Full disclosure, I am a big fan of Bruce Lee – I’m drawn to his charisma, his incredible physical precision, and, oh yeah, that smokin’ hot bod. So it’s not surprising that David Henry Hwang’s bioplay about Lee, Kung Fu, doesn’t really tell me anything about Bruce I didn’t already know. As Hwang usually does, however, he’s managed to find compelling ways to meditate on the sociological and artistic dimensions of Lee’s story.
Originally begun as the book of a projected Bruce Lee musical that never materialized, Kung Fu tells much the same story as the Lee biopic Dragon. More emphasis is placed on Bruce’s relationship with his father Hoi-Chuen, played with rock-solid gravitas by the great Francis Jue. Hoi-Chuen was an actor in Jyut kek, also known as Cantonese opera. Hwang used Cantonese opera’s northern cousin Jīngjù, or Peking opera, in his revision of Flower Drum Song. As he did there, he has incorporated several dance numbers in the traditional Chinese form, to great visual and emotional effect.
In general, Hwang has replaced what would have been musical numbers with fight or Jyut kek numbers, with original instrumental music by Du Yun. Kung Fu is, above all other things, a choreographic spectacle – Emmanuel Brown’s fights, Sonya Tayeh’s dances and Jamie Guan’s Jyut kek are all eye-filling and thoroughly exciting.
Cole Horibe, best known for his appearance in TV’s “So You Think You Can Dance”, dazzles with the precision and power of his moves, as anybody who portrays Lee should. He also has Lee’s accent down cold – not some random Chinese accent, but Bruce Lee’s exact accent. And he has the demeanor down too: a confident spiritual seeker, but always with a steely, cocky, even thuggish core.
This isn’t the most definitive telling of Lee’s life story, nor is it Hwang’s most insightful work. It is a mildly thoughtful, visually exciting object lesson on overcoming adversity with grace and determination. On that level, I can recommend it.
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