Eli Roth: ‘Iron Fists’ will push kung-fu in ‘character’ direction


In about a month, moviedom will see one of the stranger hybrids you can imagine: the only known cinema offering in history — and certainly the only martial-arts flick — ever to be directed by a rap-music pioneer, written and produced by a horror impresario and star the actor Russell Crowe. Did we mention it’s a martial-arts flick?

The film, which Universal Pictures will bring out Nov. 2, is “The Man With the Iron Fists,” and it tells a story of a Chinese feudal blacksmith who must defend his village from encroaching barbarians. Wu Tang Clan member RZA directed from a script by Eli Roth. It was shot in China, part of a wave of American entertainment heading to the Asian nation. Lucy Liu is in it too. So is Pam Grier.

But lest it sound like the world’s largest genre/ego stew, Roth tells The Times that there was a method to the mash-up madness.


“We wanted to make a movie that showed our love for those old kung-fu movies, but we also wanted to make it modern, with hip-hop,” he said. “So, you know, a guy has magic blades, that kind of thing.”

(The trailer, which you can watch here, offers a concrete example, to wit: “When you forge a weapon, you need three things: the right metal, temperatures over 1,400 degrees, and someone who wants to kill. Here in Jungle Village, we got all three.”)

Directing offered a new challenge for the Staten Island, N.Y., Grammy winner, who as he began prepping the movie told The Times that this presented a different hurdle than making music. “It’s 10 times the focus, 10 times the pressure of putting out an album,” he said. “Also 10 times the blame.’

At a point in the development process, Quentin Tarantino, whom Roth has worked with, agreed to present the film — something that wouldn’t have happened, Roth said, “if the writing hadn’t been up to a certain level.”

The “Hostel” helmer said that in crafting the “Fists” script he paid particular attention to elements of human behavior. The desire came from years of watching the genre’s classic titles and finding them lacking in a certain regard.

“Kung-fu movies don’t care about character,” he said. “It drives me crazy. Why don’t they add more of those layers?”


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