After spending a lifetime watching and studying classic martial arts films, Wu Tang Clan's RZA got to finally make his own kung fu movie with 2012's The Man with the Iron Fists, which he directed, co-wrote, produced and starred in. The actor-filmmaker returns to reprise his role as the title character Thaddeus, while co-writing and producing the sequel The Man with the Iron Fists 2. I had the good fortune to speak with the actor filmmaker over the phone, before this sequel arrives on Blu-ray and DVD April 14 from Universal Studios Home Entertainment.
The sequel picks up long after the events of The Man with the Iron Fists, where Thaddeus is found near death, literally drifting past a 19th Century village where he is saved by a miner's (Dustin Nguyen) family. As he heals from his wounds, Thaddeus expresses his desire to find peace, but it becomes quickly clear that he is definitely in the wrong place. The town is being torn apart by a group of residents who dare to oppose the wealthy mine owner Master Ho (Carl Ng) and his deadly group of soldiers who will cut down anyone who opposes them. With the help of Thaddeus and his skills in crafting weapons, the miner unites his people to take back their town. Take a look at what RZA had to say in our conversation that runs the gamut from classic Shaw Brothers films to future projects and much more.
I was a huge fan of the first one, so I was really glad to hear that this was moving forward. I really enjoyed it, so congrats.
RZA: Oh, thank you.
Did you always have an idea for the sequel when you were making the first one? Can you talk a bit about your writing process with (co-writer) John Jarrell?
RZA: We made The Man with the Iron Fists with a whole story and a universe around him, so there was always a chance to make a sequel, because there were a bunch of ideas that lead to the original story. But we actually kind of moved our story further down, me and Jarrell, we moved it down to maybe five years, maybe longer, since Thaddeus was in Jungle Village. We wanted to see what he would be up to, after living in Asia for awhile, and going through his life as a blacksmith, a guy who had also killed people and had become, not a hero, but an unsung hero. Who would he be? We thought maybe he would be a guy who needs to find himself again. He started out in the first one as a monk who found himself and cut his hair, and then he turns into this guy who makes weapons for killing people, to the point where he ended up killing people. So we're trying to say that he's trying to find self-redemption. When me and John got together, we figured out a way to set this thing in a place and a town where this character could end up, like maybe he's like Shane. He ends up in this town, and hopefully in this town, he'll learn lessons to educate himself and maybe he'll find his redemption. Writing with John was cool, funny and tough. He's a different individual (Laughs).
One thing that I've always loved about old-school kung fu movies, which you're obviously a big fan of as well, like The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is one of my favorites. They always have the same kinds of sensibilities as a Western. You see that in this one as well, this guy coming into this troubled town. Would you say you're as influenced by the Western genre than you are by classic martial arts films?
RZA: Oh, definitely. The spaghetti Western genre is definitely one of favorites. Martial arts is, of course, my favorite genre, and mafia is one of my favorite genres, which, to me, is like a combination of martial arts and spaghetti Westerns, you know? But yeah, spaghetti Westerns, I love those kinds of movies, and I always research those kinds of movies. I've been researching them a lot, whenever I get into my own creative process.
I saw that you shot this in Thailand, as opposed to the first where you shot in Shanghai. Can you talk about finding the right location, and this village has a very distinct look to it. How much scouting went in to finding the right places to shoot?
RZA: The cool thing about it is our director Roel (Reiné), we've both been to Thailand before, but he's been deep into the caves. He was able to send some photos of ideas he had. When I wrote the first screenplay, before John and I had to go back in and figure it out, I think I had it more like we were heading to the North. I was going to the cold, but when Roel showed me this fishing village in all of these pictures, he said, 'No, maybe we should have our character travel to the South.' So I went back to the old Shaw Brothers movies, where they have North Shaolin and South Shaolin. So, basically, he's heading to the South Wu Chi Temple, to redeem himself, and that leads you to Thailand, but maybe it's not Thailand yet. Maybe it's still China before all the countries starting splitting off.
You also composed all of the music for this, and I was a big fan of that as well. Can you talk about the sensibilities you wanted to bring to the sequel, especially for these big action set pieces?
RZA: Once again, I had the chance to collaborate with Howard Drossin. He's one of my favorite collaborators when it comes to writing scores. We've done about four or five films together, and we have a shorthand of communication. On this one, we wanted to get more of the drum sounds into the scenes, like when the characters are walking, you'll get just the drums and the guitar like that. We didn't do as much soul music as the first one. The first one was soul-music driven. This one we kind of loosened up and had spaghetti Western with even a little bit of grass root. Even though we weren't using like banjo, it had that energy.
There are some great Hong Kong legends in this. Did you have a list of people you wanted to work with, or were you not as involved in the casting this time around?
RZA: I wasn't totally involved. As a producer, they would of course run the cast by me, but I knew we had a chance to get Dustin (Nguyen). There's another buddy of mine, at the time I was working with Sung Kang, doing a TV show together, and I mentioned that Dustin may be a potential guy in the film. He kind of reminded me the history of Dustin. I was glad he came on as Li Kung. I think that was great casting. Out of the five or six people we had to choose from, I'm glad we chose him. Cary (Hiroyuki Tagawa), when he came on board, I think Roel brought him to the table, but as soon as he brought him, I kind of geeked out. I remember him from Mortal Kombat, and he's been in so many cool films over the years, I've watched him as a fan. To get a chance to work with him, that was really cool. He was one of the joys of the film, just talking to him about the movies he's been in. One of my favorite things about this movie is getting the chance to work with him.
You have a project in the works now called Mr. Right. Can you say anything about who you play in that?
RZA: In Mr. Right, I play a character called Shotgun Steve (Laughs). Listen, I've got to say, working with Sam Rockwell, Anna Kendrick, ace, ace. They're aces. I got a chance to have some fun that I normally don't have a chance to on our films. I don't do comedies. I did Funny People, so that was the last time I had fun. This one gave me the chance to have fun, just go out there and have fun. Don't take it serious, don't hold that face, just f---kin let it go. It was a release for me.
Are you talking about doing another sequel for this, or do you have any other ambitions for making more projects in the martial arts genre?
RZA: Yeah, I want to definitely continue to help the martial arts genre be in the Hollywood world. I want to take the needle as far as we can take it. We have a lot of ideas in development that we think will be pleasing to the fans. You know, I'm glad we have the El Rey network now, you know what I mean? They show martial arts on Thursdays and sometimes on the weekends. They show classics. I think we could use some more martial arts films in the modern library, and I'm striving to make that happen.
I try to watch El Rey on Thursday's whenever I can. There are so many amazing films, some I haven't seen, some I have.
RZA: Yeah man! We need some new ones. It's great that we've got a bunch from the 70s and 80s and some from the 90s, which are all subtitled. One thing I want to point out to you is that now we have a generation of English-speaking Asian brothers from many countries, whether it's from China, Thailand, we have a generation of people who can communicate and have that skill level, so that gives us a better chance than the old dubbed films or the ones where you've got to read the subtitles. We can actually cast good actors and good martial artists with good, clear English-speaking. That's good for us, for our market.
That's my time. Thanks so much, RZA.
RZA: Thanks, Brian. I appreciate it.