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RZA and Lucy Liu find pain and beauty in 'The Man With the Iron Fists'

RZA
RZA
Universal Pictures

RZA may be best known as a member of the rap group Wu-Tang Clan, but he has also carved out a career for himself as an actor and filmmaker. He directed and co-wrote the 2012 martial-arts action flick “The Man With the Iron Fists,” which also stars Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu

RZA and Lucy Liu at the New York City press junket for "The Man With the Iron Fists"
Carla Hay

In the movie, a band of warriors, assassins, and a rogue British soldier are on the hunt for a fabled treasure of gold. They descend upon a village in feudal China, where a humble blacksmith looks to defend himself and his fellow villagers. Here is what RZA and Liu said at the New York City press junket for “The Man With the Iron Fists.”

How were the differences of filming in China, compared to Hollywood?

RZA: It was tough in China. Out of all the people, maybe 17 of us spoke English. But all the heads of the department were bilingual. I had a great translator named Max Yang with me.

He’s a genius. He’s a very, very smart guy. He’s going to be a director himself one day, I’m sure. So he was able to translate very articulately for me any thought in my head.

And we prepared. I spent over 150 days in China. And my team of people got to know me, got to know my rhythm. So when it came, when I needed them to push harder, they pushed harder. And when I knew it was time to ease up and cut the day at 1 o’clock, which only happened once or twice, I was able to do that.

Culturally, it was a different vibe. It was just a lonely situation. You’re not only not seeing any blacks in China, you’re not seeing any whites either. You know what I mean.

I remember days going in the elevator to my room, and there’d maybe be a white guy. And we’d be like, “Hey, what’s going on?” We’d start talking about sports or something. And while we were there, Ford was actually building a car plant. They brought a lot of people over, people on the high level, to run it for them.

And I met a few Wu Tang fans at a Japanese restaurant. It was like, “RZA? What are you doing in China, man?” I was like, “I’m doing a movie. What are you guys doing?” “We work for Ford.”

It was lonely. My wife wasn’t able to come over because of the duties of home. I don’t depend on maids and stuff like that to take care of my children. I’d rather have my wife do it. She didn’t make it over [to China], so I was really lonely. Everybody else’s wives came over. My editor, my assistant editor’s fiancée came over. That was the one that really got me, like, “Yo!” Everybody had love.

And for one week, maybe, the only time I had love was when I got really super-duper lonely, and I didn’t turn the TV on, and I had a keyboard, so I just started making music. And then it was the week that Jamie Chung came in to be Lady Silk, and I just started looking at her like she was my woman. And then we ended up going out to a club one night, and she had a male friend with her — I don’t know if it was her boyfriend … and I wanted to fight the guy. The other actors had to stop me.

Liu: Everyone was fawning all over you.

RZA: No, I was lonely. It was very internal, shall we say.

What were some of the challenges you faced in making “The Man With the Iron Fists”?

RZA: There were so many. Even having the level of talent trust me and to have a mutual trust going back and forth was a challenge, because I’m not just playing with any Joe Schmo. I’ve got the best in the world coming to represent with me, and you want to protect that and make sure that everybody feels comfortable, that they’re not being made into buffoons or made a joke of.

When you read a script or a screenplay, nobody is going to get the full imagination of what you want, except the person who wrote it. He [the screenwriter] knows everything he meant. But people don’t know everything you mean, so hopefully, they trust you, and hopefully, you can get what you need.

And in our case, I think it was real collaborative on ideas, which helped the trust. I trusted the talent enough that when Lucy made suggestions to me that women power must really be shown here. I’d been to the temples and seen the power of the big Buddha and the power of the Kwan [Yin], which is the female Buddha, so I was already in tune.

But for her to come with ideas that were, “This woman has to be like this.” She was 100 percent correct. I still had to check with the producers and my other writer [Eli Roth]. It was all good though. It was real challenging.

For more info: "The Man With the Iron Fists" website

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