The Man With the Iron Fists Cast
: Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Rick Yune, Jamie Chung, Cung Le, David Bautista, Byron Mann, Daniel WuDirector
: MARunning Time
: 95 minutesSynopsis
: Quentin Tarantino presents The Man With the Iron Fists, an action-adventure inspired by kung fu classics as interpreted by his longtime collaborators RZA and Eli Roth. Making his feature-film debut as a director, co-writer and leading man, RZA-alongside an exciting international cast led by Russell Crowe as Jack Knife and Lucy Liu as Madam Blossom-tells the epic story of warriors, assassins and a lone outsider hero who all descend on one fabled village in China for a winner-takes-all battle for a fortune in gold.
Blending astonishing martial arts sequences from some of the masters of this world, with the signature vision he brings as the leader of the Wu-Tang Clan and as one of hip-hop's most dominant figures of the past two decades, RZA embarks upon his most ambitious, stylized and thrilling project to date. Release Date
: 5th of December, 2012Website
About The Production Staten Island Kung Fu: The Legend of Iron Fists
Before he became known to the world as RZA, Robert "Bobby" Fitzgerald Diggs grew up in New York City as a die-hard kung fu fan. In the late '70s and early '80s, he consumed a steady diet of films from the wuxia genre (movies with Chinese martial arts protagonists) and the jidaigeki genre (period Japanese films that tell the stories of craftsmen, farmers, samurai and merchants). Indeed, the boy who would become the Grammy Award-winning leader of the infamous Wu-Tang Clan lived, ate and breathed martial arts movies from the Shaw Brothers for the majority of his childhood.
RZA explains what this alternate universe has meant to him: "Martial arts films have been influencing me since I was nine when I first saw kung fu movies and karate flicks on Staten Island at the St. George Theater. Double features, I'll never forget. This one was called Fury of the Dragon, with Bruce Lee in it as Kato, and the other was Black Samurai, starring Jim Kelly."
The writer/director offers that during the time he was living in poverty, martial arts films offered him the escapism he needed and began to inform his artistic sensibilities. RZA recalls: "Later on, I'd go to 42nd Street and see movies like Godfather of Hong Kong, Fists of Double K and Five Deadly Venoms, which got me addicted to the genre. Growing up in New York, we would break dance, hip-hop, graffiti, all these types of things, and we'd catch moves from the movies."
Though for most kids these films were strictly entertainment, RZA found a deeper connection. "Some of the names we would use, like 'Grand Master,' would go with us," he continues. "As I started becoming more of a hip-hop deejay rapper, the sounds and the spirituality of the movies started affecting me more. When I came up with Wu-Tang Clan in 1993, it was the martial arts films and genre that gave me this idea of how to express myself. The brotherhood they showed, the loyalty, the spirituality-as well as the swordplay and the kung fu ass-kicking-all that went along with how we felt good as emcees and producers, and I made albums to reflect that."
Not surprisingly, when the Wu-Tang Clan formed, it drew its name from one of RZA's kung fu film favorites, Shaolin and Wu Tang. As well, when the group dropped its first album, "Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)," the title paid homage to The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Gordon Liu's landmark kung fu feature. Alongside those of the other founding members of the group-GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa and Ol' Dirty Bastard-called "the best rap group ever" by Rolling Stone, RZA's own artistic choices were inspired by and made in honor of these movies that sparked a boy's imagination of good vanquishing bad.
RZA's on-screen debut, in director Jim Jarmusch's 1999 cult classic Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai was his introduction to acting. Though he had a small part in the film-which led to a number of standout supporting roles over the years-it was RZA's work as composer on Ghost Dog that led to another fruitful collaboration with the director on 2003's Coffee and Cigarettes. About his foray into life behind the camera, RZA explains: "Years ago, Jim Jarmusch brought me in to score Ghost Dog, and I got a taste of what filmmaking was from him. But when I met Quentin Tarantino on the set of Kill Bill, I was blown away by the way he did things, his filmmaking talent and his ideas. I asked him if I could become his student."
Serious about the role at hand, RZA ultimately scored Kill Bill: Vol. 1 for Quentin Tarantino and spent one month in China on the set of the 2003 opus. Absorbing as much as he could from the director and the film's cinematographer, Robert Richardson, RZA left the set determined to make a movie based on a story that had been stirring inside of him for some time. He shares: "I studied with Quentin Tarantino for years; we watched many films together, films that I would have never known on my own. Then I had a whole library of movies that I have seen and studied-from the Shaw Brothers and great directors like Joseph Kuo and Chang Cheh. John Woo was another guy who took time to share his wisdom with me over many lunches together."
