Anyone even remotely familiar with the Wu-Tang Clan is aware, even based on the name alone, that they've always had a preternatural fascination with kung-fu. And RZA, more or less the head of the hip-hop collective, is not just a musician – he's an extremely talented producer, author and actor. With the coming release of The Man with the Iron Fists, add screenwriter and director to that growing list of abilities and achievements.
With the story ruminating in his mind for years, RZA finally decided to put it to paper as a screenplay – a process that can be, at times, much more difficult than penning music or writing a story. "I was advised to write the screenplay by Quentin [Tarantino] one day," RZA explains. "He was like, 'Write!' So I said 'I'm gonna write a new one,' and I wrote about 90 pages, and it took me some time – about 40 days – which I don't think is bad. I wrote music too, so it came out very lyrical. But at the same time, I still wasn't good at that craft. I had a story good enough to tell people, so I told my buddy Eli Roth the story one day, and he loved it, he could see it. I let him read it – what I had written – and he said, 'It sounds better when you talk about it, kid.' So he came on to help me out, and we spent about a year tweaking it, writing it, and it went from 90 pages to 130 pages and we had a complete piece of product."
Not everyone who is an amateur screenwriter has quite the luck to be good pals with Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth, however. (But then again, many rookie writers don't also happen to be multi-platinum recording artists and producers, either.) But with Tarantino in particular, the bond formed quickly – and over a passion the two shared for martial arts movies. "We became Kung Fu buddies," says RZA, "which led to us watching movies together. By the time Kill Bill started filming, I came on board as a student of his. I spent years with him, and at the same time, he was building up a friendship with Eli. And I would come over to Quentin's house, and Eli would be there as well. And then me and Eli became really cool probably in 2006."
After developing a friendship with Roth, RZA decided it was time to share some of his ideas for the concept of Iron Fists. From there, the storyline simply flourished. "What Eli always says is that it was all there, we just had to flush it out," he explains. "You know, I think when you write a screenplay as an amateur, you put all your ideas in the dialogue. That's what I was doing. I was saying what I want you to see, but it's not like that – you have to show what you mean. And he helped flush that out. You have characters you want to develop, you want people to feel their presence, and the intro of a character is very important. Like you guys in Wu-Tang, you have 'Protect Ya Neck' and it's your guys' intro. So, every character has an intro."
With a storyline full of unique and interesting characters, and an extremely talented cast executing these roles, RZA was able to not only able to be one of the main roles, he was charged with leading the pack too – from Russell Crowe to Jamie Chung, Lucy Liu, Cung Le and even Dave Bautista.
"Russell Crowe's character is gonna be something that's a surprise for people that are Russell Crowe fans," he says. "It's gonna enhance their love for him, because they're gonna see him in a way that they haven't seen him. For the men who are Maximus fans who love when he's a tough man, they're gonna be satisfied as well, but they're also gonna see a side of him that they didn't see but they know that we've all got that side and happy to see that he shows it."
Being that this is, after all, a kung-fu movie, the sole focus isn't just on acting – there also happens to be plenty of high-energy scenes. And with any film, the soundtrack and score also play a major role, yet another thing that RZA happens to excel at.
"For the action, people are gonna be blown away, of course. But for the cinematography, what I wanted for this film was that – and I wasn't gonna do the music at first, but once I got into doing the music – what I wanted this film to be was something where, if you turn the film off, you close your eyes, you'll be entertained. If you turn the sound off and open your eyes and just look at the visuals, you'll be entertained. If you remove all the action, all the kung-fu action and just keep the Hollywood action – because you know, this is an Eli Roth/Quentin Tarantino mix of action that we're bringing to the screen – you're entertained. And I can say I've achieved that." | RDW
The Man with the Iron Fists, starring Russell Crowe, Cung Le, Lucy Liu, Byron Mann, RZA, Rick Yune, David Bautista and Jamie Chung opens on 11/2.