Kung Fu hip hop: the legend continues
The Man with the Iron Fists carries on an unlikely hybrid
For one of hip-hop’s most revered figures to direct and star in his own martial-arts movie might seem like an unusual example of multitasking in the eyes of music fans and filmgoers alike.
But aficionados of the rapper and producer known as RZA — whose movie The Man with the Iron Fists hits theatres this weekend, albeit without an early screening for press — know that this career move was inevitable.
That’s because RZA’s admiration for kung-fu cinema has long been obvious in his work with the WuTang Clan.
One early indication came with the arrival of the Staten Island supergroup’s 1993 debut, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), an album whose very name referenced The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, a chopsocky classic originally released by the Shaw Brothers Studio in 1978.
Indeed, it’s more accurate to see The Man with the Iron Fists as the culmination of a long relationship between hip-hop and martial arts. Rooted in the popularity of kung-fu movies with African-American audiences in the 1970s, this shared history has many other key moments, some of which may be less honourable than others.
SPECIAL ED SHOWS OFF HIS MOVES (1990):
In “The Mission,” an early example of a rap video getting amped up with martial-arts action, the Brooklyn MC battles a villain with an eye patch. When other methods fail against his adversary’s flying fists and feet, Special Ed decides to beat his opponent “Flatbush style,” which mostly involves punching him in the head.
VANILLA ICE GIVES IT UP FOR THE TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (1991):
The reptilian crew’s second big-screen adventure gets mad awesome when the Iceman drops his “Ninja Rap” in praise of our four green heroes. All together now: “Go ninja, go ninja, go!”
THE PHARCYDE TAKE STREET FIGHTER TO THE NEXT LEVEL (1994):
Though the Jean-Claude Van Damme big-screen adaptation of the arcade classic Street Fighter was notoriously lousy, the clip for “Pandemonium” — a tasty soundtrack contribution by the Pharcyde — fulfilled the fantasies of anyone who ever longed to enter a Sega Genesis and do battle with eight-bit baddies.
JET LI STARS WITH DMX IN ROMEO MUST DIE (2000):
This hit heralded a wave of action flicks that paired movie tough guys with musicworld gangstas. The trend would reach its nadir two years later with Half Past Dead, a movie that confirmed the only thing worse than Steven Seagal’s singing was Ja Rule’s acting.
RZA MAKES MUSIC FOR KILL BILL VOL. 1 (2003):
Though not RZA’s first movie score (he also did Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai), his hard-hitting work here helped forge a fortuitous alliance with Quentin Tarantino, whose name graces The Man With the Iron Fists as “presenter.”
CEE-LO GREEN COVERS “KUNG FU FIGHTING” (2008):
Carl Douglas’s 1974 novelty hit about some folks whose fists were “fast as lightning” has been covered many times. Besides Cee-Lo’s mellifluous rendition for the soundtrack of Kung Fu Panda, listeners may also know it via a Eurodance version by Bus Stop and Tom Jones’ cover for the Jackie Chan movie Supercop. Surely Lil Wayne will not rest until he’s had a crack at it.
KUNG FU HIP-HOP IS RELEASED IN THEATRES IN CHINA (2008):
Though most of this recent Hong Kong production is merely an Asian-flavoured knockoff of the Step Up series, it does deliver on the promise of its title with some of the most heavy-duty dance-fighting since the video for “Beat It.”
MC HAMMER LAUNCHES MMA CLOTHING LINE (2010):
Who knew that the man behind “U Can’t Touch This” now does management, marketing and build-branding for MMA fighters? He even makes clothes for athletes and fans, though when it comes to striking fear into the hearts of your enemies, Alchemist Clothing’s line of garish T-shirts is no substitute for Hammer pants.
Uma Thurman in 2003’s Kill Bill Vol. 1. The score was composed by hip-hop star RZA, who also did Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai.
Actor-director RZA, above, in The Man With the Iron Fists, which opens Friday but wasn’t pre-screened for critics. Cee-Lo Green, left, sings his cover of "Kung Fu Fighting" for 2008’s Kung Fu Panda.