Long Yun Kung Fu is a touring ensemble, consisting of members who are handpicked by the world-renowned, Jackie Chan. Members were selected as young as 11 years old and came from Chinas most prestigious martial arts groups including The Shaolin Kung Fu Monk Corps and The Chinese Shen Wu Cultural Communication Company.
Early on, the group focused on Kung Fu and qigong, a Chinese system of physical exercises and breathing control seen in film such as The Karate Kid and Dragon Blade. However, more recently, the group began to incorporate elements of traditional Chinese dance, music, speech and writing. Liu Lu, a chorographer from the Beijing Academy of Dance, taught the group ballet and modern dance. Their first show titled Gateway in 2007, displays their fusion of tradition Kung Fu with modern dance. In 2009, the group added more technical and dramatic elements into their performance with uses of video projection and complex lighting schemes. These performances earned them national and international acclaimed after being broadcasted on a Korean-Chinese Music Festival supported by CCTV (China Central television) and KBS (Korean Broadcasting System). In 2014, the group was invited to perform at the U.S Dance Salad Festival in Houston Texas. That same year, they achieved national acclaimed when their show 11 Warriors premiered at the Chang and Grand Theater in Beijing. After that the group toured Eastern Europe, performing at Berlin, Macedonia and Jerusalem. Currently, the group has 4 shows: Water Sleeves Kung Fu Show, Kung Fu & Beats, Kung Fu Dance Gateway, and 11 Warriors. The group also has 2 self-directed movies: Legend of the Five Elements and The Lady and Her 11 Sons.
The group is dedicated to spreading China’s five thousand year old Kug Fu culture and traditions, working as ambassadors to the world through their new art form, bringing the vision of Jackie Chan to Life in impressive and moving performances
Dynamic Inheritance- 11 Warriors and Gateway Dance
As described earlier, the group has many works and accomplishments under its belt, but for a close analysis, I will look at their 11 Warriors program. This program is their newest program incorporating works form their previous ones such as the Water Sleeves Kung Fu Show and Kung Fu Dance Gateway. The group was praised by Pan Pan Zhitao, a dance professor at the Beijing Dance Academy, who said that the “11 Warriors is real Chinese Kung Fu that not only inherits tradition, but also innovation.” In class we discussed the fine line, or the lack there of, between tradition and innovation. It was unanimous that “cultural traditions should be continuously reinterpreted… and individual artists play pivotal roles in this process” (Wilcox). Innovation is a necessity in the preservation of tradition as seen in the success of performances such as Siqintariha’s and Yang Ling Ping’s innovations. Much like Dynamic Yunnan, Long Yun Kung Fu not only Inherits tradition but innovation. Their innovative approach brings Chinese culture to America: generating curiosity and appreciation for traditional Chinese Kung Fu.
11 Warriors is divided into 5 acts: earth, fire, wood, water, and metal. These are also known as the 5 elements of Kung Fu or wuxing. The warriors incorporate innovative technology, modern dance and props to tell the story of these 5 elements.
The first act, named “Source”, tells the story of man learning Kung Fu from nature. A huge projection of a 3D grasshopper is seen in the back as a warrior danced in front, mimicking the grasshopper’s movement. As audiences are unfamiliar with Kung Fu, the projection allowed for a visual representation of their message in a simplistic but visually stunning medium. In the second act, an LED display is seen in the back of the performers. A fire display is projected in the back of the dancers enhancing the dancers movement. This act is titled “Source”, as the background displays different forms of fire, representing the passion of Kung Fu performers. The dancers move in a similar rhythm as the background, analogous to the raging passion of the performers. The fourth act, “softness”, once again uses the LED display. Water ripples and rain are projected in the back of the warriors to convey, “beneath the tough appearance of the fighters, their mind is peaceful like water”. The use of technology in these acts enhanced the martial art performance and allowed for a story to be told rather than just a habitual performance. The audiences knowledge of Kung Fu is limited to only a visual appreciation of the arts, but this coupling of technology allows for an appreciation of not only the skills of the performers, but the story of Kung Fu, and its roots.
