Beyond Fest: RZA on The 36th Chamber of Shaolin

One event I was terribly disappointed to miss at Fantastic Fest this year was RZA Live from the 36th Chamber. It was not only a chance to see the classic martial arts film The 36th Chamber of Shaolin on the big screen, but RZA was providing a live hip-hop score to his favorite film. Well, Beyond Fest came through by having RZA perform the event here in Hollywood too.

“The beauty of film is that it gives the viewer a chance to escape his normal reality and either be transformed to a world in outer space or to some place in history or to some fear through horror,” RZA said before the film. “For me, it was martial arts films that touched me the most, that had my mind really pondering about life. By watching the Shaw Brothers films, I was able to find my own artistic voice.”

It’s no surprise that RZA loved The 36th Chamber of Shaolin as The Wu Tang Clan was inspired by such martial arts films by the Shaw Brothers. “Because of that, the film that inspired me the most was 36th Chamber,” RZA continued.So what I decided to do to give back to this film was rescore this film and thank it for all the martial art it gave to me. Tonight, I’m going to give it a lotta hip hop.”

Surprisingly, RZA worked with a dubbed version of 36h Chamber. I would have though he’d insist on original language with subtitles. RZA’s music drowns out the dialogue anyway so it would’ve been helpful to have subtitles. It was a beautiful digital print, possibly 4K, and sometimes RZA’s musical selections provided the only sound heard.

“We had to take out some of the foley because we had to strip it of its original score,” RZA explained. “At moments you will find some silence and you’ve got to find the rhythm of the Kung Fu to go into the rhythm of the music that’s playing.”

Franchise Fred approves the 36th Chamber franchise. They only show about 17 of the chambers in the first movie, so they keep showing new chambers in each sequel. By the third film, Disciples of the 36th Chamber they were running out of chambers and stretched kind of thing.

Lyrics coordinated with the scenes, like when he chose a song about “special sauce” and “sesame seeds” while the characters are eating, or “Run” when a character flees. You can hear the reprise of “No matter how hard you try, you can’t stop me now” throughout the film.

Ever since I discovered Jackie Chan in 1996 I’ve dreamed of seeing more Chinese movies in the theater. I’ve been lucky enough to see some classic Jackie Chan and Jet Li around Los Angeles, and even some modern day Donnie Yen when I visited Hong Kong in 2011. This was more of a chance just to see a Shaw Brothers movie theatrically. RZA’s music was just a bonus.

“Like I said, I watched these movies a lot,” RZA said after the film. “They inspire so much to me, it’s an honor to be able to have my crew’s music play back on top of it.”

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