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Hip-Hop and Martial Arts: The Man with the Iron Fists

It is not often that the combination of two cultures can be described as “incredible,” “remarkable” and “dope” at the same time. Can you imagine a world where hip-hop and martial arts are essentially two parts of the same whole? That is the picture that hip-hop mogul and Wu-Tang Clan founder RZA is hoping to paint with The Man with the Iron Fists, which is releasing Friday Nov. 2.

(L to R) RUSSELL CROWE as Jack Knife, RZA and ELI ROTH on the set of The Man With the Iron Fists, PHOTO COURTESY UNIVERSAL PICTURES

Iron Fists tells the story of the Blacksmith (RZA) living in Jungle Village in China. Jungle Village has its fair share of interesting characters, and when outside forces threaten his home, Blacksmith joins forces with assassins, bandits and more to defend it, forcing him to construct unusual weapons. The film has many classic kung fu movie influences, but also comic book influences such as X-Men (Brass Body is based on Colossus).

RZA (née Robert Diggs) consulted the likes of Quentin Tarantino (Inglorious Basterds, Kill Bill) and Eli Roth (Grindhouse) to develop what would eventually become Iron Fists. “This movie is inspired by the whole spectrum of martial arts films,” he said at a roundtable discussion with several college newspapers (including the Daily Free Press), “from the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, and then given an American sensibility for the future.”

This future included hip-hop, which is heavily featured in the movie. The soundtrack features new music from Kanye West, the Wu-Tang Clan, and more. When asked why he felt martial arts and Hip Hop worked well together, RZA mentioned escapism.

“I could never exactly put my finger on it,” he said, “but I know for me, personally, watching martial arts movies [as a kid] gave me an escape from my everyday poverty. Cinema does that for us, and I think music and cinema have a similar wavelength.”

RZA directed, scored and co-wrote the movie, but he also stars in it alongside Russell Crowe (A Beautiful Mind, American Gangster) as Jack Knife, Lucy Liu (Kill Bill Vol. 1, Charlie’s Angels) as Madame Blossom, Dave Bautista as Brass Body and Cung Le (Tekken) as Bronze Lion. When asked how he dealt with the different cast members’ personalities, he compared his experiences to his days working with Wu-Tang. In particular, he compared conflicting martial arts teachings from Bautista and Le to tensions between Method Man and Raekwon. “I was like, ‘Damn, this is some Meth and Rae [stuff],’” he said as the room burst into laughter.

I asked RZA how his prior knowledge and experience in martial arts helped him with the film.

“I’m more of a mental martial artist, he said. “I study the philosophies, I read the books. I just want to know what the man is thinking when he’s going to do snake style? What’s the theory behind the techniques? I brought that to the film. You won’t find the classic training sequences in the film. The training sequences are the way I train.”

The Man with the Iron Fists hits theatres on Friday, November 2.

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