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RZA talks 'Iron Fists' and career progression

Wu Music Group

By Sean Czarnecki, Daily Arts Writer
Published November 2, 2012

For RZA, it may never be enough. Despite being the de facto leader of the Wu-Tang Clan and having been heralded as one of hip hop’s most formidable talents, the rapper-producer, whose given name is Robert Fitzgerald Diggs, has widened the wake of his legacy by authoring books, acting in television and film and even composing film scores and soundtracks.

Now, all his ambitions and talents, cultivated from childhood to manhood, from “C.R.E.A.M.” to Grammies, have culminated in his directorial debut: “The Man with the Iron Fists,” a martial arts movie about a vicious battle for gold in a fabled Chinese village.

RZA found time away from his many posts to sit down for an exclusive interview with The Michigan Daily to discuss his upcoming film, which enters wide release on Friday.

“All of these different ways of expressing myself is like what Bruce Lee would say, ‘express yourself fully,’ ” RZA said, giving a big-smiled laugh. “And that’s what I feel like I’m doing. I’m not gonna let anybody stop me from doing that.”

Growing up in poverty in New York City, RZA digested countless hours of martial arts films. Though separated by thousands of miles and several millennia, RZA discovered himself spiritually connected to ancient Chinese culture.

More than entertainment — more than escapism — these movies provided a spiritual framework within which he learned to express himself, he said. He draws inspiration for his music and “The Man with the Iron Fists” from the “same well.”

“Sometimes, I think of being ferocious like a tiger, but nimble as a crane. As deceptive as a snake, you know what I mean?,” he explained. “These types of ideas I apply to music, I apply to my daily life, you know — I live martial. Bruce Lee would say, ‘forget the form, be like water.’ ”

As a child, RZA was a zealot for martial arts films. It wasn’t until he met Quentin Tarantino during the filming of “Kill Bill: Vol. 1” that RZA became a student of the art. Under the tutelage of the mind behind “Pulp Fiction,” he was exposed to film that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible, that would only add to his “well.”

During this time, RZA became acquainted with Eli Roth, the acclaimed horror director of “Cabin Fever,” and discovered that both their fathers attended the same public school. Together, they turned an idea into the screenplay that would eventually become “The Man with the Iron Fists,” marking RZA’s transformation from kung-fu nut to kung-fu filmmaker.

“It took a lot of preparation, a lot of studying, a lot of focus and it was very rewarding, but it wasn’t difficult,” RZA said. “It was almost like a natural musical progression, you know what I mean? I got to one level, one level, and my mind and my energy was just going further and further, and now, I see directing is the medium where I can accomplish all of my skills at once.”

Having composed scores and soundtracks for videogames and films, most famously Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” series, RZA knows what sounds should populate the off-screen world of film. But as someone who loves kung-fu, he adheres deeply to the music of the classic ’70s and ’80s -era Shaw Brothers movies.

“I wanted to make sure I captured that essence,” RZA said. “But at the same time I love Spaghetti Westerns, and I love the sounds they make, and the weird things Morricone would do with his soundtracks. I wanted to add some of that flavor. Then, at the same time, I’m a big, big hip-hopper, so I had to get hip hop in there. And the Black Keys — they’re bringing me some nice indie rock and shit, you know what I mean?”

“This is something that melts cultures together,” he added.

RZA explained that because stories must also be grounded in a non-fiction world, the universe of “The Man with the Iron Fists” is aware of the social and historical issues of the period it portrays.

“During the period the film takes place, there was a big opium war in China,” RZA said. “This was when the British were able to come through and spread the opium, start wars — all these different types of confusion they brought. And we touch on that a teeny bit.”

After all this time, from kung-fu music sampling to the historical accuracy of his upcoming film, martial arts continues to bleed through the layers of RZA’s diverse career “like water.” It continues to change and be changed by his creative endeavors.

This idea of “expressing yourself fully” is his end-all goal. Perhaps then, all that he will do, as everything he’s done before, will be but a series of apprenticeships — he “lives martial.”

“This film feels to me like my first album, 36 Chambers (felt). And I look forward to making five more classics,” RZA said, smiling. “At least.”


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