by Christopher A. Daniel
RZA recalls being in Beijing beside award-winning filmmaker Quentin Tarantino watching a final playback on a camera monitor. Just a few years prior, the two creative minds were collaborating in the exact same place on Kill Bill: Vol. 1. At that moment, RZA – in déjà vu – knew he was onto something special. “The student has become a master,” Tarantino whispers to him.
The controversial director was referring to the Wu-Tang Clan’s iconic producer completing his directorial debut, The Man With The Iron Fists. The Nov. 2 nationwide release chronicles a 19th Century blacksmith – played by RZA – who creates weapons and joins a slew of warriors to protect a Chinese village. RZA also co-wrote the screenplay with famed writer/director Eli Roth. The film also stars Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Rick Yun, David Bautista, Byron Mann and Jamie Chung.
The Brooklyn-born, Staten Island-raised connoisseur of martial arts films – born Robert Fitzgerald Diggs – took pointers from Tarantino. In addition to screening numerous films and having multiple conversations with Tarantino, RZA heavily studied director John Woo’s ability to capture multiple action sequences in one scene. “I picked up so much from him, I can write a book,” RZA says during the Atlanta press conference. “I can’t really say I got one thing. He’s my teacher. If I belong to any school of filmmaking, I belong to the school of Tarantino.”
More recently, the trendsetting, interpersonal Grammy Award-winning producer has composed a slew of film scores and flexed his acting chops. Much like his musical career, RZA designed a five-year plan for the film. His vision was met with some skepticism from peers, colleagues and family members. Still, The Man With The Iron Fists is paramount to RZA’s artistry. “It was a natural progression of art and creativity that I wanted to express,” RZA says. “I wanted to take hip hop [and I think I’m doing it with this film] to another level.” The Man With The Iron Fists came into fruition with its share of sacrifices. RZA put his music career on hold briefly. The producer says his wife, who was the only person with knowledge of his blueprint, supported him throughout the entire process.
“My family had to be patient with me putting in the time with Quentin,” RZA adds. “A couple of New Years I didn’t spend at home. It took a lot of perseverance, patience, tolerance, will power and determination for me to do this. People enter the path, but few prepare themselves for the path. The most important thing is preparation.”
RZA hit the road with an intimate, 11-city promo tour. Hosting his Atlanta stop at Vinyl on Oct. 10, he performed his set with Wu-Tang cohort U-God. Along with composer Howard Drossin, RZA was able to secure soundtrack contributions from Kanye West, Corinne Bailey Rae, Wiz Khalifa, Kool G Rap, Talib Kweli, The Black Keys and the entire Wu-Tang Clan among others. “I’ve always been an artist that likes to share the energy, the wisdom and keep the culture going. Music is a part of that effort,” RZA says.
The Man With The Iron Fists might be RZA’s first major film project, but he reiterates that having goals comes with preparation. “Know before you do. Don’t do before you know. If you know before you do, the results are already understood. You already know the path.”
Christopher A. Daniel is a pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.