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Russell Crowe: Kung fu movie star?

November 02, 2012|By Chris Lee
  • Russell Crowe in "The Man With the Iron Fists."
Russell Crowe in "The Man With the Iron Fists." (Universal Pictures )

Russell Crowe: Serious thespian, Oscar winner, rage-prone phone thrower -- kung fu movie star?

Fans of New Zealand’s most celebrated dramatic export were mystified to discover that Crowe had signed on to appear in hip-hop superstar turned first-time filmmaker the RZA’s directorial debut “The Man With the Iron Fists.” The rollicking martial arts mini-epic, shot on location in Shanghai, features ninja prostitutes, a bad guy with body-morphic brass body armor and geysers of arterial splatter. And Crowe, 48, portrays a booze-swilling, prostitute-loving British mercenary in the film, which hit theaters Friday.

Turns out that despite their seeming disparities, the actor and RZA -- better known as the musical mastermind behind the seminal Staten Island rap collective Wu-Tang Clan -- have been bros since appearing in two movies together, Ridley Scott’s “American Gangster” and the Paul Haggis-directed “Three Days Later.” When “Iron Fists” was green-lighted in 2010, RZA persuaded Crowe to take the part about five weeks before cameras rolled.

“He had to make a decision to take a chance with me,” RZA recalled. “He said, ‘I’m not into this kung fu .... I said, ‘I’m not doing that for you! I’m not gonna have you here doing no crazy kung fu ... for this film.’ But I was like, ‘I need the talent of a real actor. And trust me -- you could have fun.’ N’ah mean? That’s what I wanted more than anything.”

Crowe brings a gleeful, almost vaudevillian menace to his character Jack Knife, a kind of English cowboy commando, who arrives in “Iron Fists’” mythical 19th century Chinese realm with the onset of war between rival barbarian clans. A character with a mysterious agenda, he wields a fanciful machete-cum-pistol and sets himself up at the local brothel, enlisting a small phalanx of ladies of the evening to pleasure him.

“Russell can actually be very silly,” “Fists” producer and co-writer Eli Roth said. “He’s kind of a goofball. He loves to joke around. That’s what RZA was able to get out of him.”

The production designer made certain customizations to the set specifically to accommodate the actor. “The room we built for him is a total S&M room,” said RZA. “I said, ‘Let’s hook him up so he can just go wild in there.”

Added Roth: “It was like, ‘Alright, we’re going to have Russell. Let’s ... put him in a room with three hookers and see what happens.”

Crowe’s more gonzo sexploits didn’t make the final cut of the movie. But the filmmaker promises those deleted scenes will turn up on the “Iron Fists" DVD release. “You shoulda seen some of the stuff we cut when he’s taking the [women] up to his room,” RZA exclaimed.

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