I recently had the privilege of attending one of the performances of the Shaolin Warriors Theatrical production, and I have to say that this is a fun and entertaining event not to be missed. From theatrical martial arts to weapons to even the everyday lifestyle of meditation and learning, this theatrical group will definitely win your heart and leave you feeling at “one” with … well, maybe not the Universe, but at least their group! I give this performance an 8.9 out of 10. And, in the traditional style of any movie reviews I do, I will review their performance (from my perspective only), under the same, rigorous rules I apply to movies. So, without further ado – here we go!
I’m not sure there are enough awesome things I can say about this performance. The story takes place in ancient China, in a Shaolin Temple, following the lives of two young students who are indoctrinated into the Shaolin way of life, raised in the temple, trained, and eventually graduate to become Shaolin Warriors. It’s a simple story, it’s well told, and it’s visually stunning to see in person. (Even the pictures here do not fully capture the in-person effects … I will add a link to some taken at the play when they are finally processed).
Almost everyone has watched a movie with action packed fighting and adventure of some sorts – but seeing it in person is a totally different experience. These guys move fast, they exaggerate their martial arts to really impact the audience (like “snapping” paper used in place of blades), and not only capture the same thrill of fast-paced martial arts that is in Hollywood, but they do it live and in person which is … well … hands down … AWESOME!
The lighting is mostly well done. The various hues and colors they use accompany an incredible score that perfectly blends with every scene. From the relaxing and serene sands of the temple grounds to the sweeping of the temple itself … it really does set you at ease right away. But, when the action starts – it really starts fast. There are bodies everywhere, people constantly moving, and it’s literally overwhelming (in a positive way). The young children playing in the group are excellent and fill their roles very well. As they are slowly replaced by their older counterparts (several years later …), the transition is seamless, surprising, and one of those visual effects that will make you smile … guaranteed.
The use of weapons was astounding. Every weapon was thoroughly demonstrated and its true and proper fashion. Even some of the work was entertaining and had the audience laughing. The amount of discipline these guys put into their work is incredible. These are not a troupe of ‘actors’ trying to learn to use a sword properly. These are real martial artists bringing their talent and skill to the stage! And, what you’ve seen on television will translate (in part), to what you see here – flawlessly. What’s especially important about this is that this performance is the story of the life of a Shaolin monk from a very young age until they day they pass their graduation. That’s a long time. To be able to so accurately portray that, with a group of performers who can really do the work, adds a level of realism to a ‘performance’ that is beyond anything you will get from Hollywood. This is the type of realism and level of performance that you will remember for a very, very long time.
The props are minimal and the usage of the stage is so extensive that there will not be one corner untouched. The martial arts are very spot on (except for some of the fighting, which is, of course, for obvious reasons), and the use of props and sounds are perfect. Not every guy is always perfectly synchronized with the others – but this is an added touch that gives a level of realism often missed in movies. Would everyone always be perfect? (I doubt it). Yet, even when out of sync, no one misses a cue or falters in their work! The play has moments of hilarity (including involving the audience, both young and old), peace, action, and a little bit of thrills (see image below … yes, that dude is being held up by spears!!).
Even though I may not have ever had the honor of visiting a real Shaolin Temple, I would not be surprised to find out that this play properly captured the real atmosphere, feel and life of the Shaolin monks. In fact, I really wanted to ask these guys if they had ever performed at a temple for Shaolin monks and what the monks had thought about it … but alas … no such luck!! Regardless, the play is respectful and spot on with a lot of the history about the Shaolin and is in every way a perfectly honorable portrayal of their lifestyle … and for these guys, for America, and for China … that is worth its weight in gold!
Something that’s also very important to me is story line. I hate … and I hate … and I HATE condescending directors and movies (okay … I try not to “hate” … but really dislike it!!). While there is a bit of disconnect for an audience unfamiliar with Chinese plays and some of the Shaolin elements (where only a couple of us knew when to clap and the rest of the audience had to catch on), these guys do not waste time being condescending to their audience. They give their performance without hesitation in the manner it was meant to be presented. The story line is refreshing, being told without words, yet one cannot help but feel as though we could hear everything said just by their body language! I would recommend that *if they wanted … although totally unnecessary* they add a couple voice overs at the beginning and some transitions (because most audiences are well … needing to catch up), but otherwise … I appreciate a more intelligent story that fills the imagination and uplifts the spirit without having to dumb down.
