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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan talks 'Iron Fists,' Kung Fu flicks, and more

Last month, while making his way across the country, promoting his feature-length directorial debut, The Man With the Iron Fists, Robert Diggs, aka RZA of the Wu Tang Clan, made an Atlanta stop. The following excerpts are taken from a conversation at Vinyl, where we talked about his reverence for Quentin Tarantino, Sun Tzu and The Art of War, and how his life-long love of Kung Fu films has influenced his art and music.

On life as a director ...
This was a nerve-wracking process, and what I did to conquer it was stay sober. With music, I can smoke weed and be in the studio all night, and just let the energy flow. But with this much money under my control, and this kind of A-class talent in my hands I had to be focused. I was not going to let myself not rise to he occasion. ... And I knew that I had risen to the occasion when I saw the actors trust me with ideas that weren't always on paper. At the same time, they knew that they were in the hands of a director who was an artist first. I understand what it's like to be in front of a camera and maybe you've gotta fuckin' fart. Who knows what you've gotta do? But they understood that.

On working with Quentin Tarantino ...
First and foremost, Quentin Tarantino is my mentor and my teacher, and if I belong to a Kung Fu school, I belong to Quentin Tarantino. But I did meet Jim Jarmsuch first, and Jim gave me a lot of his wisdom that I absorbed. What Jim does, to me, is capture an image with his movies ... He'll stay on the image, or stay on the character so long that sometimes your mind drifts, which is cool. You can watch that guy and start thinking about what he's thinking about. That's his tactic. Quentin, if he gives you a long static shot, his dialogue is so potent that he makes your imagination follow the dialogue. If you think about something like Reservoir Dogs, you never see the heist! But in your mind you feel like you saw the entire heist because of the way they talk about it.

RZA as the Blacksmith in The Man With the Iron Fists
  • RZA as the Blacksmith in The Man With the Iron Fists
... I got years of watching films with him, sitting beside him, traveling around the world to film festivals, absorbing the talking. I got a chance to spend a few nights at his house and check out his library.

With some of the prints that he had of these old movies, the colors were burned, so it's all pink or all blue — something about the way these films looked inspired me. I want the scene to look that way. If you look at my film you'll notice that certain scenes look a certain way. Tony Scott always had a hue pinch of green in his movies. So I had to pick a color — I picked a hue pinch of purple ... Just a little bit of purple in that mother fucker.

On how '70s Kung Fu and mafia films influenced his production style ...
I watch martial arts films all the time ... That stuff influenced my music and the sound of the albums, but I also like mafia films. Cuban Linx is a mafia crime story, but I use Chow Yun Fat and John Woo movies to basically tell the story of Once Upon A Time In America. It starts off with, "One for you, one for me, two for you, one, two, three for me ..." We mixed the Asian with the Italian. If you listen to Liquid Swords where GZA's going more esoteric with his lyrics, I went Asian, but I didn't go Chinese King Fu. I went Japanese Samurai. Tical starts off with a Channel 5 Saturday morning cue ...

For Man With the Iron Fists, I combined a lot of elements: Of course martial arts is the key element, but I love Star Wars, I love comic books, I love fantasy movies, and at the same time I'm a history buff. ... With this film you'll find many layers of extra little tricks.

On The Art of War ...
I only got three books with me on this tour and The Art of War is one of them. I read from that book yesterday — I read from the chapter on strategic assessment because I seen that some of the guys on the tour bus weren't as focused as I wanted them to be. They come out the bus trying to be about themselves. They're rappers and everybody wants girls on their dick, but we're here for Iron Fists, kid. ... The Art Of War is a very healthy book for any man when it comes to his business and his personal living — even for a film director.

In China, before I started filming, I had about 400 people working for me — 17 department heads. We bring in the department heads and a room of between 60-80 people. We're about to start shooting tomorrow morning and the director has to make his speech, so I get up to the front, and say, "Okay, we're about to go on a mission together. We've been preparing for 14 weeks and I want to refer you to the great Sun Tzu and his book The Art Of War. We'll use this book to show the guidelines of where we're at now and where we've got to go. How many of you are familiar with The Art of War?" It's a room full of Asian brothers and guess how many of them was familiar with it? None!

It bugged me the fuck out! I had to inquire about it the next day — "I know y'all ain't got no beef lo mien in this motha fucker. I understand that, we made that name up for y'all. But Sun Tzu was a real man! But because of the cultural revolution, they did away with a lot of that. I still used the book, though. What it says is that we must know our terrain, and our terrain was our location. I went on using all the things in it to relate to what we're doing. They loved it, and maybe went on to get it after that. But to think that in China, out of so many people, I caught like one person raising his hand ...

... I live by the martial principles, more than I'm informed by martial arts ... The DP on ... Iron Fists said I was the calmest director he'd worked with in 20 years, yet everybody worked to please me and I didn't have a bullhorn. It's because of the calmness of the spirit that martial arts teaches me that I'm able to absorb a tremendous amount of stress. In Kung Fu you learn to absorb a tremendous punch. But a punch doesn't have to be physical. If I come up to you and say, "You Stupid mutha fucker!" That's a punch too. That's something you might want to respond to, so I'm able to absorb a tremendous amout of stress, and it helped me communicate with other people.

On scoring the The Man With the Iron Fists ...
I was not going to do the score. I tried to get out of it, but Quentin doubled down, so I had to. But I wrote the film to music, and had a lot of Stax records: Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, Mad Lads, and William Bell. I would write to these songs, and a lot of classical music as well. I had a whole playlist for ... Iron Fists, and I was hoping that we could even buy some of these songs. I told my music supervisor that we're going to hire a composer, but to make sure that we get the rights to some of these Stax masters because I would love to strip them down and re-orchestrate them. We got about five masters that we were able to re-orchestrate, and I got some of the Wu Tang songs, so you hear some of the beats used in a different way.

On Kung Fu films, and films in general ...
Growing up in the ghetto, I needed escapism and Kung Fu films offered that to me. They offered me something that I became passionate about — at one point I was just infatuated by Asian women! ... But the culture taught me something that I wasn't getting from normal American films: Brotherhood, loyalty, and sacrifice.

The first King Fu movie I saw was a double feature at the St. George Theater on Staten Island, it was a Bruce Lee film and a Jim Kelly film. To give you a little history: The first movie I ever saw was Huckleberry Finn. The second movie I ever saw was Star Wars and the Swarm, which were a double feature. After that I didn't see no movies till I saw the double feature that was Fury of the Dragon, which was Bruce Lee as Kato in Green Hornet — I later learned that it wasn't a real movie, they just edited it together — and Black Samurai with Jim Kelly.

If you look at my career a little bit, I did Wu Tang Killer Bees is on the Swarm. ... And I'm always talking about this force and spirituality, that comes from Star Wars, know what I mean? Kung Fu — Bruce Lee is all in my stuff, and then here's a black guy in a Kung Fu movie, Jim Kelly! My first five movies really helped develop me. This all happened between the ages of 8 and 9 ...

Look at Jack Knife's knife in ... Iron Fists, The coolest knife I saw when I was a kid was Rambo's knife. I had to make one cooler.

... To me a movie should be fun, first and foremost. I learned a lot from watching movies like The Godfather, and documentaries ... But I think the most important experience you should get from a movie theater is fun. You've paid, there's popcorn and there's candy, and my movie is fun. I'm not just saying that to sell it to you guys, but I put a lot of fun into this movie. I wasn't shy about it.

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