The last act, titled celebration incorporates the familiar long sleeves seen in Chinese opera. As the 11 Warriors is a compiled act of their former performances, for closer analysis, we will be looking at the Dance Gateway Performance as we can see a more in depth use of the sleeve. In Chinese opera the sleeves are used as an extension of the actress emotions, expressing their identify, personality and feelings in its movement. However, the sleeves for long Yun serve as restraints. The sleeves tell the story of the difficult road of Kung Fu, one with much turmoil and obstacles. The sleeves become a harness and chains of the Kung Fu student. It is only after he masters Kung Fu, that the sleeves become an extension of the master. Julie Ma, the president of the Chinese Fine Arts Society in Chicago stated “anyone who goes to any Chinese cultural performances will recognize the beautiful long sleeves that you typically see on beautiful women, buts these guys re-appropriate them, combined with Kung Fu and make this a completely different art form”. In typical Kung Fu performances, the use of props is limited to sticks, nun chunks, and swords; however, the Long Yun Kung Fu troupe uses non stereotypical props. Their choices in props extends their martial arts act to not only displaying combat, but to creating a visually stunning performance. The audience’s mind is simple and much like a child; amazed by things we’re not familiar with. Typical Kung Fu is combat based fighting in which audiences are only able to become amazed with the skills and power of the performers. However, Long Yun Troupe allows audiences to become amazed by the beauty of Kungfu and not the violence. This is also partially credited to the incorporation of modern dance. As mentioned before, the Long Yun Troupe was taught modern dance and ballet by Liu Lu. It is seen throughout all of their acts that they have modern dance influence. Their pointed toes, flexibility, smooth flow and light leaps are in reminiscence of ballet. The unique style of incorporating martial arts and dance forms is called Xin Wu Lin, which means “new martial arts.” XinWu Lin is a “crucial medium through which artists carry out this process of dynamic inheritance and authorship of tradition.”(Wilcox)
In classical Chinese Kung Fu performance, the ritual is accompanied by percussion. However, in this performance, the music is very contemporary and upbeat, much resemblance to the music seen in classic action Hollywood movies such as James Bond or the Avengers franchise. The suspense of the scene is felt and enhanced through the music. The choice in music appeals to modern audiences who are accustomed to musical accompaniment with badass scenes.
The Long Yun Troupe is no doubt a dynamic inheritance of traditional Kung Fu. “Thinking about cultural inheritance in this way opens up the possibility for viewing artistic innovation not in opposition to the continuity of tradition, but instead as a necessary component of it.”(Wilcox)
Jackie Chan vs. Bruce Lee
Now that we have seen the fruit of dynamic inheritance, it is important to learn about the its pioneers. Kung Fu has one of the biggest influences among all types of media on Americans perception of Chinese. It is not right to analyze Kung Fu cinema without mentioning its pioneering figure, Bruce Lee.
Bruce Lee introduced Chinese martial arts to Western audiences and rewrote the history of action cinema. Kaminsky and Shu argues that “Lee’s film do not manifest any sense of common good as do Japanese Samurai films or Americans films, but instead promote violence, vengeance and destruction” (Shu). He takes on a “superman” persona and serves as a protagonist, redressing the problem of social injustice. Lee’s rise to fame was at a time when the United Stated were experiencing unprecedented amount of racism and violence. From the 1960s to the 1970s, the U.S was in political turmoil with the Civil Rights Act, The Third World Student Strike and the Anti Vietnam War protest. In 1974, Frank Chin published an anthology of Asian American literature titled Aieeee. He expressed the problems that many Asian Americans have faced in constructing their political and cultural identity. “The stereotypical Asian is nothing as a man…he is womanly, effeminate, devoid of all the traditionally masculine qualities of originality, daring, physical courage, and creativity”(Shu). Bruce Lee used his platform to allow Asian Americans to reinvent themselves and break away from they Asian soft body:
“First of all I do not believe in blood for the sake of blood. There has to be a reason! Why do I start fighting? Actually. I don’t call it “violence” I would say this is “action” I didn’t create a monster, all this blood in the Chinese pictures. It was there before I came. Hopefully , I can use (my films) to show the audiences why these things are happening. “-Bruce Lee
Lee explains his motives for his films, believing that it would redress the defeat, humiliation and racism the Chinese had suffered. He redefined the Asian American image with a masculine body. With his death in 1973, Jackie Chan was said to be his successor, but became his antithesis stating
“when he kick high, I kick low. When he not smiling, always smiling. He can one punch break the wall; I after I break the wall. I hurt. I do the funny face.”-Jackie Chan
What Lee’s movies lack, Chan’s make up for. Chan humanizes Kung Fu and redefines Asian masculinity. Every Jackie Chan movie is accompanied by outtakes behind the closing credits and this is where Chan truly shine. Contrary to the superhuman body Lee displays in his film, Chan shows that he is not invincible. He “deconstruct the hard body of the American action cinema as both a fantasy and an illusion”(shu).