RZA admits that this lengthy process was the ultimate college course in filmmaking. "I took all that knowledge together and put it in myself," he adds. "When I felt I was ready, I took those six years of studying and went to Quentin Tarantino and said, 'I think I'm ready.' And he said, 'Bobby, I think you are ready, too.' Eli Roth and I got the screenplay together over a year and went back to the godfather again. He gave us his blessings, and we went for it."
The Eli Roth to whom RZA refers is Eli Roth, writer/director of such horror classics as Cabin Fever and Hostel and another frequent cohort of Quentin Tarantino's. While on a trip to Iceland with Quentin Tarantino, Eli Roth met the man with whom he would work for more than a year on the script to The Man With the Iron Fists. The writer/producer describes how the partnership came about: "RZA and I were flying from Iceland to Los Angeles. During this flight, we got snowed in at Boston's Logan Airport. We were stuck, and I said, 'My parents live 10 minutes from here.' So we got in a cab, drove through the blizzard to their house and had dinner. It turns out that my dad and RZA were from the same area of Brooklyn. We had this crazy bond between us that my dad and him had grown up a block from each other at different times and had gone to the same public school."
Eli Roth recalls that he was struck by the manner in which his new friend described his take on art. He says: "I remember RZA saying that all of his songs were audio movies. I knew exactly what he was talking about: you hear his music, and it's so visual. You feel like you're watching a soundtrack to a classic kung fu film. I told him that he should direct a movie, and he said, 'I have this script, The Man With the Iron Fists…'"
Over the next several years, RZA and Eli Roth stayed in touch and discussed the developing screenplay each time they reconnected. When Eli Roth joined with Strike Entertainment's Marc Abraham and Eric Newman to produce movies, he suggested to the filmmakers that they consider RZA's passion project. Eli Roth elaborates: "They read it, met RZA and said that they wanted to do it, but they felt that the characters needed more developing. Well, Robert Fitzgerald and I had been talking about it so much that I just started writing it with him. We went back and reworked the movie, combined characters and changed story points. Robert Fitzgerald's such a creative genius and has so many wild ideas that the more I dug when I was writing with him, the more I found out about each character's backstory."
Producer Marc Abraham explains his impression of RZA during their initial meeting: "I got involved because of RZA's passion, his vision, and because of the sincerity with which he talked to me. One day I walked out of the pouring rain into Jerry's Deli, and a year later I'm sitting in China. How did that happen? I was so taken by RZA's honesty and his forthrightness about what he wanted to do. He has so much charisma that when we left that day, I turned to Eric Newman and said, 'I really want to help you guys get this movie going.' From that moment forward, it became more and more of a priority."
RZA's rÃ©sumÃ© as a musical artist aside, Marc Abraham was moved by the young director's inspiration for the project. "My favorite thing about how this story happened for him is that he's been a kung fu fan since he was a little boy," Marc Abraham states. "What's genuine and beautiful about the history, the provenance of the movie is that here was this kid who escaped into movies who is now making the one he's dreamed about. This story is something that's been gestating within him forever."
By the time that Strike set up a meeting with distributor Universal Pictures, Marc Abraham was confident that his untested director was the man for the job. The producer explains his rationale: "RZA built the kind of group that had never been created before: a rap group that was nine people at one time, full of diverse personalities and independent thinkers. He had to have a good deal of leadership to make that work. He brought all of that to the table, but he didn't know how hard it was going to be. That's the good news. But I knew he would never wither under pressure; he was too determined."
Marc Abraham's partner, producer Eric Newman, saw this fire and drive in the film's director. He reflects: "Anyone who spends five minutes with RZA knows that he can do whatever he sets his mind to. If you're aware of his musical career, this is a guy for whom the word 'impossible' doesn't exist. It's not in his vocabulary. We were won over instantly. His vast knowledge of kung fu movies, his skill as an actor and organisational skills are astonishing."
