If you’re of a certain age, there’s a decent chance that your first real exposure to the martial-arts cinema of the Shaw Brothers and Gordon Liu came from the generous splices of film dialogue featured on albums by the Wu-Tang Clan. Those samples all came courtesy of Wu-Tang mastermind the RZA, who has since expanded his horizons into feature film scoring and directing, and who is also a frequent participant in panels and Q&As on kung-fu films both classic and obscure.
It’s easy to see the appeal, then, of RZA’s newest venture through his 36 Chambers production company. Dubbed 36 Cinema, the platform presents live streaming commentary on films, with RZA in conversation with Dan Halsted, head programmer of Portland’s Hollywood Theater. The two will present their second film program this Sunday, a live exploration of the ultra-violent jidaigeki pic “Shogun Assassin,” which RZA memorably sampled throughout GZA’s 1995 album “Liquid Swords.”
Per 36 Chambers co-founder Mustafa Shaikh, the platform’s first presentation earlier this month – of 1983’s “Shaolin and Wu Tang” – drew thousands of paid viewers. (In order to legally screen the films, all of the 36 Cinema streaming sessions are ticketed events, priced at $10 dollars: “We operate like a movie theater, in essence, paying industry-standard rates,” he says.) The platform also functions as a partial fundraiser for independent cinemas, sharing a portion of the proceeds with theaters who refer viewers; according to Shaikh, around 40 cinemas participated in the inaugural stream. “RZA and I both love independent theaters, and we don’t want to see any of them close,” he says.
Shaikh says the company is still tinkering with the platform, but hopes to gradually expand its parameters as the weeks go on. “It’s not just gonna be kung-fu, and it’s not just gonna be RZA,” he says. “We want to keep it a little internal as we get all the bugs worked out, all the logistics issues… There’s a very well-known director that RZA has done work with before who’s willing to jump on the platform, so hopefully we can make that happen in the coming weeks. I think people will see it’s just a very fun thing to do.”