Learn About Dope Kung Fu Movies From The Wu-Tang Clan's RZA
RZA is many things: rapper, producer, kung fu aficionado, and director. These many aspects of his personality don’t contrast at all—instead, they complement one another perfectly. On Saturday night, June 25th, the founder and lead producer of the Wu-Tang Clan showed off his love for the film genre at the Metrograph Theater on the Lower East Side, where he hosted a double feature screening of two classic kung fu films: Five Element Ninjas and House of Traps, both of which came out in 1982, when RZA was just 13 years old.
It’s fitting that RZA was hosting a double feature, since his exposure to kung fu occurred in a similar way.
“New York in the ‘70s and early ‘80s had that quality of being able to double-treat your movies,” he told the crowd. “My first [kung] fu movie that I ever saw was a double-feature starring Bruce Lee as Kato, which was playing alongside with a Jim Kelly movie called Black Samurai. That was the first martial arts film I saw.”
Both movies are heavy on the action: Five Element Ninjas, centers around a Chinese martial arts school that is destroyed by a team of elite Japanese ninja; House of Traps, based on a 19th-century Chinese novel called The Seven Heroes and Five Gallants, is about a group of thieves who get sent to a booby-trapped house to steal a valuable jade antique from the emperor. Unsurprisingly, both films feature a great deal of blood, gore, and hand-to-hand combat.
During the post-film discussion, RZA showcased his encyclopedic knowledge of kung fu, answering questions from the audience with a skill and passion of an expert. He would regularly make references to other kung fu films, citing actors, dates, directors, and little-known facts with ease.
In high school, he said, he and his cousin/eventual fellow Wu-Tang Member Ol’ Dirty Bastard would cut class together to watch kung-fu movies. The genre has a clear influence on Wu-Tang’s sound and aesthetic: the group is named after the 1983 film Shaolin and Wu Tang; their debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) was heavily influenced by kung-fu aesthetics, and many of the songs featured samples from kung-fu movies.
Although the films look dated to a twenty-first century viewer, their innovative nature—and their influence on RZA in particular—is clear. “Being a black kid and growing up in America, I recall not having an outlet of historical events,” he said. “I was a big fan of Hercules and the Greeks and the Romans, but when it came to the black experience, every film was based in slavery or based in the ‘70s and exploitation.”
Kung fu provided a different experience. RZA cites 36 Chambers of Shaolin as one of the most influential films for him, both personally and professionally, discussing a philosophy that particularly resonated with him: “There was a scene where [the protagonist] walks into the 35th chamber. The five tones deafen the ear; the five colors blind your eye. Without wisdom, there is no gain… My first album was called 36 Chambers—in that movie, there was this young man who had a chance to be at the highest level.” Props to kung fu movies for inspiring one of hip-hop’s very greatest.
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