That comfort level assuaged any worries about RZA's assuming triple duty on set. Eric Newman knew that there was only one choice for the simple Blacksmith who metamorphoses into The Man With the Iron Fists. Of the actor whose scene-stealing performances in Funny People and American Gangster were lauded by fans and critics alike, Eric Newman commends: "There was never any doubt in my mind. He's been so careful and smart about his acting career-the jobs that he's taken and the filmmakers he's worked with. There just wasn't a discussion that anyone else would play the Blacksmith. That was part of the deal, and RZA's great in the movie." Blossoms and Daggers: Casting the Action-Adventure
The denizens of and visitors to Jungle Village are a motley crew of animal clans and a coterie of lovely, but deadly, ladies. Casting the film would require a wide net that stretched from China and America to Australia and Vietnam. As RZA puts it: "The Man With the Iron Fists is not only about one character; it's based on many different characters coming together to this one location."
Cast as Jack Knife in the action-adventure was Oscar® winner Russell Crowe, who has been friends with RZA since they met on the set of the 2008 blockbuster American Gangster. During his time on set, he discussed the path to playing a roguish mercenary who has his own interests at heart: "Robert Fitzgerald and I did pretty much every working day together on American Gangster and got to know each other well. We connected mainly through song lyrics, and he's talked about this project since I met him. It's one of those things where you have mates that have their dream gig-the thing that they've been thinking about for a long time. You learn about it, but it's not often that they end up doing it. When it was looking more and more real, Robert Fitzgerald and I were coincidentally on set of another movie, called The Next Three Days. He calls me his big brother, and he said I really needed to be there, so I'm here."
Russel Crowe's character shares a name with his unique weapon. He tells a bit about the mystery man: "Jack Knife has come to China as a soldier, and he's become enraptured by the country. Part of that is due to the fact that he's addicted to opium." As the performer dug deeper into the period of the 19th century that RZA and Eric Roth were using for the film's backdrop, he became more disturbed by the events of the day. "I was quite frankly disgusted with what I found. I'd no idea that the British Empire flooded China with opium in order to control the populace and get a better trade balance. That was a bit of a shock, and I brought that to his attention."
Proud to see his friend excelling in a new role as a filmmaker, Russel Crowe reflects: "Roberty Fitzgerald's understood it more himself as he went on, day to day. You see him dealing with the cultural differences and language differences. He's been cool, calm and collected. He still has the respect of everybody."
RZA returns the compliment with a story that describes his level of respect for Russell Crowe. He says: "One of the people we used for the character study of Jack Knife was Ol' Dirty Bastard-so Russell Jones/Russell Crowe." Of infusing one of Wu-Tang Clan's founding members' attitude and mind-set into the movie, RZA reflects: "My cousin's not here anymore, but I wanted his spirit in the film. Russell Crowe and I talked about it, and he loved the idea."
Another favorite of Quentin Tarantino's, Kill Bill's Lucy Liu, came aboard as Madam Blossom, owner of the local brothel and de facto queen of Jungle Village. Lucy Liu explains her interest in joining the venture: "For some time, Robert Fitzgerald and I have been in each other's lives without intersecting. He wrote Oren Ishii's theme song for Kill Bill. But when he sent me Iron Fists and I read it, I saw how connected it was to so many of my favorite old Chinese movies. Robert Fitzgerald formulated his own ideas and compiled them into this completely entertaining amalgam, which I thought was fantastic. This was a gigantic project for him to take on, and I'm thoroughly impressed and proud of him."
The actress found her director a welcome partner in fleshing out one of the film's leads. In earlier drafts of the script, Madam Blossom is killed by one of Jungle Village's street urchins. Lucy Liu requested that her key fight scene be much more elevated and therefore more fun for the audience as well. She recalls: "As Robert Fitzgerald and I spoke more about the role, I said, 'If I'm going to participate in this and we're going to make it what I think this movie's going to be, then we need to have her fight...and I'm talking a full-on fight. If she's running this brothel and managing these women, then we should emphasise Madam Blossom's strength, especially against the backdrop of all these men from different animal clans. He was really open and excited about it, and when I got to the set in China, the fight director choreographed this elaborate fight sequence with Cung Le to help feature her power."
RZA appreciated the give-and-take with his lead actress. He says: "When I talked about the character with Lucy Lui, she was adamant about representing the power of female energy. I told her she could be assured that female energy would be represented in this film. If you notice, we have the big statue of the Buddha, but then we also have the big statue of the Guan, which is the female representation. We know that it takes yin and yang to come together, so the Black Widows are that yin and yang energy; they're not here to play. They are as pretty and innocent as you want them to be, until it's time to protect their own."