Another beautiful aspect of the story line was the level of detail on the graduation. Having been involved with some of this, I was familiar with the wooden dummies used in some of the graduations. Although not familiar with the style used in this play, one of the ceremonies told about in America in certain martial arts styles is a hall of dummies, where the Shaolin would have to pass through an obstacle of triggered mechanisms and dodge, block, or avoid such mechanisms. These were randomly reset by the monks providing a different experience for each student. It felt a little awkward sitting in the audience as I saw blank stares at 6 guys with only 3 responding to the movements of the student, but I understood what was happening. That level of detail tells the story exquisitely and exposes people to the real challenges of the Shaolin (and one can only hope that the audience would be interested enough to look it up and learn more).
They offer a very beautiful pictorial book, wooden bracelets (some more well engraved than others though … mine was not as awesome as some of the others I saw), and DVDs for the audience. The audience was pretty balanced with children and adults. Similarly, the cheers, standing ovation, and enjoyment was equally shared by all. While the venue I saw it in was a small town theater (the Tower Theater … which is actually a pretty cool place), even being stuck pretty far back, I was able to enjoy the visuals and audio without any limitations. In fact, it was almost worthwhile to sit further back to be able to see everything happening as these guys really do take full advantage of the whole stage. In theater, sometimes that’s really hard to do since you want to keep the audience focused on the main characters. So, an extra kudos to these guys for their visually stunning performance that is well designed for theaters of all types!
Finally, I would like to add that this is an especially awesome play because it’s one that ANYONE can enjoy. There’s no unpleasant gratuities of any kind. It’s about a peaceful lifestyle of monks who believe in hard work, discipline, and yet … like to have a little fun. Even the drunken boxing (although a little reserved), was fun. So … go. Right now. Stop reading … and go! (okay …well, maybe not “right” now … ).
So, everything has to have a bad … but in this case, it’s really, REALLY hard to find anything wrong with the play itself.
Sound. The sound editing could definitely do with some refinement, but I’m not sure if that was an issue of the theater I was in, or if the play needed some added sound support? For instance, the bells were a little cut off in the end to switch to a different track, rather than having multiple tracks that allowed the ringing to fade off and the music to fade in. However, that was only a very small portion of the entire night and was in no way a turn off. One other addition is the lack of ability to hear the guys when they are stomping on the ground, yelling out in sequence, and other similar effects that add to the whole experience. It’s not like these guys can wear audio attachments though … so maybe that’s something that should be fixed with the theaters where they perform? Otherwise, I could still hear and feel the emotions of each scene. (Wish I could see this in a bigger venue – so if anyone else out there has seen it this way and has more to add .. please speak up!). And … although there is some drumming … I’ve seen pictures with a gong and we didn’t get a gong … I wanted a gong!
Some down time. There are some scene transitions that run a little long, leaving the lights totally down for a little longer than comfortable. While that, too, may have been an issue of the theater we were at (limitations on space for the actors), the following scene was so fast and amazing, you could barely remember it happened.
Pulling Punches. Some of the interactive fighting was a little, too restrained. While hitting one another is not helpful in live action because it can result in some unwanted consequences (and I’ve seen that in first person and have been the recipient of that … and it’s not pretty), at times, it seemed like “too” much of a dance with the distance between the guys. However, don’t misunderstand, when these guys flew into the air and hit the ground … they HIT the ground! There were no pulled punches in that regard … and frequently, I was concerned that they hit too hard … but if they did … it never showed.
Drunken Boxing. I’ve never seen a drunken boxen kata performed as well as these guys did it. It was hilarious, funny, and easy to follow. Oh … oops, sorry … we’re in the “bad” section. Well … anyway, the drunken boxing was a little under-exaggerated. But, here’s the hard part with that: their drunken boxing was very realistic. What is shown on television is “overtly” overdone for dramatic effects. On the other hand, this is theater and the perfect time for being extra dramatic. It’s a difficult balance, but I think a tad more on the stumbling around might have made it “more” obvious to the audience that it was drunken boxing. (For example, I recognized it immediately without having looked at the program based on my background, but a lot of others were confused about the empty jug they carried … because it’s theater and a wet stage is difficult to work on).
The End. While the end scene was incredibly well done, it seemed a little confusing to the audience that this is what was happening. Of course, this wasn’t the first time in the theater that I was clapping alone (having had some experience in this arena and being familiar with the genre). Finally … everyone started clapping. But, it might help the troupe to have more of a “finale” style ending … not because there was anything wrong with the play at all (it is literally perfect as-is), but because audiences are not always up to speed on Chinese theater styles or how Shaolin rituals work.
