The Kung Fu genre of films is well known and well loved — all those Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan films, Kung Fu Panda, Crouching Tiger,Hidden Dragon, and so on, movies that you can watch endless re-runs of on television because they have lots of spectacular action, and the charming mystique of an millennia-old esoteric tradition. Now you can watch Kung Fu action on stage.
“The Legend of Kung Fu”, a Chinese ballet that brings together martial arts daredevilry with modern dance moves, acrobatics, music and spectacular sets, costumes and special effects, has come to India. The first shows were held over this week at Kingdom of Dreams, the live entertainment venue in Gurgaon, and from the 9th onwards, will be staged for four days at Delhi’s Siri Fort Auditorium. The organizers promise to take the production to other Indian cities later in the year.
“The Legend of Kung Fu” is quite a landmark production. Since it premiered in 2004, it has had more than 6,000 shows all over the world. Its producer is China Heaven Creation, a Chinese government-approved performing arts company which, its website says, is “entitled with the right to import and export stage show productions.” Clearly, economically ascendant China recognizes that Kung Fu is one its most marketable cultural forms — the core of its “soft power”, if you like — and wants to make the most of it. No wonder it’s been running for eight long years now at the Beijing Red Theatre, where it is one of the major attractions for tourist to the city. It is also performed at The White House Theatre in the town of Branson in Missouri, US which the CHC acquired in 2009. Its coming to India is the result of a collaboration with Delhi-based Arya Carnivals, a venture by Deepak Bahl, whose primary business is pharmaceuticals.
The story of “The Legend of Kung Fu” is a very basic one, and those familiar with Kung Fu films will recognise the formulaic set pieces — a poor boy named Chun Yi (meaning “pure one”) who is brought to an old temple to become a Buddhism monk and learn martial arts, has a hard time adjusting to the strict discipline but learns to appreciate the skills and emerges as a gifted fighter, and finally, overcoming many trials and ordeals, both physical and spiritual, becomes a Kung Fu Master.
There’s no dialogue — a voiceover in English between acts gives a gist of the action to follow — but the physical action is evident enough, so viewers should have no trouble getting the drift of the story. The action is the main point of the production and it’s satisfying for the most part — actors flying about on trapezes, somersaulting and back-flipping, breaking sticks with their arms, legs and head, fighting with tin swords and lying down on spears, nails or knives. It’s all quite dramatic, and would have been spell-binding had it not been for all the Kung Fu films that have brought all such action alive with so much more vividness — the camera zooming in on a close up of a vicious kick or the thwack of an open-palmed punch and picking up every nuance of expression on the actors’ faces.
But the production values are excellent with rich costumes in bright Chinese silk, Chinese dragons gamboling about and the dynamic scenery projected on the LED walls behind. All in all, it’s arresting enough to keep you interested for the hour and a half of the show. The kids should also love it.