The Blacksmith's unlikely ally in this vicious world is Zen Yi, known to evildoers as The X-Blade. To portray X-Blade, RZA turned to actor Rick Yune, whom he has known for more than seven years. Rick Yune didn't hesitate when his friend asked the performer with a strong foundation in martial arts to consider joining his team. He offers: "RZA first spoke to me about Iron Fists around five years ago. That was during the time that I was producing a movie on my own, and I had a couple friends come help me out. Knowing that he was going through his own scenario and that I could help him was the impetus behind me wanting to do the project. On top of the story and being involved with talented people, it was the fact that this was his vision and he was tackling it on his own."
As the heir to the mantle of the Lion Clan, Zen Yi travels to Jungle Village when he learns that his father, Gold Lion, has been assassinated. There, he finds a kindred spirit in another lost soul, the Blacksmith. Rick Yune was astonished by the world that RZA and Eric Roth had created, one with intricate backstories for all of the characters. Rick Yune says: "You've never seen a world like this. You have Falcon Clans that fly, different clans of people that are coming together to control this village and all sorts of international characters that come out of nowhere. It's a great bridging of East and West in the world of cinema."
Cast as the Blacksmith's love interest, the brothel's Lady Silk, was The Hangover Part II's Jamie Chung. Marc Abraham explains Lady Silk's role in the action-adventure: "To buy the freedom of his beloved prostitute, the Blacksmith does what he has to do and builds weapons for bad guys. He's not proud of it, but he's justified it. In the end, he decides to free himself from all this and to do the right thing: to destroy those weapons and the people who have forced him to make them, and to hopefully free the woman he loves. Ultimately, Jamie Chung's character is in love with him, but not so much that she would sacrifice her freedom. She wants wealth, power and to get out. She's used him to some degree, but he's touched her."
Four-time mixed martial arts and kickboxing world champion Cung Le joins The Man With the Iron Fists as Bronze Lion, the henchman to his superior, Silver Lion. As a sanshou-trained martial artist, the Vietnam-born fighter has taken the world of MMA by storm. In his downtime, he's racked up a number of impressive action films. When he first met with RZA to discuss the project, the director already had him in mind for the role of Bronze Lion. Discussing how these movies have impacted popular culture, Chung Le reflects: "Everyone just sees the surface of MMA [mixed martial arts], and they forget where the roots are. The roots are from traditional kung fu, traditional martial arts. There had to be a foundation; there had to be some kind of root that the plant grows from. I hope audiences can see the whole picture, from traditional martial arts to mixed martial arts."
The Blacksmith's ultimate nemesis is Brass Body, brought to life by World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) superstar and current MMA heavyweight fighter David Bautista. The performer shares that his nearly invincible character-who is able to deflect any weapon by turning his skin into brass at will-is brutal inside and out. He says: "If you break Brass Body down, what he is really is a mercenary. In his opening scene, he's carrying the little kids around, but basically what he wants is money. He would kill his own mother for money."
There's never been a victim that Brass Body couldn't destroy, and when he first encounters the wrath of the man he is hired by Silver Lion to eliminate, the mercenary doesn't hesitate to go for the kill. Bautista explains that The X-Blade gives him a run for his money: "Brass Body is not used to being disappointed or failing. When he and The X-Blade fight, he starts to get irritated and take it personally. When he starts taking things personally, this is not just about money anymore. Now he's just pissed off."
Hong Kong native Byron Mann portrays Silver Lion, the ultimate conspirator who orders Gold Lion's execution. Brought up like a son to the elder statesman, Silver Lion erupts when he realises Gold Lion will replace him with his wayward son, Zen Yi. Mann explains the crux of the problem: "It's Cain and Abel, the prodigal son. It's the bastard-son syndrome. Yes, it's about money, but more than that, it's about recognition for Silver Lion. He has given everything to his clan his entire life, and to settle for second best? I don't think so."
Daniel Wu admits that he was drawn to the project's role of Poison Dagger because of his director. He says, "When I first met RZA, I told him that the Wu-Tang Clan was the soundtrack to my '90s experience. I also practiced kung fu as a kid. It was great to have rappers talking about kung fu and Shaolin and things that were a part of my culture and life-combined with my love of hip-hop music. When I found out that he was making this movie, I knew I wanted to be a part of it."
