as excited about the soundtrack as the actual film?
Aw, that’s great.

How did you convince the guys to reunite as Wu-Tang?
I got to give some credit to by buddy Bob Parley, he was able to broker the deals with everybody and get them all to work for me, because I was too busy. But I made up that song by myself, the Six Dimensions of Boxing, because it reminds me of Chessboxin’, the old Wu-Tang song. U-God goes first again and he doesn’t go first a lot of time. But he went first this time and he does a great job in this song. I’m just happy that they all did. I think it’s just a beautiful song. It adds so much flavor to the sound track.

So is a 20th Anniversary reunion tour going to happen?
We’ll see if my brothers all agree to come onboard and join me, because I’m ready to join them.

RZA and Eli Roth Make Good Writing Partners