Lighting. This play used lighting beautifully. It was an explosion of colors! But, the lighting often times was far darker than it should have been. Although, I have to add here, that this may have been a limitation of the theater and had nothing to do with the troupe’s lighting sequences. What I do know is that this group has a lot of backgrounds and extra lighting that they normally include that was not present at our showing. I watched the DVD and read through their book and … WOW! The visuals are even more stunning than what I saw. So … for anyone that can watch it in a bigger venue … the experience should be even more fantastic!
Umm … well … there was the … and then, the … well … hmm…
I got nothin’. No … really. The length of the different scenes was perfect. The acting was dead on for what this was supposed to be. The martial arts was fun and exciting. And, the story was excellent. I guess, if I “have” to put something here … maybe it is to say that there are times that it’s potentially hard for some of the audience to know what’s happening if you don’t look at the program, first. Otherwise … it’s just … a fantastic play all around.
So, there you have it. The Shaolin Warriors: The Legend Continues, is an incredible play that is fun for everyone, interactive, high-spirited, and very (ceremoniously), enlightening. As far as theater and culturally uplifting experiences go … this is it! This is the type of performance that really puts Broadway in its place. Not everyone gets to go to Broadway or gets big budgets. But, that’s not what theater is about. It’s about the ability of the script, the actors, and a few costumes and props to tell a ready good story that the audience can enjoy. Shaolin Warriors is a perfect example of a play that requires no words because it is very well told.
If you’re going for singing … go see “Cats” or “The Phantom of the Opera.” But, if you just want to enjoy a serene tale (there are no words in this play), feel the peaceful essence of daily life in a Shaolin Temple, feel the real bond between the brotherhood of monks, enjoy some of the live action fighting and training they do, laugh a little, be a little astonished at some very cool visuals and physical feats … and especially for cultural and martial arts lovers … then this is for you! I would recommend it without hesitation … and for anyone who has ever read my other reviews … you’d know that I am very reserved on a LOT of movies and events.
So, this is how I rated this play, from 1 to 10:
Visuals: 8 (absolutely stunning use of colors, but a little too dark, regardless of theater, and some of the transitions were a little, too long)
Sound: 8 (Regardless of theater, some of the audio needed enhanced, and even though some drumming was done during one of the scenes … which was awesome, would love to see a bit more expansion on the music … when this hits Broadway, of course!)
Story: 8 (This set out to do what it was meant to, but I think for the audience, a little background ancient “old Chinese wise man” Hollywood style intro voice over (which they often have in many Asian films to fill in background and transitions) … or even some scene transition support, would have been great … not that I would personally change anything … )
Actors: 10 (Everyone played their part perfectly, was well trained, and everyone looked like they were enjoying what they did … imparting that joy to the audience. Their positive spirit is what I would imagine it to be if I were to visit monks at a temple)
Scenes/Props: 10 (Sometimes less is more … and in this case … it was awesome … from snapping swords to breaking bricks!)
Audience: 8 (They really knew how to draw in their audience … and that was great! However, they needed to balance with an audience unfamiliar with Chinese plays or how the Shaolin rituals were conducted … although that end “recap” … fantastic!)
Length: 9 (Perfect length of each scene, very well done. A “-1” for the Drunken Boxing scene needing to be a bit more ‘flowery’ for its length, but otherwise … excellent)
Enthusiasm: 10 (Adding this in lieu of a ‘director’ or plot from a Hollywood movie, because this is a small acting troupe, with a modest budget, doing some BIG-time amazing work, and their enthusiasm sets the tone for the audience … and from start to finish – these guys were thrilling!)
Overall: I give this production an 8.9 out of 10!
Conclusion: Go, young grasshopper … be one with the multiverse! (Really … it’s worth it … take a night off of television, Hollywood, the news, media, and all the crud out there and treat yourself … it is WAY worth it … I feel confident in assuring you that these guys won’t let you down …. especially if you’re being propped up on 3 spears … yikes!)
Thanks for reading!
“From evil comes suffering. With justice they are gone. If neither are there you’re so purified, nothing remains. Understand how to let go first, then you will have no attachments. Do this, and you can confront anything.” – The Abbot (Shaolin: Movie)