I thought of writing about my experience this week working on a book bus in the devastated Rockaways. I’m going to hold off on that until I figure out the right way to do that and write somewhat of a movie review for perhaps the first time on this blog. I went to a movie to escape my stress and got that with ‘Man With the Iron Fists.’ Quentin Tarantino had a hand in this, and the ultra violence is similar to the Kill Bill stuff, kind of fast and ridiculous. To me it’s somehow so fantastical that it’s not disturbing. But if you couldn’t stomach Kill Bill, skip this one. Also if you’re a feminist, appalled by vice, sensitive to race issues, and are politically correct that’s you’re warning. Although I got a good escape from this, had interesting thoughts, believe RZA stayed true to Wu-tang philosophy, I do think this could this be considered a bold movie.
First I’ll write up what I know about the Wu-Tang. They have a huge following and their nationwide fame came about in 1993 I believe when the Album 36 Chambers went huge. This album had classics on it such as C.R.E.A.M. (cash rules everything around me), Method Man, Protect Your Neck, Chess-Boxing, Simple, Shame on a N—, and more. In my mind it’s one of the rare music albums that every song is interesting to listen to. I believe Wu-Tang had 12 rappers including the RZA, who rapped or mixed in varying capacities. Basically 36 Chambers was so popular they decided to make solo venture albums. RZA. Method Man, GZA , Old Dirty Bastard (RIP), or others made solo albums that was approved by the whole group. Several albums had the Wu-Tang iconic image and stamp of approval. And the mixes have a distinct similar sound, as a result in the heyday, maybe 1993 to 2000 hundreds of tracks were laid down. I think that setup was very unique thing in music world. There are plenty of songs I haven’t heard. Now RZA with the movie soundtracks seems to have the most longevity of the group, but I’m sure the others are still involved in the music industry.
Part of Wu-Tang’s fan base are skateboarders, they adapted the party and sort of militant anti-authority themes that the lyrics talked about. Not everyone appreciates Wu-Tang. Lots of listeners are turned of right away for the use of every derogatory and profane word known to the English language. But people that liked the beat or whatever and gave it several listens understand the lyrics and thoughts expressed in the songs are captivating. Yes they promoted vice with weed, booze, and promiscuity. But also through their obsession with Kung-Fu movies they rapped about some eastern philosophy, took on topics on slavery and injustice in this country, and political issues. Method Man on a solo album has a song titled ‘PLO Style.’ I remember on an interview on MTV when asked what his intentions on that song were he said it’s for the Palestinians throwing rocks and Israeli soldiers with machine guns. This was pre September 11th by several years, but still a bold topic to rap about. Perhaps some kid heard that lyric and decided to go to the library to learn about the Middle East. I believe their lyrics could have provoked interest in subjects kids would normally not be interested in. I do disagree with one of the members who said on the 1997 double album Wu Tang Forever, ‘you don’t need school, just listen to this album.’ But they did say some things to think about, probably the most positive message the Wu-Tang gave was work hard, and do anything for what you believe. In my personal life, around 1999, skating at Portside in Toledo, a stoner skater younger than me who was obsessed with Wu-tang told me this, ‘If you’re not hard on yourself, who will be?’ That’s good advice and had an impact on how I think to this day. Maybe he got that quote from a Wu lyric. Basically the skaters of the 1990’s adapted that motto to skate hard, and skate anywhere. Yes, smoke and drink for a release but try to be the best at what you do.
I listened to 36 chambers a lot, but didn’t follow much of the numerous other albums. I remember in spring of 1993 or 1994 my parents took my sister and I to NYC for spring break. It was typical tourist stuff and enjoyable. But one experience I remember most about that trip. We were in midtown somewhere waiting to cross the street, but traffic was slow. Some type of non-descript work van had the window down and was blasting C.R.E.A.M., and the adult white male driver was rapping out the lyrics. I have no idea why that memory or image stayed with me but it might be, along with skating, an indication that I would like city life. Wu-tang influenced skateboarding, and I think their productions are a unique piece of music history as well.
And now to the movie, it was a good escape. The soundtrack is amazing, and anyone that enjoyed Wu-Tang at any point should go see it. The intro sets the tone quickly and is cool. I think it’s some B-side or alternate version of ‘Shame on a N—‘, and a cool Kung-Fu fight seen. Again it so fast and ridiculous I could stomach the ultra-violent images on the screen. Quickly the scenes show the fictitious ‘Jungle Village’ that is lawless dangerous place in Asia and no time frame is given. The whore house where a lot of scenes take place is so over the top, the viewer realizes quickly this is not a drama or a serious attempt for realism, it is firmly established in the first two minutes that this is fantasy. It’s a long movie, because of too much coffee this morning I had to use the facilities, but it’s not an overly complex movie, I was able to catch up within a minute what I missed. I don’t think you could call this a humorous movie either. But phrases and little tidbits from the dialogue are abundant. Makes sense for Wu fans, because the groups bread and butter is little lyrical gems to mull over. The acting is fantastic. Russell Crow, RZA, Lucy Liu, and the others played their parts well. I think the English speaking without voice-overs helped in my opinion compared to original kung-fu moves. I don’t think I want to spoil it for anyone, but somehow slavery in America is tied in to the story line. Who knows, perhaps being black 200 years ago in Asia was better than being so here. I’m a librarian, at some point I’ll try to look that up, but that is an example how RZA and other Wu rappers have the abilities to give their listeners and now movie watchers something to think about.
Any skater or rap enthusiast should see this. Everyone else I don’t know. There were not many other people in the theater. I asked one guy if he liked it afterwards and he simply shook his head no. I went today to see this as an escape from the unreal stress I’ve had this past week, and that worked. I’m convinced RZA and other Wu-tang members got obsessed with obscure Kung-Fu movies pre-fame as kids in a rough part of Statin Island in the 1980’s as a way to escape and spend a few hours a day in fantasy.