The RZA presented Yuen Woo-Ping with a lifetime achievement award at Fantastic Fest for his legendary career directing and choreographing martial arts movies. On stage, Master Woo-Ping asked RZA to come to the set of his next film. True Legend is the latest Woo-Ping film to enter RZA’s martial arts vocabulary. While it was screening, he sat with us to talk about his upcoming martial arts film The Man with the Iron Fist starring Russell Crowe.
Crave Online: What are your favorite Yuen Woo Ping movies?
RZA: Man, there’s too many to say my favorite but I love a lot of them. You’ve got Dance of the Drunken Mantis. Of course Drunken Master and Dance of the Drunken Mantis. You’ve got to check out films like The Buddist Fist. That’s a great one. Of course, Legend of a Fighter. That film right there, the fights in that film, I’ll watch that film like over 20 times. My whole family loves that film. We’ve got so many classics that we watch. Then when you start moving up to the ‘90s with Jet Li movies with the Once Upon A Time in China, then he kept going on and came out here and did The Matrix and Kill Bill for us and a few other great ones. He hasn’t stopped rocking the world with his style.
Crave Online: Will you ask him to choreograph The Man with the Iron Fist?
RZA: Man, if I could get something like that to happen, I’m going to ask. I know he’s a very busy man. He’s in high demand and this movie here, True Legend, I’ve got it on DVD of course. You know New Yorkers, they bootleg everything. I wish I could see it in 3D because you know it was in 3D in Asia. Anyway, this film is another great, great, great add on his collection. It’s the first film he directed in 13 years. Actually watching that film gave me more knowledge of what to do nowadays because his style has changed and progressed over the years. I just hope I do a good job. If I get him to help me, man, I’m already hitting a home run if I get him to help me.
Crave Online: Will you accept Master Woo-Ping’s offer to come work with him?
RZA: Yeah, yeah. If I can just drop in and watch him work and pick up some knowledge, if my time permits, I’m there.
Crave Online: The writer Vern has observed that we have less martial artists making movies now and more actors training just for the choreography of a given film. Do you think we’re losing the authentic trained martial artists in film?
RZA: I guess in some ways you could say that because it’s an act. Even myself, when you see me do martial arts in a film, I’m acting. One thing I think is whether you’re acting or not, when you even go through the training, you learn a discipline, you learn something. I watched Uma when she was doing Kill Bill. She picked up some knowledge whether she wanted to or not. She whipped herself into shape because she did it right after she had a baby. Whether you call her a black belt or a brown belt or whatever you want to call her, she had to pick up some knowledge to make the film look authentic. Now what I’m doing for my film, if I can talk about myself, what I am doing is I’m hiring real martial artists along with actors. So I think it should always be a blend. You should definitely always mix a few real guys in with some of the acting guys so that you can give the appreciation back to the real martial art world, but you’re also making a movie.
Crave Online: Russell Crowe is known for his extensive training. How into martial arts is he getting?
RZA: Well, we’re going to see. He’s a very intensive guy. He’s a unique individual, very smart dude. I don’t like talking about him too much because he shared a lot of personal things with me and we spent a lot of personal time together. I spent some weeks with him out on his farm in Australia, right? Some mornings he’ll wake me up, “Hey Bobby, come on, let’s go do some yoga.” I don't know what to say about that but we sit there, we do it and we get a good workout, we get a good sweat. He did some moves I was like, “Damn, Russell,” he had to show me how to do this shit. So he’s a serious man. He’s a master of his craft and he gets really involved with what he does so I’m sure he’s going to get really involved in this and he’s going to deliver something to us that’s going to please us.
Crave Online: Will you still have an opportunity to do fantasy wirework?
RZA: You’ve got to include that of course but you look at Crouching Tiger sometimes, one thing about wirework, my opinion, is that years later it looks like wirework. On the first few watches it’s like yeah, cool, cool but five years later, it starts looking like Peter Pan and sh*t. So how can you do it and make it last the test of time. I haven’t figured that out yet but I’m looking to try to figure that out as well as a director.
Crave Online: Are you thinking period or modern day?
RZA: I think mine is based in a unique time period and unique place. My movie is fiction. I will just say that. It is fiction so I got a chance to play around.
Crave Online: Would it incorporate the theme of avenging a master and training?
RZA: Well, we always see those in the kung fu flicks but I think one edge I have, one additive I’ve got I think is the quest for freedom. What about that quest of man? Sometimes you watch a movie like 36th Chamber which is one of my favorite kung fu films, you’ll see that his quest for revenge, he actually found himself on a quest of enlightenment. He didn’t plan on the enlightenment. He planned on learning how to fight for revenge and the enlightenment was a blessing that actually helped him change the rest of the world. His lust for revenge caused us to be enlightened. That’s more unique than just fighting somebody, killing him and he’s dead. Somebody’s going to come kill you next, right?
Crave Online: You must have thought of a 37th and 38th chamber though.
RZA: I’ve got a couple of ideas. There is actually a training sequence in my film. Being it’s fiction, I get to play with it and I think I’ll play with it in a way that we appreciate. When we go and see The Matrix and the idea is he put a chip in his mind and he went to this virtual world and in one day he knew kung fu. But we believed it. We believed that if you put a chip in your head, a computer chip, connected to your neurosystem, you’ll be able to learn something instantly like a computer does. A computer makes music for us and it doesn’t f***ing have fingers. There’s something about Chi energy that I have a theory about Chi energy that all martial artists say. They say Chi energy should be able to extend from your body to your weapon. And if you are a master, that means this weapon is more like an extension of your arm. That particular theory I’m working on. It has to become an extension of your own body and how you do that mentally. How does Bruce Lee deliver 700 or 1000 lbs. or force in a one inch punch? What is he really hitting you with? Is he hitting you with his fist or something else? That’s the myth about martial arts anyway, when you see these guys breaking rocks or you see young kids laying on nails. What’s really protecting them? I tap into that in my film.
Crave Online: Will you do the score?
RZA: I don't know. I don't think so. I’ll say this, I’d rather say this now. I’ve asked, I’ve tried to hire somebody to handle the music for me and his name is Quentin Tarantino. So he said if his time permits, he’d handle the music. I did the music for him, and I was like, “Yo, do the music for me. You have to help me out with the music so I at least know that it’s in good hands.”
Crave Online: What’s your perspective on the Tony Jaa situation?
RZA: Tony’s amazing, man. I had a chance to meet him personally, hang out with him. I hear a lot of rumors about his situation and things like that. All I know is that he’s a pure talent, a unique talent for the world. One day, I told Tony, I met him about five years ago, I said, “Between five and 10 years, we’re going to do something together” and I’m still pushing for that.
Crave Online: You did on the American release of The Protector.
RZA: I mean, I think we’re going to get on the screen together. When they did The Protector, I was supposed to have gone over and done a cameo appearance. I was so busy and Thailand is such a long flight and I didn’t do it and I regretted it.
Crave Online: But do you think he’ll come back?
RZA: Yeah, I think Tony’ll come back. I think Tony loves what he does. He might not love who he does it for.