“The Man with the Iron Fists,” is an epic story of warriors, assassins and a lone outsider hero who all descend on one fabled village in China for a winner-takes-all battle for a fortune in gold. RZA makes his feature-film debut as a director, co-writer and leading man in this action-packed adventure inspired by kung fu classics, alongside an exciting international cast led by Russell Crowe as Jack Knife and Lucy Liu as Madam Blossom. Joining Crowe, Liu and RZA as the Blacksmith are Rick Yune as Zen-Yi, the Blacksmith’s warrior in arms, Cung Le as Bronze Lion, and Byron Mann as Silver Lion.
At the film’s recent press day, Yune, Le and Mann talked about working with RZA and fight coordinator Corey Yuen on the distinctly different fighting styles for each of their characters, the craziest stunts they were asked to perform, producer Quentin Tarantino’s involvement and input into the film, and their favorite kung fu movies. Yune also discussed what it felt like to be part of several major franchises and legendary genres of movies, Le described the current state of MMA today, and Mann revealed why he relishes playing villains.
Question: How did you, in conjunction with RZA and the choreographers, come up with the distinctly different fighting styles for your characters?
Cung Le: With Corey Yuen, he’s an amazing fight coordinator. He was really open to having us work our techniques and seeing what we did best. He basically opened it up and gave us some pointers and some tips and we just went with it.
Byron Mann: Corey Yuen was very instrumental in working with RZA, but I think the credit should be given to RZA because he had the original vision for all the characters’ fights – how the character would move, how he would fight, the weapons that they would use. When we’d get to the set, we would just go through the paces with both RZA and Corey Yuen, the action director, to map out the fights. But, it was very specific to each clan and to each character.
Rick Yune: That about sums it up.
Q: Cung, you’ve been described as a modern day Bruce Lee, how do you feel about the current state of MMA and boxing and how it pays respect to the roots like kung fu?
Le: I believe martial arts is always evolving and mixed martials arts is the top of the food chain. The highest level of competition is in the UFC, and basically now that China and different countries are going to India, there are so many different martial artists giving mixed martial arts a try. The more awareness opens up more fans and more fans mean more people will come and watch a martial arts movie like this. I think it’s growing. Mixed martial arts is the fastest growing sports ever. Just look at the UFC five years ago and look at them now and it’s pretty amazing with the growth, and now for this movie to come out, it’s definitely going to make some splash.
Q: What advice do you have for young people coming out of college that want to pursue a career in this?
Le: My advice to the college kids would be make sure you get your degree and then go after the dream.
Q: Can you talk about Quentin Tarantino’s involvement with the film and what was his input?
Yune: I’ve known RZA for about seven years now. He came to me while he was developing the story and said, “Look, I have this story that I want to produce and write, and I want you to be one of the stars in it.” During that time, he was scoring for “Kill Bill” and he was going back and forth, and under the tutelage of Quentin, he was learning the ropes about how to make a movie. He was describing to me all of the moments that they would share together where he would educate him on what he thought his sensibilities were. Once a week, people would meet at Quentin’s house and they would have a viewing of a movie, and then there would be an understanding on how Quentin saw it. And so, what’s interesting about this is RZA is an amazing talent, but I think he has a genius in being able to draw the best out of people. He did that with Wu Tang. He did that with us in movies now, and we did some amazing things that I definitely couldn’t have done without him. Quentin was there the whole time, but it was all RZA and his vision. So there was a very great mix of what is and what’s to be.
Q: What was the craziest stunt you were asked to do for the film?
Mann: I guess the craziest stunt I did was I broke my knee in one of the action sequences. I was actually aiming at the butt of a certain stunt man, and I ran into the edge of an apple box with my knee, and my knee blew up to the size of a basketball. So I was in excruciating pain. They rushed me to a Chinese hospital and they slapped some Chinese herbal medicine on my knee, and I was back on the set in an hour to finish the fight on one leg. That’s my biggest stunt in this movie.
Yune: We all worked very closely with the action unit. It was amazing to me because there was a tremendous amount of trust placed in us that we were able to do what they asked us to do. When I was working with Corey, I never had a rehearsal. It was the most interesting experience. Basically, I had a group of people come up, put on the suit – I have this armor made of knives. They would go talk amongst themselves and then five minutes later they would come to me. “Okay. You do this, this and this. Now yī èr sān go!” Yī èr sān means one, two three, go! There were plenty of instances where it got hairy. One time, I didn’t know this was planned during the day, but they had ropes around both my arms and my legs and they pulled me up ten feet off the ground by all four limbs. And then, I basically was up there for about an hour, and I could feel my joints. We all had a level of exhaustion, but the mind kind of goes and you’re just in the moment. And they said, “Okay. Now, we let go of the ropes. You have to spin and you land.” That’s how it went the whole shoot.
Le: I think my craziest stunt would be… It was very cold on set and there was a scene where I wasn’t wearing any shirt and then Corey had his stunt guy demonstrate what he wanted me to do. It’s basically run up off the pole, jump up, grab the guy’s neck, and with my legs grab another guy’s head and flip him over. Like the first rehearsal, his stunt guy ran up the pole, grabbed the guy’s head and kicked the other guy in the face by accident, and the guy got a little bit dizzy and he was on a table, so we stopped a little bit and made sure he was okay. Corey looked at me and he goes, “What do you think?” I said, “Let’s do it.” I go, “Can I have a couple of rehearsals?” I tried it a couple of times. I got real close, but I felt like I’m spending a lot of energy. Every time I come up, these guys’ eyes would get so big because they think I’m going to kick them in the face. So I just said “Let’s shoot this. Let’s do this.” He set up three cameras and I just said, “Lord, protect them, protect me, and let’s just have a good stunt.” I did it in one take, and Corey was like, “Great! Moving on.” And I was like “Oh, thank God!” That was my craziest stunt.
