KUNG FU - Signature - review

Matt Rogers
Broadway Star
joined:10/4/04
KUNG FU - Signature - review
Posted: 2/7/14 at 01:45pm
Will someone please buy David Henry Hwang another ream of paper? He apparently ran out while writing KUNG FU, and what we are left with is half a play.

Possible spoilers below.

Bruce Lee died at age 32, but Hwang does not take us to that point, and I'm not sure why, since his early life is covered, as is his rocky relationship with his father, and his introduction into Hollywood. But about halfway into that, after he plays Kato in the Green Hornet, the play just kind of fizzles away. It's seriously as if Hwang ran out of paper or disc space on his computer and then just said "screw it, there's enough here. The end."

Aside from the rather sudden ending, the play is a mixed bag. the choreography is constant, and it is pretty brilliant. This is a frentic play, filled with endless movement and a lot of it is just riveting.

The dialogue and plotting ----a little less than riveting. The scenes with his wife are absolute snoozers. It's all very unfocused, and I'm not sure exactly what point Hwang is trying to make here.

I'm not going to say anything about the performances, as I saw an early preview, and it is clear that the actors, while talented, are still finding their footing.

I would reccommend this simply because the choreography and fight sequences are dynamic, and of course, for twenty-five bucks, it's one of the best deals in town.
AntV
Featured Actor
joined:12/23/12
KUNG FU - Signature - review
Posted: 2/8/14 at 01:50am
The play covers the struggles in Bruce's life as he tries to become a successful actor. Once he finally makes peace with his father then he is able to return to Hong Kong to shoot his big movies. Coming to terms with a strict and judgmental parent is the point that Hwang is trying to make here. Once he gets the big movies then there is no drama remaining and no story left to be told. This is a funny and exciting play, so having him die at the end would not have fit with the tone of the rest of the show. I was satisfied with the length that it covered and with the ending.
WiCkEDrOcKS
Broadway Legend
joined:6/13/04
KUNG FU - Signature - review
Posted: 2/9/14 at 05:34pm
I just got in from seeing this and I was not fan. Bruce Lee's story is well-suited for a stage adaptation, and the fight sequences are impeccable here, but the performance and text are...not. I appreciated that the approach isn't a paint-by-numbers Wikipedia-esque retelling of Lee's life, but what it does instead is highlight never-ending melodramatic situations we've become all too familiar with in the theater (Dad treats his son poorly, racism in the 60s, a ceaseless dedication to ones dream, etc). And the text doesn't handle them with enough of a new vision or fresh approach to make any of it ring true or come to life. I agree that there could have been a better play here had Hwang fleshed it out more and examined more of Lee's life. We never really get to see any of his hard work and determination pay off (even though we know it obviously did in the end) and it's a bit frustrating in terms of the framework of the piece. The performances are lacking as well. Cole Horibe may have the physicality of Lee, but his characterization came across as completely unlikable and just plain annoying to me. Frankly, he's just not that good of an actor. The rest of the cast is more or less in the same realm; some moreso than others.

It's well-directed by Leigh Silverman, with some really great scene changes involving the cast moving around the set pieces and props while performing all kinds of acrobatics and kung fu moves. As I mentioned, the choreography and fight scenes are pretty exciting at times.

I was hopeful about this one; The Signature is one of my favorite theater companies in New York and as I said, I think Lee's life is well-suited for the stage, but unfortunately KUNG FU just didn't do it for me.
Current Avatar: Tony-winner Idina Menzel, delivering a sucker-punch of an 11:00 number, "Always Starting Over," in IF/THEN.
emjayay
Swing
joined:2/10/14
KUNG FU - Signature - review
Posted: 2/10/14 at 12:29pm
Saw the show last night. The first Signature show I saw was Albee's The Lady from Dubuque, one of the best productions of anything I've ever seen. Just stunning. Since then, some good shows, some great. The revival of David Hwang's Golden Child last season was pretty bad. I assume the original production wasn't, so there was really no excuse for the barely mediocre at best acting and direction. There isn't much excuse for this production of Kung Fu either.

As it went on I started thinking about how it could have been shaped into a production that worked. Various possiblities I'm sure, but it would take a complete rethinking of just about everything.

Besides what else has been said here about the show suddenly stopping like it ran out of time or something, there are many, many problems. The basic credibility problem is that the Bruce Lee character has a very strong Chinese accent. At first I wondered if it was just the character when he was new to the US, and he is shown misusing words early on, but the FOB accent never changed as years go by so I have to assume it's the actor, or just a big directorial error. Lots of discussion of why he isn't getting a lead role in an American film or TV series, but never because of either his accent or his acting, only his being Chinese. Way too simplistic and cliched. Kind of like the whole script.

