From the music of the Wu-Tang Clan, to doing the music to Kill Bill, to The Man with The Iron Fists, RZA (Robert Fitzgerald Diggs) has showcased his love and passion for the martial arts. In #Netflix's newest series, Iron Fist, RZA gave us another sampling of his vast martial arts knowledge as he directed Episode 6: Immortal Emerges from Cave. This episode stands out as one of the best of the series. Since it is the midpoint of the series, Episode 6 becomes essential to the development of the Danny Rand (Iron Fist) character. RZA pulls from various martial arts movies and Kung-Fu philosophies to show the evolution of Danny Rand becoming an #IronFist that is different from his predecessors.
(WARNING: This article contains some spoilers for Iron Fist. You've been warned.)
It is well known that RZA is a martial arts geek. If you don't believe me, check out his resume:
- Studied with sifu Shi Yan Ming of the USA Shaolin Temple
- Learned Hung Gar Tiger Crane style for his role in The Man with The Iron Fists
- Wrote The Tao of Wu about his path to enlightenment
He also has an extensive knowledge base in martial arts movies and philosophical books.
So how does RZA uses his martial arts mastery to development of Danny Rand's journey of becoming Iron Fist?
Kung-Fu Movies That Influenced 'Iron Fist' Episode 6
While watching this episode of Iron Fist, there are two famous #kungfu movies that RZA has drawn inspiration: Enter the Dragon (1973) and Once Upon A Time In China (1991). Let's take a look at how the concept of Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon helps to create the starting point for Danny Rand. In the movie, Bruce Lee's character is a Kung-fu master that is summoned to an island to participate in a martial arts tournament. Bruce Lee uses the movie to showcase his philosophy of "be like water" and never focus on just one style, teaching, or idea. This is visualized during the climatic fight scene against Han when Bruce Lee smashes all the mirrors to reveal to Han that using Kung-fu for his own personal gain was the wrong path.
The title of Episode 6 is called Immortal Emerges from Cave, and harkens back to the cave where Danny Rand (Finn Jones) defeats the dragon Shou-Lao to gain the power of the Iron Fist. RZA uses the tournament as a way to start Danny down the path of self discovery. Not only do we watch some of the best fight choreography when fighting each opponent but also see Danny talking to his master Lei Kung. The conversation is Danny replaying what Lei Kung told him before entering the cave of Shou-Lao. In the beginning of the episode, Danny tells Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) and Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) that he's been invited to participate in The Hand's tournament. He also tells them he is already familiar with tournaments because that is how he rose through the ranks back in K'un-Lun. Danny also reveals that this way of training is what made him into the Immortal Iron Fist and explains that it is his purpose to destroy The Hand.
In each stage, we hear Lei Kung reinforcing that fact the Iron Fist is a weapon to be used against The Hand. This message has been ingrained into the mind of Danny Rand so much the he feels that this is the only path for him to follow. But it is the influence of the second Kung-fu film where this concept starts to change.
Once Upon A Time In China is the movie RZA references to show two different worlds coming together and how the main character (Wong Fei-hung played by Jet Li) has to adapt to those changes. The story takes us through the plundering of China by Western forces and traditions, and how Kung Fu hero Wong Fei-Hung has to move past his old ways and embrace the cultural change. The main scene that shows this change is when Jackson, an American official, takes the Governor of Foshon hostage at gunpoint. Instead of using some fancy flying punch or dragon kick, Wong simply flicks a bullet into the head of Jackson and kills him. The Western culture has introduced modernized warfare through the use of guns by the Americans. Wong Fei-Hung represents the ancient style of combat through martial arts. The bullet used to kill Jackson symbolizes Wong's acceptance of the emerging Western culture.
In Iron Fist, RZA portrays two different cultures as well: Danny Rand the Monastery Monk and Danny Rand the Business Man. If you watch the opening scene, Danny is seen sitting on the couch in his office meditating and appearing calm. The next time we see Danny, he is wearing his suit and is frantically using his computer to find the warehouse where The Hand is keeping the Russian chemist. Even in the following scene, Ward follows Danny to his expensive car and makes a comment about Danny being a monk and driving an expensive automobile. Danny responds, "Even in K'un-Lun I had the fastest donkey cart." Again showing the collision between the life of monk and the life of billionaire. But this is not the only conflict between opposite sides in this episode.
Throughout the tournament, we know that Danny once again realizes his purpose: destroy The Hand. But it's at the end when Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho) changes the terms of the tournament. Does Danny kill his opponent and fulfill his duty as the Iron Fist? Or does he not kill him and allow for the Russian chemist to be set free. It is at this moment when RZA plants the seed that Danny must become something different. A different Iron Fist than those before him. Danny Rand has a two opposing ideals having their own Kung-fu tournament within himself.
Which Path Will Danny Rand Take?
In an interview in BlackBeltMag.com, RZA talks about two different martial art philosophies that he uses in his life, "Pa Kua says to practice the “walk of the circle” yet Hsing-I says you practice in a straight line..." Both of these philosophies are the two opposing forces RZA portrays in this episode to begin the internal struggle of Danny Rand.
Yes, Danny walks a straight line because of strict teaching of his duty as the Iron Fist. But taking this path will cause him to lose the life of the person he is trying to save. You can see on his face that he wants to kill The Hand, but something is holding him back from taking this course of action. Being a man of two worlds, he needs to find a way to reconcile this struggle. RZA provides him a choice, and takes the circular path. Since Gao changed the terms of the agreement, this allowed Danny to make his decision. He yields to save a life. Now he becomes something more than just a tool for K'un-Lun. The rest of the series is Danny coming to grips with his decision, and what it means to be Iron Fist. RZA sets him down the path of becoming an Iron Fist to help defend the world.
RZA Establishes A New Iron Fist
Episode 6 is where RZA begins the transformation of Iron Fist, The Defender of K'un-Lun to Iron Fist, Defender of All. RZA's uses his martial arts studies to fully develop Danny Rand. He sets the development path for the other episodes to explore the consequences and changes Danny Rand will have to face in the following episodes. RZA gave us the knock-out episode that stands out in the first season of Iron Fist.