The actor appreciates the care with which the filmmakers have simultaneously constructed a movie that honors martial arts classics and offers a new take on the genre. Says Daniel Wu: "RZA has a vast knowledge of old-school kung fu movies, but then has a great knowledge of the new-style kung fu movies as well. Then he has his own ideas of what he wanted to put on top of that from years and years of being a fan. Combining all of those things with his sense of music and his tastes, he upgrades it to a whole new level."
It was crucial to RZA that he pay homage to legendary masters who helped to create the movies that have been a part of him since he was a boy. The director explains: "I hope fans appreciate this how I appreciate it. Chen Kuan Tai and Gordon Liu, those are heroes of mine. It was Gordon Liu, who I saw in the movie called 36th Chamber, that influenced the title of my album. He was this young monk who went to the temple to try to find martial arts and revenge himself. I told him that I wanted him to play the older monk [Abbot] that the Blacksmith goes to see. It struck him, and he agreed to do it."
When it came to the roles of the honored Gold Lion and the Blacksmith's beloved mother, Jane, RZA was just as vehement that other legends join the cast. He says: "With Chen Kuan Tai, when you listen to the Wu-Tang Clan, there's a song called 'Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing ta F*#@ Wit,' but it starts off with a sample that says 'Tiger Style.' That's from a Chen Kuan Tai movie. To have that from the music and then to get this guy-who I've watched 60 of his movies-come be in my movie is a great blessing for me. Then I got the legendary Pam Grier to come and show us some love."
Supporting the cast are Mc Jin (2 Fast, 2 Furious, Turning Point 2) as Zen Yi's man-at-arms, Chan; Andrew Lin (A Beautiful Life, Infernal Affairs II) as one-half of the infamous fighting duo, Gemini Male; Grace Huang (Love in Space, upcoming Lost for Words) as the lethal yin to his yang, Gemini Female; Telly Liu (What Women Want, Sophie's Revenge) as the coward Iron Lion; Xue Jing Yao (The Truth About Film School, A Reading of Tristan & Isolde) as the opportunistic Copper Lion; and Zhu Zhu (Shanghai Calling, upcoming Cloud Atlas) as Zen Yi's betrothed who longs for her beloved's return, Chi Chi.
French Baroque Meets China: The Design of Iron Fists
For the action-adventure's design inspiration, the filmmakers turned to production designer Drew Boughton, who has served as art director on such fare as Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The Expendables and Austin Powers in Goldmember. They agreed that the movie should reflect French baroque excess mixed with traditional Chinese architecture. Because the hub of activity in Jungle Village is the Pink Blossom, the look of the brothel would serve as the template for the movie's design decisions.
Eric Roth explains the team's logic: "Madam Blossom runs the Pink Blossom, which is the brothel where most all the business is done in town. It was built by Drew Boughton, who did a magnificent job creating this huge, multilayered structure. The Pink Blossom is where everyone goes in town, and this is the one spot where all the clans meet and they don't fight."
Drew Boughton appreciated his director's risk-taking when it came to their color-scheme decisions. He relays: "The color palette for the brothel is based on an intuitive idea about what is attractive. What is sex, and what is a brothel? If you look at photographs of Amsterdam, the red-light district is a lot of women in red window boxes-a lot of red light, magenta, pink and other stimulating colors. So our idea was to make the biggest, most excessive version of that."
The designer agreed with RZA that each animal clan and every room should own its signature colors. Outside of the Pink Blossom was a very dark township indeed. Shares Drew Boughton: "In Jungle Village, we have a sepia world outside, one drained of color and lifeless-a sad village. But when you get inside certain places, for example when you go inside the Lions' den, Bobby's brief was that it should read blue and gold. So we created blue and gold curtains, blue and gold carpet and a whole palette for that, which are strong colors. Similarly, the Dragon Inn has traditional Chinese colors of red and gold and Jack Knife's S&M-themed room is leopard print. When we go into the brothel rooms, they are a retreat from the outside world, which are grays and browns and taupes."
Unlike most sound stages, the sets in Fangyan Shiguliao Film Studios, Hengdian World Studios and Shanghai Image Maker were comprised of full interiors and full exteriors. This allowed RZA and cinematographer Chan Chi Ying's crew the ability to shoot the outside of a building and to feed into the inside of the same structure. As they were working within somewhat of a graphic-novel framework, the opportunities to make the sets look as realistic as possible served as a fine contrast.
