MARTIAL ARTS SPECTACULAR IN HAWAII
March 1, 1999
-Wushu Kungfu Magazine
It hardly seems fair that our American government is getting so riled up over the idea of China's so-called scientific espionage, when recently we've been unrepentantly tapping the best geniuses of Hong Kong filmmakers for our own dream factory. This Special Issue celebrates the cross-pollination of the Hong Kong-Hollywood connection, the triumph of the imagination and vision of one continent and culture meeting another. With talents like Yuen Woo Ping, John Woo, Tsui Hark, Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Michelle Yeoh, Ronny u, Sammo Hung, Chow Yun-Fat and a host of other producers, cinematographers, stunt coordinators, etc., who helped make the Hong Kong New Wave the most compelling cinematic force of the past decade, how could Hollywood fail to notice?
It didn't. Recent successes like Lethal Weapon have vaulted Jet Li into his first Hollywood leading role in Joel Silver's Romeo Must Die, and the box office smash of Rush Hour finally made even the stodgiest of Hollywood execs true believers in Jackie. Sammo Hung's Martial Law is a huge hit for CBS; Michelle Yeoh revolutionized the James Bond woman. Soon Chow Yun-Fat will be starring with Jodie Foster, and John Woo is going to direct Mission Impossible 2! Perhaps one of the most gratifying projects though has been The Matrix, where Yuen Woo Ping got to work his magic on two of our biggest stars, Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne. Certainly closer to a Hong Kong movie than either Lethal Weapon or Rush Hour, The Matrix expertly sought to capture the aesthetic of the Asian genre. And what great kung fu!
It was a real pleasure interviewing Keanu Reeves for this story, as well as Yuen Woo Ping and Laurence Fishburne. All three were gracious and attentive, and their excitement about making the movie was evident from the start. If you haven't read about Yuen Woo Ping in our April WushuKungfu issue, don't miss our on an amazing story of one of Hong Kong's top directors. (You can still order at 800-824-2433). In some ways The Matrix is perhaps the most organic mix of the best of Hong Kong and the best of Hollywood, with incredible choreography, strong actors and mind-blowing special effects; and thus we chose it for our cover. A big thanks to Jeff Walker and Crystal and Samantha at Warner Brothers for the great art and support.
My adventures this spring also took me to Hawaii for the Martial Arts spectacular which hosted Jackie Chan week and performances by the Beijing Wushu Team and 34th Generation Shaolin Monk Shi Yan Ming. Emceeing the Shaolin part of the show were Rosie Perez and Bokeem Woodbine, now studying Shaolin kung fu, and definitely livening up our fun on Oahu, Maui and Kauai. I also got to see our good friend Harlan Lee, (our April '97 cover) who not only brought his lion dance troupe out to open the kung fu show, but who also made an appearance as a model at the Shanghai Tang Fashion Show! And, as always, the Beijing Wushu Team was amazing. We look forward to their return next year for the Martial Arts Spectacular 2000 tour.
There is no hospitality like in Hawaii. My thanks to promoter Matt young, who did a first rate job with the show and was a great host; thanks also to my kung fu brother and sister Lloyd and Karin (especially for the poke and opihi.)
I hope this issue will update you on your favorite Hong Kong filmmakers and stars. And please keep reading WushuKungfu in the months to come for the cutting edge in martial arts and movies, the latest releases on video and DVD, and, of course, the very latest developments with the Hong Kong-Hollywood connection.
Hawaii's profound and rich history of martial arts was celebrated this spring with a whirlwind extravaganza that included Jackie Chan week and a three-island performance tour with the incredible Beijing Wushu Team, direct from China, and 34th Generation Shaolin Temple fighting monk Shi Yan Ming. And what better way to kick off the Year of the Rabbit? It was the Chinese New Year when we arrived in Honolulu, and spirits were high. Promoter Matt Young told us that the Blaisdell Arena's 8,000 seats (at $35-100 each) were already sold out. Nearly 200 fans from Japan's Jackie Chan Fan Club were also arriving. And from the time we stepped off the plane and received our leis, and went hopping from Honolulu to Maui to Kauai, it was non-stop excitement.
I woke up the first morning and had a quick breakfast of ice Kona coffee and spam musubi, and then it was time to begin the celebrations. First off, it was Jackie Chan week in Honolulu, proclaimed by the mayor Jeremy Harris on February 20, at Sea Life Park. I went along with a group of other journalists, including Japanese TV and a Taiwanese newspaper, as we watch Jackie film a commercial for local TV and then gather with us in a little tent for a press conference. There he told us about his upcoming movie projects, which include a sequel to Rush Hour and the project Jackie is currently working on now, a film called Shanghai Noon. "I've been wanting to make this movie for 10 years, and finally I had a chance to sell it to a major studio, Walt Disney. I know if Disney likes it it will be a healthy comedy, good for the children," he said. He went on to talk about his career in the West. At first it had been frustrating. "When I first came to make movies in the West," he said, "My English was not so good. I really didn't know how they talk, or how they do stunt work. The stunt coordinator said to me, Jackie, you punch the wrong way. They tell me to slow down. They only concentrate on my pronunciation. So I went back to Hong Kong. After Rumble in the Bronx was a hit, I said ok, I have to do it my way. I use my stunt men, I do my own action scenes."