Cole Horibe is a really skilled dancer, but this ability is mostly thrown away after the early scenes of the play, replaced by Kung Fu moves only. A lot of work went into the fight chreography, which is generally done as a group dance with most of the cast. But it isn't integrated with the dialogue sections, which are generally clunky and poorly directed. The acting is mostly at the worst of community theater level level. It could well be more of a fault of the writing and direction than the actors. Hard to tell. The actor playing his father does make a valiant effort with what he's given. The kid actor is adorable and does his job.

Every photo of Bruce Lee is with him with his shirt off and fluffy hair with bangs hanging over his forehead. Horibe sports a gelled combed back look, appropriate for his early immigrant scenes in that period but not Bruce Lee. I expected him to wash and blow dry his hair during the intermission. Didn't happen. He never gets his shirt off until the last scene. So he never really turns into "Bruce Lee". Turning into "Bruce Lee" is what the play should have been about.

I'm wondering where the media reviews are. Maybe they are trying to think of something nice to say.
WiCkEDrOcKS
Broadway Legend
joined:6/13/04
KUNG FU - Signature - review
Posted: 2/10/14 at 12:57pm
I'm wondering where the media reviews are.
Reviews won't be out until the 24th.

Oh, and was anyone else bothered by the whole "be racially tolerant!" theme being turned on its head when they introduced the Indian cab driver who basically just fulfilled some kind of racially-stereotyped comic relief...?
Current Avatar: Tony-winner Idina Menzel, delivering a sucker-punch of an 11:00 number, "Always Starting Over," in IF/THEN.
Updated On: 2/10/14 at 12:57 PM
followspot
Broadway Star
joined:12/27/11
KUNG FU - Signature - review
Posted: 2/10/14 at 01:04pm
I'm wondering where the media reviews are. Maybe they are trying to think of something nice to say.

Apparently you're not aware that you saw a new play in its first of three weeks of pre-opening previews. The play and production aren't even close to being locked yet, let alone reviewed.


"Tracy... Hold Mama's waffles."
Updated On: 2/10/14 at 01:04 PM
Blactor
Understudy
joined:8/11/11
KUNG FU - Signature - review
Posted: 2/10/14 at 03:53pm
This thread is hilarious on so many levels.

Bruce Lee is a figure that is close to my heart, so I probably went in knowing more about him than the average audience member--certainly more than the average NY theatre-goer.

The audience I saw the show with freaking loved it, and I think this show will do very well, especially assuming that they iron out the wrinkles in what looks to be a generous preview process. The staff I spoke to (Signature, on a side note, has EXTREMELY friendly people working there!!!) said the show has made a lot of drastic changes even in the short week they've been showing it to paying audiences.

That said:

First off, reviewing a production that has only a week or less of previews under its belt--and therefore presumably undergoing extensive and continual changes as the creative team and the actors learn more and more about what is and isn't working in the material--is just stupid. I know that's what people do here, but it's completely ridiculous to go to a very first preview and say "well, that's what it is."

Second, anyone complaining about the "Bruce Lee character" having an accent is merely proving themselves to be the same sort of moron that Lee had to contend with while trying to make a name for himself in the US. The internet is your friend: all one has to do is check Youtube and one will see that Lee's accent was always very thick. Sorry if he didn't Americanize himself enough for you--he was too busy making history and becoming an icon.

Third, why are you people so eager to dismiss, and have such a problem with, the very REAL racial and ethnic discrimination that Lee and other Asians experienced (and still experience)? Are you tired of hearing about it? Well tough sh*t. Maybe you should brush up on American history so you're not so shocked every time the whole "race thing" rears its ugly head. It happened. Still does. A lot. Get over it.

On a related note, I was delighted by the multicultural casting (and a LOT of the audience I saw it with was as well) which includes an Asian American actor playing Will Dozier, producer of the Batman TV series, and a Black American playing movie star James Coburn. And again, the internet is your friend--do some research: Bruce DID go to India on an ill-fated location scout. Hwang chose to include a scene based on that excursion...subsequently, there was an Indian character. See how that works?

Lastly, a quick perusal of my playbill reveals that many in the cast have extensive credits, on Broadway and off, and in high-quality regional houses, as well as, in some cases, elite training. The show moves swiftly and I found the cast up to the task in making sharp characterizations and moving the story along in an entertaining and light-hearted way.

I found Francis Jue--the prior-to-now unnamed actor playing Bruce's father--to be quite ferocious and even moving. Yet he is acting on a "community theatre" level? This actor, who has had a long and enviable career? Are you KIDDING? If you don't like the play, that's one thing, and that's fair, but isn't it odd that these crappy, amateur-level actors, who mostly appear to be young and in the midst of building careers, seem to have a LOT of work in top venues under their belts, and continue to procure more? Man, that sure is strange!

You people, I swear!
WiCkEDrOcKS
Broadway Legend
joined:6/13/04
KUNG FU - Signature - review
Posted: 2/10/14 at 04:34pm
Well, that's a mature way to have a conversation about the show.

