It’s difficult to imagine a member of the rap group Wu-Tang Clan being familiar with Woody Allen’s What’s Up, Tiger Lily?, so it must be assumed that Cappadonna came up with Iron Fist Pillage’s concept on his own. He, or anyhow the owners of Skypilot, the movie’s producers, have obtained an obscure mid-70s kung fu movie (possibly titled Iron Fist Pillage, possibly not—no information about the original movie’s title, cast, director etc., is ever offered) and overdubbed the dialogue. They’ve also renamed the characters. Not only do the Chinese actors now speak with the voices of New York blacks, they now bear names like Sweets, Stubbs, Stays-High, Much-Pain and Yu-Suk.
The movie is a straightforward revenge drama. Cappadonna’s crew is at a party which is raided by a rival gang. After fierce combat, their leader, Sweets, is found murdered. Cappadonna takes the rap for the killing, and is forced to flee. When he returns, a year later, he finds his crew in shambles. Some are drunks, others banished on trumped-up charges of disloyalty, and worst of all, his girlfriend is now a prostitute. It’s up to Cappadonna to unite the crew again, and destroy the evil mastermind, Cain, who’s taken over in his absence. So. Pretty standard stuff. The fight scenes aren’t anything revelatory, either; occasional, unexpectedly gory moments (a few throats are slashed) disappear into the generally routine tone of the movie. Thus, it’s a perfect candidate for the treatment it’s received. Had the original film been better, it might have been missed—the viewer might have mourned what he wasn’t seeing, rather than being free to laugh at the absurd but often successful jokes.
While What’s Up, Tiger Lily? is often cited as a paradigmatic example of “Boomer humor,” Iron Fist Pillage seems very much a product of pothead skateboarders who’ve watched way too much TV. The jokes are the kind of anything-goes, throwaway one-liners clearly indebted to Airplane! and similar films. For example, when one of Cappadonna’s friends offers him coffee upon his return from exile, the first thing the friend says to him, out of nowhere, is “You won’t believe it, son, but it’s instant.” (Another example, involving a man trying to set a record for sitting in one spot, is so quick, and so funny, that it almost makes the whole movie worthwhile on its own.) It’s that kind of tossed-off silliness that makes the movie as enjoyable as it is. Iron Fist Pillage doesn’t even seem aimed at hip-hop culture—the sheer absurdity of it marks it as perfectly suited to white college students (who, admittedly, embraced the Wu-Tang Clan early on, and have remained a substantial segment of their audience).
The Wu-Tang Clan have always been fascinated (some might say obsessed) with martial arts films and the attendant philosophical culture. Their name, and the dialogue samples which litter their debut album Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), are taken from the 1978 film The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin. Off-stage, the group is serious about their studies; they train in a Brooklyn dojo. They’ve even taken their ideas into the world of film before. The Clan’s producer and mastermind, RZA, scored Jim Jarmusch’s film Ghost Dog. Iron Fist Pillage, though, shows that they’re also willing to laugh at the culture which underpins their art. This is an enjoyable throwaway, with enough genuine laughs to make it perfect entertainment for a roomful of people with a case of cheap beer, some equally cheap take-out food, and an evening to kill..