De facto leader of rap icons, Wu-Tang Clan, RZA is a legend. Known for his unmistakable vocal style and flow, since the group formed in 1992, he, like many of his bandmates, has consistently proved himself to be one of the most interesting figures in all of rap. Not only is he an incredible rapper with brilliant lyricism, but RZA’s offstage persona has also helped to endear him to fans worldwide.
A legendary producer and Five Percenter, RZA is exactly the kind of guy you’d love to have a coffee with. He has opinions on everything and is a truly remarkable character. However, the most famous thing RZA is known for is his love of kung-fu.
After all, Wu-Tang Clan took their name from the 1983 Honk Kong martial arts film, Shaolin and Wu Tang and used several samples from the film on their debut album, 1993’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).
In fact, their rap troupe’s debut album also took its title from two martial arts classics, Bruce Lee’s magnum opus, 1973’s Enter the Dragon and 1978’s The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. The latter is a heavily fictionalised version of the life of legendary monk San Te, who trained under the famous general Chi Shan in the early 18th Century, a massive figure in martial arts lore.
RZA as an artist and a human being is deeply tied to martial arts cinema. He scored the soundtrack for Quentin Tarantino’s martial arts-inspired flicks Kill Bill: Volume 1 and Kill Bill: Volume 2, in 2003 and 2004, respectively. Then, in 2012, RZA released his directorial debut, The Man with the Iron Fists, which was written in collaboration with Eli Roth.
Set in 19th century China, the plot is centred around a cast of lone warriors, who unite to face their common enemy and save their home of ‘Jungle Village’. Although the film polarised opinion upon release, the homage RZA paid to the classic martial arts films was clear.
In 1999, RZA also penned the soundtrack for Jim Jarmusch’s surreal outing, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. Forrest Whittaker starred as the mysterious protagonist, who follows the ancient samurai code, outlined in Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s book of legendary teachings, Hagakure. Interestingly, parallels were drawn between it and Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1967 masterpiece, Le Samouraï. RZA even had a brief cameo in the film, starring as a samurai in camouflage.
If RZA’s connection to martial arts is not now crystal clear, one only has to mention that his character in Californication, the pastiche of himself, the rapper-turned-actor was named Samurai-Apocolaypse, which says it all.
Given this link and the huge fandom of all things martial arts and East Asian, RZA has been asked on numerous occasions about what his favourite kung-fu films are. In a 2017 interview with the A.V. Club, he revealed all.
Unsurprisingly, the first film he mentions is Enter the Dragon, the late Bruce Lee’s last film. An American and Hong Kong production, this was the film where martial arts films were truly put on the map, aided by the blistering skill of Lee. It is one of the most culturally significant films of all time. It expertly blended martial arts with espionage and blaxploitation, effectively creating a new genre that would become huge in gaming and anime in the years to comes.
RZA then mentioned Five Deadly Venoms, the cult martial arts film from 1978. Labelling it a “masterpiece” RZA said that “oughta make you an automatic fanatic.” Interestingly, dialogue from the film is sampled in ‘Da Mystery Of Chessboxin” from Enter the Wu-Tang and ‘Intro (Shaolin Finger Jab) from The W. It’s even referenced in the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad in Kill Bill.
RZA’s next pick is Donnie Yen’s 1993 movie, Iron Monkey, a classic in Hong Kong cinema. He also picks Shaolin vs Lama, which has also been sampled by various Wu-Tang members at various points, including Raekwon and Gza.
RZA’s final choice is, of course, 36 Chambers. The influence of this film on RZA’s career has been massive and needs no real discussion. However, explaining the film’s importance, the rap master said: “That’s the one where you understand the epic nature of martial arts films”.
Watch RZA talk about martial arts films below.
RZA’s five favourite kung-fu films:
- Enter the Dragon
- Five Deadly Venoms
- Iron Monkey
- Shaolin vs Lama
- 36 Chambers