The Man With The Iron Fists RZA

As writer, director and star of “The Man with the Iron Fists,“ rapper RZA finally brings his vision, and his career inspirations, to the big screen. The multi-hyphenate, who plays the Blacksmith in this twisty martial arts tale, was thrilled to be at the helm of a $20 million Universal film, but he knew that this project would immediately need to be distinguished from other similar movies. “They make hundreds of these films in China every year,“ RZA said, when he and the cast of the film recently sat down with press. “The idea was to pay homage to the greats that pioneered this genre. But those were made in Asia with an Asian sensibility, so I had to make it with an American sensibility.”

Though he didn’t have to reach far for inspiration, leaning on one of the classics of the genre. “In ’Five Deadly Venoms,‘ there’s a character called the Toad, he supposedly have impenetrable skin,” RZA illustrates. “You don’t see that. You’ve gotta just go with this idea. But in my movie, I have Brass Body. I made it so that his chi energy is so strong that he turns his full body into brass, so it’s not so esoteric, it’s more superhero-ish.”

The Man With The Iron Fists, Crowe, Liu

Several ideas in “The Man With The Iron Fists” came from externalizing thematic concepts featured in old martial arts films. Speaking of the character of X-Blade, written for actor Rick Yune, RZA explained his own innovation. “I had an idea of a porcupine stance,” RZA says. “His final blow is a porcupine attack, when he grabs Brass Body and every knife pops out of him! What I wanted to do was take the concept of chi, similar to ‘Star Wars’ and the Force. “In true martial arts, they say the chi should flow from their body to their weapon. When you see Jet Li do his old wushu contests, they said his chi flew to the tip of his sword. I took that principle and applied it in a mythical way. The chi is able to turn your whole body brass, it’s able to animate an iron fist, a knife.”

Brass Body is one of the highlights of the film. As played by wrestler David Bautista, the character shimmers as pure gold when he’s incensed, crushing everyone in his path. “I saw Dave Bautista on the internet doing kali, knife fighting, with a martial artist named Maurice Crunk. I invited Maurice and Dave to one of my video shoots that I was doing with Method Man, and I wanted to see if Dave could be my Brass Body, but Maurice could be my stunt double, and I could maybe get this great fight scene together with the Brass Body and the Blacksmith," RZA explains. "And I met Dave, and he’s a fan of the RZA, but he was kinda bugging out, like, why is he sizing me up like he wants to fight me?”

Calling the shots on a major motion picture was a serious challenge for the first-timer, who began to understand some of the struggles of other contemporary filmmakers. “I will not deny it, it’s very exhausting,” he sighs. “They say movies are made three times. First it’s written as a screenplay, then it’s shot, but you can’t shoot everything you write, and the cast has to absorb the character. And then we had to edit it, we had a million feet worth of film! But this is the story I wanted to tell, and on the DVD there will be some extra stuff.” He speaks of finding the inspirations from two ideal mentors, “It was me, Robert [Rodriguez] and Quentin [Tarantino] and Quentin said to us, we are elite and unique, because of what we know and what we can do.“

“A lot of directors nitpick,” says Lucy Liu, who plays Madam Blossom, the mistress of a local brothel. “Every time you have a different take, they give you a different direction. He didn’t do that, he would let you do your thing. He doesn’t keep giving you different cues of green, he says, this is your palette, let me know what you need. A lot of directors feel like they have to come up and tweak you every time, which I find to be an incredible annoyance. And first time directors do that, because they’re so overly concerned you’re not getting it, but he didn’t do that at all.”