Another set of which the team was proud was the Wolf Clan base, which served as the home for the wildest Jungle Village clan of them all. Complete with animal skins and human remains, the space was eeriest to the actors who howled inside of it. Offers Drew Boughton: "In the script, it was described as a demented fairy tale. You have guys in wolf heads, and they're known cannibals at the edge of town. They're not welcome in polite society, but they've been allowed to build a camp at the edge of it. This camp doesn't have doors and windows. It's a big tent built out of sticks and skeletons." He pauses: "If you try to go through their campsite, your chances of getting out the other side are pretty slim."
When the cast appeared on location, they were impressed by the size of the sets. Lucy Liu sums up: "The set is designed in a way that highlights continuity. There is a maze of doors, balconies and floors. Through those is an entryway into a chamber with leopard-skin walls and S&M chains. You turn the corner, and there's our 2nd unit filming their fight sequence for a different part of the movie. You turn yet another corner, and there's an entire brothel of girls in their colorful and seductive costumes waiting to be placed for the scene. Dancers on the stage, toward the back of the soundstage, rehearse a scene with customers who are gambling, drinking and carousing. When you walk behind the stairwell, it's Video Village, where A-unit is filming. This is a massive set."
This attention to detail and specificity of clan color extended to the outfits, the design of which was overseen by costume designer Thomas Chong. Recounts Liu: "The costumes were created very quickly but still had the color and style of those old Chinese movies from the '60s and '70s. They also emphasized colors to depict wealth and power. For example, Madam Blossom wears a lot of red and gold, which is usually associated with success in China." Harnessing Their Chi: Action and Stunts
When the filmmakers discussed who should serve as the film's martial arts choreographer, there was one name at the top of the list…the only who could deliver the many different styles that RZA envisioned. Director, choreographer and martial artist Corey Yuen was brought on to design the intricate fights and train the talent on wirework and styles.
RZA explains his vision: "I was meticulous about fighting styles because fight fatigue happens in a lot of films. I tried to make each fight scene have a twist of its own. You'll notice that when Brass Body's party fights Zen Yi, we went savage with it. With the Gemini Twins, we went Shaw Brothers with it. With Cung Le, we were able to add some of his sanshou, which is a style that he really uses. When the Blacksmith fights, he just goes crazy, and when Madam Blossom fights, we stuck to the more operatic martial arts films-Crouching Tiger-style in a way."
Yuen walks us through his decision-making process: "We asked ourselves how we could make a traditional Chinese kung fu film, using that traditional film style while making a whole new thing for people to see. We had to tie the actions into the drama, and for this film, we had to figure out what the relationship among the characters was. Then we designed their actions based on that."
Because many of his performers had a good deal of action experience under their belts, Yuen was able to tailor his instructions. While Cung Le and Bautista had used their knowledge for years of professional fights, Mann and Yune were also long trained in their specific styles of martial arts. Even Liu had spent eight months of intense training with Tarantino's team to prepare for her insane work in Kill Bill: Vol. 1.
This master of the martial arts cinematic world has spent decades creating films for audiences. Yuen reflects on what audiences unfamiliar with this genre can expect: "The younger generation will see The Man With the Iron Fists as a very new style of film, but it actually is a remake of classic Chinese films. Because many haven't seen the classic Chinese kung fu films before, they're going to see this as a whole new action film."
Le shares his experience with the master: "It was an honor to work with Corey Yuen, who wanted to make sure that we got out of this movie safe, so some of the dangerous moves are done by the stunt guys. I volunteered for some of the dangerous stuff, and I was able to execute it on one take, but at the same time the movie's much bigger than me wanting to do my own stunts. When we got in there, we did as much as we could and worked together as a team and remembered that it's not all about one person."
Though world renowned for his experience as an MMA fighter, Le had to adapt his skills with Yuen. He explains: "Every time I fight in mixed martial arts, I'm doing traditional martial arts kicks. When I got on the set of this movie, I knew I couldn't just be a mixed martial arts fighter. I needed to do 'traditional' martial arts with a wide range of different skills. We had to learn to use everything from a sword and spear to the claw styles of the Lion Clan."
