Kung fu films, Asian culture helped Wu-Tang Clan member RZA ‘grow as a young man’

It’s impossible to overlook the influence kung fu cinema and Asian culture had on the Wu-Tang Clan — a legendary hip-hop group from the ‘90s, whose music features a unique style often emulated but never rivaled.

RZA, a leading member of the iconic group, told FOX Television Stations that even the name of the Clan was heavily impacted by Asian culture.

"Wu-Tang gets its name from kung fu films — Shaolin versus Wu-Tang — and Asian culture has been something that helped me grow as a young man coming up in the hood," RZA said during a press interview for "Wu-Tang: An American Saga", a Hulu series that he co-created.


NEW YORK - APRIL 1997: American rap group Wu-Tang Clan (L - R) Ghostface Killah, Masta Killa, Raekwon, RZA, Ol' Dirty Bastard GZA, U-God and Method Man pose for a April 1997 portrait in New York City, New York. (Photo by Bob Berg/Getty Images)

RZA said the show, which is currently in its second season, is a coming-of-age story, showcasing young men having fun creating together, despite the challenges of their upbringing. 

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"That creativity kind of trumps everything — and they pull that creation from comic books, martial arts movies, soul music, Black exploitation, rock and roll," he continued. "All these things of American culture and world culture is [sic] infused into Wu-Tang."

Alex Tse, a Chinese-American and the writer and executive producer of the series, said the Wu-Tang Clan had a different effect on him as a teen than other hip-hop groups of the decade, due significantly to its Asian influence. 


Wu-Tang: An American Saga -- "As High as Wu-Tang Gets" - Episode 210 -- The Clan makes big moves for Wu domination. Dennis (Siddiq Saunderson), Gary (Johnell Young), Bobby (Ashton Sanders), Ason (TJ Atoms), and U-God (Damani D. Sease), shown. (Photo

"As much as I grew up being such a huge fan of hip-hop — that’s what differentiated my relationship as a teen to their music," Tse shared. "...the martial arts movies, which I can hear them sample something, like, I know that movie, right, and their references to comic books." 

"I felt like there was some common ground there," Tse continued. 

The first season of "Wu-Tang: An American Saga" focused heavily on the characters’ upbringing in the projects of New York, prior to becoming the pop-culture icons that fans know today. Now, the patiently-awaited formation of the Wu-Tang Clan comes to fruition in season two. 

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Ashton Sanders, who plays Bobby Diggs, a.k.a. RZA, told FOX Television Stations last month that season two focuses significantly on the music and performances, highlighting "Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)", the Wu-Tang Clan’s iconic first album.

"We see Bobby transition into RZA. We see Dennis transition into Ghostface Killah, and so on and so forth. I think people have really been waiting for that in particular," Sanders said of the newest season.

Sanders revealed it was RZA’s energy that he wanted to carry over into his depiction of the legendary artist.


Wu-Tang: An American Saga -- "As High as Wu-Tang Gets" - Episode 210 -- The Clan makes big moves for Wu domination. Shotgun (Dave East) and Bobby (Ashton Sanders), shown. (Photo by: Vanessa Clifton/Hulu)

"The way that he thinks, his leadership, all of that are some things that I’m really able to tap into and carry over," Sanders continued. "Having him there was definitely helpful for sure. This is a biopic character and fortunately, he’s still alive. So, I’m able to talk to him and reference him if I have questions. In regards to that, I think it was definitely helpful and made things a little more comfortable on set actually."

In the newest season, Bobby knows that success in the music industry could be the boys’ ticket to better lives. But getting the Clan members to drop everything for music isn’t easy. The resentment between Dennis, Sha, Power and Divine still runs deep, while the other Clan members struggle dealing with inner-city life. This time around, Bobby is dedicated to authenticity and though he knows he can lead his crew through the challenges of the music business, the Clan’s fractures may prove too much to overcome.

Watch these Kung Fu-inspired movies for free on Tubi

Fist of Fury (1972): Bruce Lee, who RZA once called "a minor prophet," stars in director Wei Lo’s iconic martial arts film, in which a student (Lee) fights to avenge his master’s death, does battle "for the honor of the oppressed Chinese people." "Fist of Fury" is a classic, as evidenced by its inclusion in the Criterion Collection. 106 minutes.

Fist of Fury (RiffTrax Edition) (2014): Yet more evidence that "Fist of Fury" is one of the greats: in 2014, it got the RiffTrax treatment. 106 minutes.

Master of Death (1978): This is another student-seeks-vengeance story, but here it’s a man who spends nearly 20 years training with a Shaolin monk in order to avenge his family. But first, he has to get by these harmless, not-at-all deadly traps. 99 minutes. 

Kung Fu Yoga (2017): It’s a Jackie Chan comedy called "Kung Fu Yoga" and the cover art is Jackie in a convertible with a roaring lion in the passenger seat. What more do you want?107 minutes.

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Watch "Wu-Tang: An American Saga" on Hulu. Stars: Ashton Sanders (Bobby/RZA), Shameik Moore (Sha), Siddiq Saunderson (Dennis), Julian Elijah Martinez (Divine), Marcus Callender (Power), Zolee Griggs (Shurrie), T.J. Atoms (Ason), Dave East (Shotgun), Johnell Young (Gary), Erika Alexander (Linda Diggs), Uyoata Udi (Rebel), and Damani Sease (U-God).

About the writer: Stephanie Weaver is a Los Angeles-based journalist. She is a host of the national streaming show, LiveNOW from FOX, and is a digital reporter for FOX TV. Find her on Facebook and Instagram at @StephWeaverTV.