RZA's affinity for martial arts films has been well known since Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) changed hip-hop in 1993. So, when RZA described Quentin Tarantino's mentorship over his budding movie-directing career, he put it in kung-fu terms.
"When I met Quentin Tarantino, I kind of met my, as we say in martial arts, my Sifu," RZA told MTV News, using the Chinese word for "master." "I asked him if I could become a student of his. That's a very humbling thing, especially for the RZA," he noted.
The Wu-Tang mastermind co-wrote, directed and starred in this fall's "The Man With the Iron Fists," which also stars Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu and boasts a predictably killer soundtrack featuring Kanye West and the Black Keys. RZA made a cameo in Jim Jarmusch's "Ghost Dog" in the late '90s and worked on music for action maestro John Woo, too. But befriending the "Pulp Fiction" writer/director took things to a new level.
RZA, whose hip-hop aliases have included "the Scientist" and "the Abbot," said, "My fans look up to me as a teacher, but [Quentin] is such an encyclopedia and such a genius of film, I couldn't find a better teacher. I always tell people: I've been taught by the master."
RZA came up with the action-packed story of a blacksmith in feudal China, which he polished with fellow Tarantino buddy Eli Roth.
"After some years of hanging around and picking up the knowledge shall we say, I felt I was ready," he recalled. "I went to him and asked him. Me and Eli Roth had a screenplay we wrote, and Quentin gave me the blessing: 'Yeah, I think you're ready. You guys can go ahead and live it out.' "
The cast soon expanded to include Crowe (as "Jackknife"), Liu ("Madam Blossom") and blaxploitation legend Pam Grier, who famously starred as the title character in Tarantino's "Jackie Brown." RZA himself appears, but the character named "The Abbott" is actually played by Chia Hui Liu, who had roles in both "Kill Bill" movies as well as a 1978 classic we're pretty sure RZA has seen: "The 36 Chambers of Shaolin."
RZA credited Universal Pictures for taking a chance on his directorial debut, which is due November 2. "Fortunately and luckily, the new regime at Universal is a really good group of people," he said. "This isn't the typical Hollywood thing where you've got guys who've already proven themselves, but I think this regime felt compelled to give an artist that shot. And I was that artist. And here we are with 'The Man With the Iron Fists.' "