Of all the places I could expect to see a grand performance steeped in “exquisite and advanced Kung fu, lofty moral character, the meaning of Zen in resisting unrighteousness(sic), and being in harmony”, Luna Park is not one of them.
And indeed there is something irrepressibly grand and sacred about ShaoLin Kungfu, its history in China’s cultural landscape and it spiritual basis, as per the aforementioned quote. Unfortunately, in this new production, the story suffers under the weight of some truly spectacular and fascinating spectacle.
From the darkness comes a booming voice “Learn the form, but seek formlessness… Learn the way, but find your own way… the true master lies within…. Kung fu is more than a way of life…. Through Kung fu you can learn the art of success.” Strings of slogans promising a life changing experience, which are confused by the overly complicated story which hinders the experience. It has Kung Fu but not a clear, concise story.
Huiguang’s mother (Li Lin) is attacked by a group of black clad fighters, who gouge out her eyes leaving her blind. Meanwhile, Nalou (Zhang Zhigang), a Shao Lin Monk, saves her now abandoned baby, Huiguang, and takes him back to the Shaolin Temple. While in residence at the temple, young Huiguang learns the art of Kung fu, which we see in three stages of development as an 8 year old (Wang Sen), as a young man (Yu Fei) and as a grown man (Jia Honglei), from Nalou. An altercation with a drunk identifies Huiguang’s need for “more moral teaching” to compliment his Kung fu talents. While at a street market Huiguang’s mother and Huiguang meet, amid a Kung fu fight. Returning to the temple there are some decisions to be made and some fights to have, resolving in a happy family reunion.
It’s not a strongly constructed story with a lot of strange and tenuous links. But we are not really at Luna Park, watching Kung Fu fighting for the intense dénouement or fine tuned character development, are we? We are there for mind blowing spectacle: which the Henan Province, Shaolin Temple Kung Fu Studio completely deliver on. The performances are incredible. The strength and focus: breathtaking. And if you are up for seeing a man propped up two meters off the ground by 4 pointy tipped spears: this one is for you. There are pins penetrating plate glass, acrobatic gymnastics, contortionism and feats of strength and fights of flashy drunken swords. The Kung Fu is impressive and fast, beautifully directed and at times inspirational.
However, this is a really technically complicated show. Made even more befuddling by a constantly hiccuping sound system and long intervals in which curtains are drawn between scenes by unseen people - unseen that is except for their hands as they clasp the edge of the curtain. The lights are at times very beautiful but nearly completely useless as performers are left in darkness or semi spots during crucial moments of intimacy. Despite these inconveniences and inconsistencies, and confusing, unnecessary sections of the plot, the performers remained steadfast and flawless in their execution of the fights and the visual narrative. In particular, Zhang Zhigang’s portrayal of Nalou was at times fierce and extraordinarily tender amid the flashy spectacle of the fight scenes, grounding the piece in a very human aspect filled with great spirituality.
Some of the spiritual resonances within the performance were overwhelmed by the heavy handed commercialism of the event: plasma screens glowing with advertisements for travel to china, the Shaolin Kung Fu school in Sydney and other sponsors banners present in the foyer. There is no denying that “Shaolin Kungfu, with over 1500 years of long history, is the culture (sic) treasure of China.” This is a show which will wow audiences all over the world with its impressive performance only if the technical problems are addressed and the story simplified. All in all a jaw dropping night out.
Huiguang - ShaoLin Kungfu
Venue: Big Top, Sydney Luna Park
Dates: 13th – 15th June
Times: Friday Evening Show 7.30pm
Saturday Afternoon Show 2.30pm Evening Show: 7.30pm
Sunday Afternoon Show 2.30pm Evening Show: 7.30pm
Tickets: $58.00 - $118.00
Bookings: Ticketek.com.au or www.Kungfuspirit.com.au
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