While Chan aims to break away from the shadows of Lee, he acknowledges Lee’s legacy and constantly draw from Lee’s works. In the Long Yun 11 warrior, Chan pays homage to Lee in his third act is titled “master”. As 8 warriors are seen uniformly in grey suits, 2 warriors are seen in a simple white tank top, and the 11th warrior in Bruce Lee iconic yellow tracksuit in Game of Death. The message displays “only the masters of masters can guide kungfu”. This simplistic but meaningful message ties together Chan and Lee’s ultimate goal of reshaping the Asian American image through the reinvention of Kung Fu. Tradition is the constant inheritance and innovations of tradition and this cycle is seen with Lee and Chan as Chan steers away from his predecessor, but not fully neglecting the traditions.
From the very beginning, Chan has been reinventing and shaping Chinas identity from the false narrative painted by foreigners. He is a master of dynamic inheritance.
Kung Fu as China’s Soft Power
From the early 1990s, a strong sense of national pride emerged as China grew to be one of the world’s leading economies. “ To revive the Chinese civilization and assure ‘the rise of China’ became the ultimate goal of contemporary Chinese nationalism. From the mid-1990s onwards, China’s defensive nationalism were expressed intensively in martial arts” (Zhouxiang)
Kung fu, also known as wushu “has long been regarded as an important cultural image of the Chinese nation. From the beginning of the twentieth century, Wushu has been associated with Chinese nationalism in a number of different ways, a relationship that has been reinforced by martial arts films. Inspired by nationalism, Chinese martial arts films have built Wushu into a symbol of indigenous virtue and strength.” (Zhouxiang)
Films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Rumble in the Brox and Rush Hour were all box office hits not only bringing in huge revenue, but international recognition. Much like these films, The Long Yun Kung Fu troupe acts as a source of nationalistic pride. As a minority, Chinese American immigrants feel a sense of alienation. Chan and the Long Yun Kung Fu troupe stimulate a nationalistic feeling and acts as a bridge between the Chinese and American culture. The popularity of kung fu films demonstrates the core values of Chinese tradition and stresses a sense of nationalism.
Kung Fu is an important cultural image of the Chinese nation. “The essential spirit of (Kung Fu) is to inherit and preserve the core values of Chinese tradition and to stress a sense of nationalism” (Zhouxiang). The Long Yun Kung Fu Troupe incorporates elements of traditional Kung Fu, ballet, and modern dance in their performances of the 11 warriors and Gateway Dance. Long Yun is real Chinese Kung Fu that not only inherits tradition but innovation. Their innovative approach spreads Chinese culture and pride as the awing performance generates curiosity and appreciation for traditional Chinese Kung Fu.
The Long Yun Kung Fu troupe proves to be an astonishing act and behind such great work is an even greater mastermind. “Since the late twentieth century, Hollywood has witnessed a renewed interest among American audiences in Kung Fu cinema, which was pioneered by Bruce Lee and transformed by Jackie Chan” (Shu). The first steps of Chinese culture entering Western cinema was made with Bruce Lee, but continued with Chan. Bruce Lee redefined the image of Asian Americans to a strong and masculine body. His work is continued by his successor, Jackie Chan, who continues to take on the idea of dynamic inheritance to spread Chinese nationalistic pride. While Jackie Chan has made much innovations to the traditional Kung Fu, he retains a traditionalist, nationalist ideology of “Chineseness”.
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