Monday, August 17, 2009

Chun Yi

Chun Yi, the programme advises us, was the name of a child brought by his mother to a temple where the disciplines of kung fu would eventually turn him into a Better Person, wise, strong and dedicated to peace. Chun Yi , the kung fu show at the Coliseum, did not, alas, have quite the same effect on me. My resistance to kitsch is pretty high, but this rampaging outburst of eye-popping acrobatics, glutinous soundtrack and nugatory drama, of men maltreating each other in approved breaking-slabs-of-concrete- on-bare-chests fashion and generally showing that nothing can hurt them, tested my ability to withstand such jollities to the limit. Chun Yi: The Legend of Kung Fu , has been exported from Beijing in recent years. It is a frenzy of garish lighting effects, physical bravura of an extraordinary kind, a narrative that would curdle the milk of human kindness in someone of sweeter temperament than mine, and it boasts every trick of the theatre save nudity and a shipwreck. The theme, obligingly given to us in English by what purports to be a monk instructing a child (and the show is well-totted), relates how kung fu, like scouting, will educate a lad, shape a man and bring about moral and physical betterment. So we follow a small boy, wrenched from his mother for his own good, in the predictable journey from apprenticeship to dazzling muscular skills, to temptation - which involves swinging through the air with the beloved and a small but noxious outbreak of dance - and then redemption through gymnastics. Impossible feats of derring-do abound, and costuming is as far over the top as it is possible to go without looking like a drag queen. A recorded and saccharin score drowns us in pentatonic syrup and wailing voices, and generally affects the digestion badly. The performers are stunning in their abilities, leaping and turning somersaults in the air, kicking the while at anything that impedes their progress. Swords and staves are brandished, and acrobatics rule, extraordinary and thrilling. The lighting is manic. Snow falls at one moment; soap bubbles and a funeral and dragons and an oracular commentary are there to make matters more and more unlikely. Inscrutable. Hysterical. Not to be tried at home

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