Just one month after the Wu-Tang Clan (minus Method Man) performed in Kitchener on their 25th Anniversary Tour, their leader, RZA, has returned to Toronto with a very special show. As with most members of the Wu-Tang Clan, RZA has a solo career that goes beyond music, with the legendary Hip-Hop producer diving into a prosperous film career that has involved acting, directing, and scoring. For this show, he would be doing a live score of the 1978 kung fu film, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. With Toronto’s International Film Festival around the corner, and Wu-Tang’s 25th anniversary of their debut in the approaching months, the timing couldn’t be better.
Diehard Wu-Tang fans know the importance of The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. As he wrote in his book, The Wu-Tang Manual, RZA first saw the film as a teenager in New York City, and it would serve as the inspiration behind the legendary Hip-Hop group he would form years later. Wu-Tang Clan’s first album was of course called Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), and a lot of the kung-fu samples in the music and ideology behind the lyricism came from this film, and others like it. Seeing RZA come full circle and redo the score of the film that started it all would be a one of a kind experience that most diehard fans would appreciate.
The show would be held at Toronto’s Royal Theatre, a landmark location with a vintage feel to match the historical film being screened. Just getting into the show was an experience; it was completely free for fans who were lucky enough to know where to RSVP. Announced just one week prior by our friends at The Come Up Show, it would be the first in a series of unique events put on by NeverJaded.ca and recreational cannabis brand Hexo. Both fans with confirmed RSVPs and those just looking to get lucky at the door lined the block and waited outside the theatre for over an hour before showtime.
We started to make our way inside an hour after doors were scheduled to open, and when we got to the front we could see why there were delays. A lot of work was put in to redesign the theatre for a true Wu-Tang experience, with subtle W logos in the wallpaper and on the doors themselves. Food and drinks were completely free, and so fans all lined up at the concession stand to get theirs before finding seats. There were even takeout boxes of Chinese noodles served with chopsticks for those really looking to get into the kung fu vibe; the chopsticks would later be used for an exclusive giveaway.
All the seats in the theatre had gift bags full of goodies from Hexo, including t-shirts and mints. If the long wait to get inside frustrated you, your spirits had to be lifted by the time you sat down with all the freebies. Eventually one of Hexo’s co-founders came out to briefly thank the fans and explain their initiative to promote the brand through these exclusive events, before showing the Comic Con trailer of RZA’s upcoming 2019 film, Cut Throat City. He then brought out The RZA himself, who spoke on how The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is one of his favourite films, and also warned the crowd to bear with him as the sound crew adapted their gear to the venue. RZA then got behind the turntables with his team of DJs on stage and got right into it.
Having watched the original version of The 36th Chamber on Netflix over the weekend before the show, the differences in RZA’s score easily stood out. While I’m not a film critic and can’t write about how well the remixed score works for film, I am a diehard Wu-Tang fan, and like many in the crowd, was immediately excited when I heard the instrumental from “Triumph” during the opening credits. RZA’s score would be filled with familiar Wu-Tang beats, effectively bringing out the drama in the film. Examples include the beat from “Run” playing while the protagonist San Te is on the run from the army, and the beat from “Y’all Been Warned” when the general makes his first appearance on screen.
RZA gave some nods to the sharp fans able to pick up on small details, like playing the Tical track “Bring The Pain” during the fight scene that was sampled on that same album to make “Meth Vs. Chef.” Other highlights included hearing “For Heaven’s Sake” during the hand-to-hand combat training scene, “Method Man” during the staff training, and “Guillotine (Swordz)” during the sword training. The biggest highlight of all may have been seeing our protagonist beat down an entire army with RZA scratching both versions of “Protect Ya Neck” in the background. With the film ending just as it began with “Triumph,” the crowd gave RZA a standing ovation, and would stick around for a live interview on stage with the producer and filmmaker.
During the one-on-one interview, RZA spoke on how it’s not only been a dream of his to be able to play with the score of The 36th Chamber, but also to have its star, Gordon Liu, act in his own 2012 directorial debut, The Man With The Iron Fists. They would also replay the trailer for his next film, Cut Throat City, this time with the audio properly adjusted. RZA also of course spoke on how the entire Wu-Tang Clan drew inspiration from kung fu films like these, and how all of their individual stage names like Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Ghostface Killah, and RZA’s alternate name (The Abbot) are derived from recurring characters in these films. They would also announce that amongst the hundreds of boxes of Chinese noodles that were served, there were 36 coloured pairs of chopsticks that would grant fans access to an exclusive meet and greet party with RZA immediately after.
Before wrapping up, the floor would be opened for a Q & A session with the fans. This would include one of King of the Dot’s founders simply thanking RZA for his inspiration, and a local DJ/producer asking RZA a technical question about drum loops, to which RZA revealed that on “7th Chamber” he was tapping the drum machine for the entire song rather than looping it. The fans also got RZA to break down the difference between producing a film versus producing an album, where he talked about how producing albums like Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, and Liquid Swords was like his training before moving on to film. RZA made sure to also shoutout his team of DJs, one of whom originally had the idea to use Hip-Hop sampling to score film back before technology had caught up to their creativity (they used to cut tape to do it).
This ended up being an awesome experience for the diehard Wu-Tang fans. A lot of Wu-Tang’s music seems made to go with fighting, and it was epic seeing it play out on the big screen. Even the more mellow songs like “C.R.E.A.M.” and “Can It Be All So Simple” were placed perfectly in the score. As with many live performances, there were some imperfections in terms of sound mixing – sometimes when flipping between the beats and original audio, the sound would completely cut off. It would definitely be worth seeing RZA record a professional version of this score, and release this alternate version of the film as a collectors item.
Hexo will be having weekly announcements for more unique events such as this all across Canada on NeverJaded.ca!
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