Shaolin Kung Fu Masters

The Ultimate Masters of Kung-Fu return to the UK with a show jam-packed with incredible feats.
New Theatre, Sun November 25th 2007 & Thu October 23rd 2008

October 28, 2008
This is a very unusual show, performed (we are assured) by real monks, who have trained themselves to be lethal fighting machines since they were tiny moppets – and indeed, some of the performing monks are currently tiny moppets, who couldn’t have been more than six or seven years old.

The show opens with great éclat, as a monk works himself into a state in which he can have a metal bar broken over his head, before moving onto a dramatic representation of an incident from the Shaolin monks’ early history, which unfortunately resulted in all of them being assassinated by the emperor, except for five little moppets who escaped to continue the great tradition of Kung Fu. This was pleasingly done using mime and spectacular visual techniques from Chinese opera; the costumes were sumptuous and the fighting splendidly choreographed.

But the real stars of the show are the monks doing their Kung Fu stuff. It’s just the thing to appeal to the little boy in everyone, and indeed much of the audience was composed of little boys and their families (some big boys too), who could be spotted in the interval trying out their Kung Fu screams and moves. The moves on stage were absolutely as fast as lightning, and the yells startlingly savage. There was also a splendidly mystical element to the proceedings, when monks lay down on top of sharp swords and had heavy weights, other monks and beds of nails pressing down on top of them and yet miraculously were not chopped into three segments, or walked barefoot over sharpened axe-heads while carrying buckets full of water and yet miraculously did not get their feet sliced open, and one marvellous trick involving metal dishes, suction, and small boys’ tummies, which had the audience all wondering "How did they DO that?"

I don’t think Kung Fu is going to appeal to girls that much (if mine is anything to go by) because of all the yelling, which is perceived as definitely uncool, and also the ritual exercises imitating the movements of various animals, which can also be uncool. But I expect Oxford’s Kung Fu schools will be doing pretty well for boy recruits next week.

Definitely a very enjoyable and intriguing show, which you would do well to catch.

November 26, 2007
Whenever I’m on a dance floor, and especially if I’ve had one too many Babychams, I start to perform kung fu moves. I’m not sure why, but at the time it feels like the right thing to do. Therefore, upon news that I was to be reviewing Shaolin Kung Fu Masters at the New Theatre I was appreciative of the opportunity to see how my moves compare to the experts’. And, I can conclude, that unless I develop some near-supernatural powers, the grace of a swan and the agility of a gazelle, my kung fu prowess will continue to remain inordinately inferior.

The monks and trainee monks performing the show come from the Shaolin Temple in China, famous for its association with Chinese martial arts. Within the first few seconds of the show it becomes clear that their ability is awesome. Even the younger artists (the littlest looked no older than six) were by no means included to add a ‘cute’ garnish – some of their routines involved what I can only describe as head-bouncing and stomach hopping (imagine unbelievably sensational break dancing).

Clearly everyone would have asked for their money back if there had been no wood-chopping or brick-smashing. The second half of the show was an edge-of-your-seat spectacular with act after act demonstrating the monks’ amazing ability to concentrate their strength to seemingly defy the laws of physics. One artist walks up a staircase of knives, another has a wooden pole smashed across his derriere and another spins round on a sharpened spear-head balancing only on his belly. The pre-performance warning of ‘don’t try this at home kids’ was particularly pertinent at this point.

The show was by no means focussed on martial ability per se, and was as much a polished, graceful feat of dance. Acts of combat were superbly choreographed and performed to music that ranged from what could have been the soundtrack to Beverly Hills Cop to haunting East-meets-West percussion pieces. The scenery and lighting was simple but effective.

Kung fu reputedly mimics the moves of animals and the Shaolin monks certainly appeared to demonstrate agility, flexibility and strength not often seen in humans. And especially not seen in those humans disgracing themselves late at night on a dingy Oxford dance floor.

The Shaolin King Fu Masters were so skilled it was intimidating; those cats were fast as lightning, in fact it was a little bit frightening…(sorry).
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