Q: Byron, your character seems to relish being evil and he’s having a great time. Do you prefer to play the bad guy or the good guy?
Mann: I think in any movie really the two most interesting parts are the protagonist and the antagonist. In this case, Silver Lion, I think as RZA and Eli Roth had written it, my first impression from reading the script is you’ve got to have as much fun with this character as possible and go as far as you can. Actually, on the first day of the shoot, I remember talking to both RZA and Eli Roth, and I said “Guys, I’m not going to play safe with this character. I’m going to throw some wacky stuff in it and hopefully something would stick.” I’ve played a lot of antagonists and protagonists. Personally, I find antagonists, villains if you will, are more interesting parts because there’s no boundary. You can do whatever you want. So, with Silver Lion, I just think I had a lot of fun with this character. And RZA, to his credit, was very open to whatever the artist, the actor, brought on that day. There were no boundaries to it. He just went, “Oh! That looks sick. Let’s do some more of that.” So it was fun, and I think in so doing, you find something that clicks, and then that may end up in the final cut of the film.
Q: Rick, as an actor, how do you feel about being a part of these major franchises and legendary genres of movies like the original “The Fast and Furious,” James Bond, and these martial arts movies?
Yune: This is one of these instances where it’s just an honor to be there, especially for me. Right when I got into the business, my first film was nominated. My second film was “The Fast and the Furious” and that went, and then my third was Bond and it just went. In the initial phase of what I was doing, I had no perspective of what was happening, and now that I’ve had some experience, it’s tremendous. The odds of somebody like myself getting and doing what I’m doing now is slim to none as you can see by the numbers of the members of SAG and things of that nature. I came from an entirely different business, but I look back and it has been a blast. I mean, I think back on the time that I made Bond and it was basically a year there. We were traveling all around the world. Halle (Berry) won an Oscar. We were all very tight and working closely together. And, on this one, it’s amazing. It was just a group of buddies that got together. It was hard, hard work. All these guys were very committed. It was 16-17 hour days, 6 days a week, in the cold. But, on that one day, we would all get together no matter how tired we were and we would go into town and find that one meal that we could enjoy for the week and then crash. During the week, most of us were having egg whites and yams and stuff, so that one time a week when we had bottles of wine and gelato was an amazing thing. Hey look, that’s what I take away from it. I know you guys see what’s on screen and all that. I can only take credit for so much of that because there’s about 500 other people involved. But what we did on this one behind the scenes and how we all came together and committed to it training-wise, making sure we were all on the same nutrition, things of that nature, it really helped. I mean, there were interventions when one of us was caught at Dairy Queen.
Q: Did RZA give you any kung fu films to watch before shooting this film and can you tell us what some of your favorite kung fu films are?
Yune: RZA gave me a bunch.
Le: Actually RZA wanted me to watch “Five Deadly Venoms” and work my character after the Toh (Toad??). I’ve already seen pretty much all the movies he’s asked me to watch. I definitely had an idea what he wanted so for me it was just a lot of fun.
Mann: RZA had actually mentioned to me a number of films live “Five Deadly Venoms” before we started filming, and this is kind of ironic or funny and maybe embarrassing because all these films emanate from Hong Kong in the 70s, and I’m actually from Hong Kong, but I’ve never seen these films, so I had to be re-educated in these films by someone from Brooklyn, New York.
Yune: He’s very scientific in the way he approaches things – in music and also in film. I mean, the guy is an historian and he can pinpoint moments in some of these films I’ve never even heard of to tell you the truth. I used to watch Saturday afternoon kung fu theater like a lot of the people, but I didn’t know all the names and the characters. I just remember watching it as a kid and trying to mimic them. But he gave a slew of films and said “Look at this moment. Look at this moment.” My character, Zen Yi, was somewhat pivotal in the fact that a lot had come around the conflict there. So he would show me a scene and say “This is the scene that I’m looking at that’s kind of…” Ultimately, it was “Do you. Do what you do, but this is the scene that I’m looking at.” And it worked that way.
Q: Rick, you have a very diverse background and graduated with honors from the Wharton School of Business and later became an investor and a bond trader. What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs that are interested in a career in that industry?
Yune: Nowadays in this world it’s… I get a lot of these questions from kids when I speak at high schools and universities. I’ve been asked to do that because yeah, I did. I went to an Ivy League business school and then I switched careers, but ultimately, what I did in the beginning phase of my life I felt as if I was selling out a bit because I was just going for the money. And, over the years, I’ve seen a lot of guys do that, and I know a lot of guys that fell to the wayside at Lehman and Behr [Stearns], a few guys that unfortunately weren’t able to make it. They worked in the World Trade Center. Life is about fulfillment and ultimately what are you going to take with you. So that’s the most important thing. Tell these kids that they have to know who they are and know what their essence is because you’re certainly not going to be able to do what everybody else does. You wouldn’t really want to. I definitely wouldn’t want to. People ask me “How come you don’t do more movies?” and this or that. It’s just not me. I only have so much that I want to do and that’s who I am. So, get to know who you are and then start from there. Number One, never look to the money because all the successful guys I know never did that.