Jackie's passion about his new project, Shanghai Noon, is evident as he talked about it with excitement. "It's a Qing Dynasty story, set among cowboys and Indians," he says. "I go to America to chase after a stolen princess. It's action comedy, but with moves like ballet. And it's a period piece. I wanted to get away from the usual police from China character. Right before this, they called me up and wanted me to do another American film. They say, OK, there's a killer from Hong Kong, and you're the police from China, chasing him. I said, why the police again? I want some other character, not always the police. So I rejected it, and that's why I'm doing Shanghai Noon."
JACKIE CHAN FOUNDATION
Jackie also talked about his new foundation in America, the Jackie Chan Foundation USA. No newcomer to the charity scene, Jackie has had a long history of compounding his success as an international superstar by realizing the importance of helping others. He founded the Jackie Chan Charitable Foundation in Hong Kong in 1987, an organization which provides scholarships to young people for their education and training in the arts, and it also funds a wide range of projects including programs in hospitals. His annual Jackie Chan Benefit car race extravaganza raises money for various Hong Kong charities, and his H.O.M.E. Project assists disabled citizens of Hong Kong by providing them with communications technology. Jackie' latest charity effort continues in America with the Jackie Chan Foundation USA, and part of the proceeds of Hawaii's Martial Arts Spectacular went to benefit the East West Center at the University of Hawaii and The Castle Performing Arts Group at Castle High School. These awards were 7; made onstage during the Honolulu show. Being the superstar that he is, Jackie is able to raise more than money for good causes - he is also driven to raise awareness. With his film Who Am I he helped the cause of endangered species, especially the tiger. And, he told us in Hawaii, "I just finished a movie called Gorgeous, which is about pollution and water and protecting the environment."
Finally, besides Shanghai Noon and Rush Hour 2, Hawaiians were especially delighted to hear that Jackie might be starring in a new TV series set in Hawaii, a sort of updated Hawaii Five 0. Covered in leis mode of orchids, tuberoses, tea leaves and plumeria, Jackie seemed relaxed and happy as he chatted with fans (who traveled from Hong Kong, Japan and the Mainland), took in a luau, and practiced his hula with beautiful Hawaiian women. At Sea Life Park he received his Jackie Chan Week Proclamation award and danced with dolphins (as well as the hula girls); then he decided to act out a few stunts with the lively marine mammals. As he was hoisted up on a rope high into the air, I watched with the group of press from the deck of the whaler's ship. The dolphin jumped way up to Jackie, who fed him a fish, and then flipped over back down into the water, drenching the entire press crew! The Japanese TV guys rushed to dry their cameras, and we all enjoyed a great lunch, as Jackie and the Beijing Wushu Team posed for pictures JACKIE LOSES HIS SHIRT.
The next morning was the 50th Annual Narcissus Festival Fashion Show at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Coral Ballroom. Presented by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, the program included both fashion and martial arts, music and Jackie Chan. At an elegant luncheon I sat with Shi Yan Ming and his group of students including actors Rosie Perez and Bokeem Woodbine, who all had a great time posing for pictures with the Narcissus Queen and her court of four Princesses. Then the show got underway as Jackie was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, a beautiful teak wood award shaped like an oar, which Jackie immediately began to clown around with doing a series of martial arts moves. After his speech, Shi Yan Ming gave a dynamic performance of Shaolin kung fu which included breaking thick wooden poles across his body. This and the Kona coffee really got the crowd going, and the fashion show began. The first part included a parade of Chinese minority costumes on loan from the People's Republic of China. These were gorgeous. They were followed by a fast and furious performance by the Beijing Wushu Team, who wowed the audience with some lightning speed fighting sets, weapons forms and a slow, hypnotizing and beautiful taiji group form. Then things got funky again, as the modern part of the show went on, featuring fashions from Hong Kong's famous Shanghai Tang, famous for its "Chinese Haute Couture." The highlight of the show was - of course! - Jackie Chan modeling a gorgeous white suit, mugging for the cameras, and doing his own special runway walk which had the women screaming in the aisles. He disappeared into the darkness of the end of the runway, then reappeared again, this time to sing! Accompanied on live piano by music producer Maurice Starc. Jackie performed two of his Chinese pop hits, and then finished off his mini-set with a rendition of Elvis' "I Can't Help Falling In Love With You," which, you guessed it, had the women swooning in the aisle once again.
Then they decided to auction off the silk brocade Shanghai Tang jacket Jackie was wearing, and the bidding went wild, finally ending at $2,000, all of which went to charity. To satisfy at least one more fan, they decided to auction off the white shirt Jackie was wearing under the jacket, and that went for $400, to a woman who was just beside herself with happiness. As were the rest of the women in the room when Jackie took the shirt off on stage to give to her.
