TEXT AND PHOTOS BY HENRYLITO D. TACIO
Foreigners, including Filipinos, visit Beijing to see the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City (now known as The Palace Museum), Temple of Heaven, Ming Tombs – all of which listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as World Heritage.
But there’s another destination that visitors should go: Beijing’s theaters. I found out that there’s more to the city than just those historical sites. By watching some of its stage presentation, you get to know its culture, arts, and heritage. I discovered this when I watched “The Legend of Kung Fu: Return of the Dragon” at the Red Theatre, which was located at 44, Xingfu Dajie, Chongwen District.
Okay, I have watched several Kung Fu movies: “Iron Monkey,” “Once Upon a Time in China,” “Shaolin Temple,” “Shaolin Soccer,” “The Prodigal Son,” “The Forbidden Kingdom,” “Kung Fu Hustle,” and “Kung Fu Panda.”
So when our guide said that we will be watching a Kung Fu stage show, I wasn’t that interested. “What is there to see?” I told my companion. “We have seen this form of martial arts already in movies so there’s nothing new.”
But I was in for a big surprise. I never expected that the 80-minute show would be that fast and that you want to see more. Watching Kung Fu in the screen is very different from seeing it for real.
“The fusion of modern dance with Chinese traditional martial arts makes this performance unique and spectacular,” commented one critic. A deputy Irish Ambassador to China was quoted as saying: “This show is more energetic than ‘River Dance,’” referring to the stage show that originated in Dublin.
“The Legend of Kung Fu is a mix of traditional martial arts and modern theatre. Presenting stunning Kung Fu skills, exquisite ballet and music, this beautiful story in no doubt has become the most loved Kung Fu show in China,” the critic further wrote.
Another critic hailed: “A high level performance with the wonderful story layout, perfect stage design, professional martial arts actors, and the real Kung Fu actions and scenes.”
Presented by China Heaven Creation International Performing Arts Co. Ltd., China’s leading performance art production company, it is a must-see attraction. You don’t hear any actor saying a line or singing; it is just martial arts, dance, and acrobatics. The good thing is that there are English subtitles shown above the stage to keep non-Chinese speaking crowd to understand what’s going on.
History of Kung Fu
Before probing deeper, a little bit of history first. Kung Fu is a Chinese term referring to any study, learning, or practice that requires patience, energy, and time to complete. In its original meaning, it can refer to any discipline or skill achieved through hard work and practice, not necessarily martial arts.
It wasn’t until in the late 20th century that Kung Fu was used in relation to Chinese martial arts by the Chinese community. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term “kung fu” as “a primarily unarmed Chinese martial art resembling karate.”
One author wrote of this form of martial arts: “Kung Fu requires of the practitioner a strict code of physical and mental discipline; its training consists of the following components: basics, forms, applications, and weapons. Each style has its own unique training system with varying emphasis on each of those components. In addition, philosophy, ethics and even medical practice are highly regarded by most Chinese martial arts.”
For over 15,000 years, Kung Fu has been applied by the Shaolin monks as a distinctive expression of their religion. As such, the term “shaolin” has become to represent discipline, power, and courage.
“The Legend of Kung Fu” has all the elements what the audience wants: action, drama, breathing-taking sequences, exquisite songs, and kaleidoscopic colors (that even made the stage more captivating). The theme is universal: a mother’s devotion to her son, a son’s love for his mother, moments of despair and failures, struggles and persistence, and success and triumph.
The thrilling modern day theatrical production follows the story of a young boy (Chun Yi, which means “pure one”) trying to fulfill his dream of becoming a Kung Fu master. “Thousands of years ago in a mysterious land called The Middle Kingdom, many legends were created,” the brochure said. “Martial arts was one of them made famous by its name, Kung Fun. In an ancient temple, we encounter a little boy. Through practicing Zen Buddhism and Kung Fu, our little monk eventually grows and finally reaches the sacred goal of enlightenment.”
“The Legend of Kung Fu” made its first appearance on Beijing stage on July 15, 2004. Since then, it has received several awards and become a world class spectacle around the world. It has already toured in India and will also be staged in Turkey and Russia.
Aside from the Red Theatre in Beijing (where it is performed each day), “The Legend of Kung Fu” is also being performed at The White House Theatre in Branson, Missouri.
During the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008, the national brand show was invited to put on several performances in the Beijing Olympic Park. It is said that over 100 foreign government heads, ambassadors, as well as Nobel Prize winners have enjoyed the unique show.
Now, here are some reactions of those who have watched the show, as posted in Trip Advisor:
“It’s colorful, fast-paced at times, has moments of reflection, and doesn’t overdo any of these, but presents the whole play with a good balance of everything,” one wrote. “It’s not really about Kung Fu, but the deceptions and illusion in life we can fall prey to, and how a path of enlightenment and discipline can lead to greater enrichment when one finds one’s true inner self, free from ego, and sees the path to true ways of being with clarity.”
Another one wrote: “We thought it would be pretty entertaining to see some live demonstrations of Kung Fu. When we arrived at the location of the performance we realized we were in for something else entirely. The performances were top class and everything was well done. So if you’re in the right frame of mind going in, this will be a fun thing to go see.”
October 2016 Health and Lifestyle