The wirework took a bit of time for the heavyweight Bautista to get used to. He laughs: "The stuff that Corey's team came up with sometimes felt weird. They did a lot of stuff on wires, which was odd. But then you see it back on film, and you're like, 'That's freaking amazing. That looks so cool!'" The professional athlete realized he had to be a good sport about "minor" accidents on set. He recalls: "They dropped me a little hard once. But it's okay because it's as close as you can get to flying. The stuff that they've been able to do to make this fantasy world come alive was just absolutely amazing."
RZA knew that design would need to dovetail seamlessly into Yuen's choreography work. As an example, he shares the story of Zen Yi/The X-Blade's suit of weaponry: "About four years ago, I imagined a suit that no matter where somebody would grab, you would have a knife to protect you. So when I brought it to my production designer and to our costume designer, it took us at least about four months to figure it out. We thought of making it practical, and it was just a crazy idea brought to fruition." Hip-Hop and Classic Soul: Music of the Film
In early '90s Staten Island, RZA formed and produced for one of hip-hop's greatest rap groups of all time, the Wu-Tang Clan. Outside of his work with the Wu-Tang Clan, RZA famously scored music for such films as Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (for which he received a BAFTA nomination), additional music for Kill Bill: Vol. 2, Soul Plane and Blade: Trinity. Unexpectedly, the man who came up as a producer, rapper and instrumentalist didn't originally plan on scoring The Man With the Iron Fists.
With the titles of writer and director already on his plate, RZA planned on hiring a composer for The Man With the Iron Fists. He even entertained the thought of asking Quentin Tarantino to do it. (RZA was impressed with Tarantino's inspired choice of enlisting David Bowie for Inglourious Basterds, a film set in the 1940s). RZA finished shooting Iron Fists and used temp music as a placeholder while he figured out which direction he wanted the sound of the movie to go.
"Being a musician, everybody assumed I was going to score the film," elaborates RZA. "I reached out to Quentin, and he said, 'Of course you're going to score the film, Bobby.' It took us about eight months to write the music, but it was fun. Howard Drossin, who's worked on four or five things with me, helped me out." Drossin, who previously collaborated with RZA on the action film The Protector and the video game Afro Samurai, proved to be the ideal partner. Adds RZA: "We've created a score that complements the film and complements the genre where I'm coming from. Part of what makes the moviegoing experience enjoyable is the music."
The Man With the Iron Fists' unique score mixes a blend of hip-hop and classic soul. Calling upon his friends and collaborators in the music business, RZA was also able to create a soundtrack of songs that blends music from top artists such as the rock group The Black Keys, award-winning rappers Kanye West and Wiz Khalifa, music from Stax (an American record label famous for the creation of Southern soul and Memphis soul music styles), artists such as Isaac Hayes, and, of course, the legendary Wu-Tang Clan.
"I was mentored by Isaac Hayes and spent about three years with him while he taught me music progressions and we recorded music together," explains RZA. "He introduced me to people at Stax, and they came on board to help us out. The label gave me about 10 of their famous Stax cues, including songs from William Bell, Isaac Hayes and Mable John, which we have reorchestrated for the film."
Right before he began postproduction on his first movie, RZA had finished working with Kanye West. Shares the director: "After the success of 'Dark Fantasy,' I invited him to the editing room. I showed him the scene with Madam Blossom's girls in the tub, and he gave us a song for the film called 'White Dress.'"
RZA also recruited crooner Corinne Bailey Rae, who saw an early cut of the film and was touched by a particular scene; for it, she wrote the song "Chains." As well, he brought in famous Chinese singer Sally Yeh (who has been called "the Celine Dion of Hong Kong" and contributed music to such John Woo films as The Killer); The Black Keys, who worked with RZA and contributed the song "The Baddest Man Alive"; Wu-Tang members, including Ghostface Killah, Raekwon and Method Man, who are featured on several songs; and rappers Talib Kweli and Kool G Rap.
The director's long-standing relationships across the music industry aided him once again. He says: "We went back to Sony for some of the original Wu-Tang masters that I have equity in but didn't own. We took out a lot of stuff from the original tracks and reorchestrated them."
Additional character cues include synths for the villainous Silver Lion, a heroic theme for Zen Yi, and Isaac Hayes music to represent the Blacksmith. Concludes our writer/director: "Isaac Hayes was one of the masters of scores with films like Shaft. I pay homage to him by using some of his music and his influences for my character."