MARTIAL ARTS SPECTACULAR
As evening approached in beautiful Honolulu, the anticipation heightened. The crowds started rolling into the 8,000 seats of the Blaisdell Arena, and just as it filled to capacity the lights dimmed, and smoke began rolling out of the elaborate silk dragons adorning the stage, changing in hues of gold and blue and rose and chartreuse. Then the drums began to pound, and a glittering gold lion emerged to further rouse the crowd. As Harlan Lee's Gee Yung Lion Dance team (fresh from competition in Hong Kong) leaped and bounded on the high poles, the energy really started to flow. They finished to loud applause and cheers, and then the Beijing Wushu Team came out.
Even for an Oahu crowd - maybe along with San Francisco the most sophisticated martial arts audience you can find in the States - the Beijing Wushu Team was amazing. The show opened with a choreographed number inspired by the Terracotta Warriors, a martial piece set to dramatic music and lighting.
In terms of production quality, this is certainly one of the best martial arts shows ever to hit the United States, rivaled only perhaps by last year's Shaolin Monk tour, which also played to sold out venues. What makes the difference is truly professional theatrical lighting, a good sound system, gorgeous sets, and well-timed production. And great promotion helps; all over Honolulu were beautiful posters for the event featuring Shi Yan Ming in heroic Shaolin pose, and it was advertised on the radio, and local TV. Of course, it doesn't hurt to have Jackie Chan as your special guest, either.
Jackie, however, wasn't the only star there. Additional Hollywood glamour was added by the presence of Shi Yan Ming's special guest emcees for the Shaolin portion of the show, Rosie Perez and Bokeem Woodbine, both of whom currently study Shaolin kungfu with him in New York.
The Beijing Team has gotten to travel to the U.S. and escape part of the hard Beijing winter in Huntington Beach at Eric Chen's U.S. National Wushu Training Center. There they have trained and created a really magnificent performance team that has been showing the U.S. the best wushu in the world for the past several years. The Hawaii tour is undoubtedly the culmination of this.
Together, the Beijing Team, Wu Bin and Eric Chen and Debbie Chen have choreographed and produced an incredible wushu show that not only shows off the masterful athletic feats of the star members, but which also creates drama, comedy, and excitement. There are group fighting sets, solo performance of Drunken style and Eagle Claw, an ethereal sword dance, mesmerizing taijiquan, dynamic bagua, and weapons, weapons, weapons! Dueling straight swords, spear versus saber, whip chains, staff and pudao. Along with the music they have a live drummer on stage, Matt Emory, which added to the quality of the live show.
The Beijing Team is led by China's top champions, notably female champion Liu Qing Hua and male champion Shang Yu. Other champions are: Jiang Bang Jun, Kong Xiang Dong, Qui Dong Xing, He Jing De, Jian Zenu Jiao, and Liu Juan; other team members include Sun Min Li, Shan Ming, Shoo Chang Jun, Wang Sui Xin, Zhao Lin and Chen Chen. Each athlete has his or her own particular specialty, highlighted in the show, and the action is non-stop, and breathtaking.
Teaming up with Matt Young's impressive production, the Beijing Team is finally shown to the public as they should be. The lights, music and stage set combined with the jewel-like silk outfits, gleaming weapons and dramatic personas, all brings the immense wushu talent of the group all together in a professional package. While we have all seen great martial arts in so many demos over the years, we've finally reached a point of crossing kungfu over into a more mainstream audience, and the only way to do it is to present it on the same level as other professional entertainment. The last Shaolin Monks show and this Hawaii Spectacular indeed prove that we can market kungfu beyond our own community to the public, and this in turn will also rejuvenate the community itself.
If you missed Hawaii, there's good news - Young is bringing the Beijing Wushu Team on a 15 city national U.S. tour next year, kicking off Chinese New Year in the Year of the Dragon for the Martial Arts Spectacular 2000. He commented, "This really served as a launching pad for the 2000 tour. It's such a positive effort by all parties to make something of this caliber happen."
Meanwhile, audiences on Oahu, Maui and Kauai couldn't have gotten a better night of great kungfu, and they showed their appreciation with standing ovations and requests for autographs in the lobbies. And did we have fun? Oh yeah. I went from cruising around Oahu grooving to Wu Tang Clan in a rental car, soaking up the sun and the surfing and the Shaolin vibe, to watching the guys from the Beijing team hunt for crabs on the beaches of Kauai, and visiting the Hanalee lagoon said to be the home of Puff the Magic Dragon with Wu Bin. We had delicious food at the famous China House restaurant in Honolulu. I got to improve my Mandarin vocabulary (for instance, pangxie - crab) talking with the Chinese athletes, who, by the way, still practice sometimes six hours a day even on tour, never relaxing their incredible discipline. We saw dozens of whales frolicking off the beach, and I learned that there are more than 30 different kinds of pineapple grown in Hawaii. After one last Spam musubi I was sad to leave, and I remembered the last thing Jackie Chan told us: "Everywhere I travel, there's only one place I ever want to stay one more day - and that's Hawaii. Whenever I'm here I say to my manager, let's stay another day. Because Hawaii, it makes you happy."
Look For Full coverage of the Beijing Wushu Team and Martial Arts Spectacular 2000 in upcoming WushuKungfu issues.