1) Can we please get over the "it's not fair to review a show in previews" thing? Yes, it is. The show is open to the public and I paid to see it. So I absolutely do have the right to judge what I thought of it. That's not to say things won't change before opening, but as we've seen in the past few seasons, more often than not the preview period is used for minor tweaks, not major overhauls. Every time I sit down at a show, I hope it's good. And if I don't think it was, I always hope that the creative team can turn it around. It's not like I hope KUNG FU flops miserably. I wish the team behind the show the best with it.

2) I am not dismissing racial discrimination. I didn't think the way the play handled it rang true or felt authentic. I made that clear.

3) My issue is not that there is an Indian character. It is how that character is portrayed. Again, I thought I made that clear in my post.

I respect that you liked it, and appreciate your insistence on defending it, but I don't appreciate your approach. I miss when people could have an open dialogue about their dissenting opinions on here, because it was actually interesting and enlightening. Clearly that's not an option though.
Current Avatar: Tony-winner Idina Menzel, delivering a sucker-punch of an 11:00 number, "Always Starting Over," in IF/THEN.
Matt Rogers
Broadway Star
joined:10/4/04
KUNG FU - Signature - review
Posted: 2/10/14 at 07:41pm
Wow, blactor, that was incredibly rude. You just sounded like the biggest tool in the tool academy. I guess it would have been acceptable to you if all the reviews were love letters. You act like its not okay to review a preview, and then you go and do the same thing. But yours counts because it is a rave, and the rest of us are just morons? That makes a ton of sense. Keep patting yourself on the back there, buddy, for being the smartest person in the room, and maybe one day, someone other than you will believe it.
ClydeBarrow
Broadway Legend
joined:6/20/12
KUNG FU - Signature - review
Posted: 2/10/14 at 08:32pm
Blactor, you sound like one of the worst person imaginable. You are hilarious on so many levels. Maybe you and After Eight should get a room.

"I was delighted by the multicultural casting"

Did you think a play called KUNG FU would just be replete with white people? This isn't Kung Fu: The Legend Continues.

"I found Francis Jue--the prior-to-now unnamed actor playing Bruce's father--to be quite ferocious and even moving."

God forbid people don't name EVERY SINGLE actor in their reviews. You didn't name the actors playing Will Dozier and James Coburn. You just boiled them down to their race which is a little worse.

The point of people coming on here and giving their reviews whenever they see a show whether it be in previews or post-opening is to give others an idea of what they're in for. If you don't think people's reviews pre-opening are worthy of your time then don't read them.

I'm actually glad that I decided to get a ticket to THE LIBRARY instead of this one since these reviews (from people I respect on here) are less than stellar.
"Pardon my prior Mcfee slip. I know how to spell her name. I just don't know how to type it." -Talulah
emjayay
Swing
joined:2/10/14
KUNG FU - Signature - review
Posted: 2/12/14 at 02:56pm
I guess I am one of the "you people" you are addressing, Blactor.

Sorry everyone, but I actually thought the show had opened!

Doing a lot of previews for a new play, particularly one with complex elements like this one, is a very reasonable thing to do. I worked in theater a long time and have worked on a number of new plays, and in some cases there were big changes - sometimes several different ones practically every night like entirely new scenes or parts of scenes, rearranging scenes, dropping a song, adding a song etc. - that made them work way better done in just a week of previews.

No, I didn't look up videos of the actual Bruce Lee. They did a lot of dubbing back in those days, particularly in B or foreign films, anyway. But that does not change my point: no doubt there was a lot of discrimination back then about casting an actual Asian guy in a lead role particularly in terms of thinking about the more bigoted parts of the country which were way more bigoted then even than they are today (it's not called show art, it's show business). I don't expect anyone to lose their accent, but still if you want to be an actor, well, how you speak is a factor. I would have expected that someone serious about acting would work on their accent over the years. Even a non-actor, particularly a young person, typically speaks with less native accent over the years of living in another country. Actual acting skill is also a factor. But these were ignored in the script. I just did look up some Horibe video, and found out he has no particular accent himself, so the continued strong Chinese accent over the years covered in the play is a directorial choice. It seemed so unusual to me I thought it was possibly the actor.

I did see from the program that the performers had a lot of training and experience, and pointed out that it did show with the actor playing his father who did really well with what he had to work with, and I suggested that the problems I was seeing were likely to be more with direction and writing. I actually thought that Horibe's acting was OK, although no particular actor training or experience was noted in the program. From videos I see I was right about his dancing: he's really good. And again, this was not exploited that much in the show.

I did think that the choice of having the comical Indian driver was a sort of off element, but I didn't think far enough as to question it in terms of the issue of racism that is basic to the play. I only thought of it as just another piece that wasn't really adding to the whole.

Maybe there will be big changes to make this show work better by opening night. I hope so. I like Sigature a lot and I'm rooting for them. Like I said, the previous David Hwang production I saw at Signature was very disappointing and both are directed by Leigh Silverman. I don't think I would have invited her back after Golden Child.

And interesting discussion everyone.
NewYorkTheater
Broadway Star
joined:1/23/10
KUNG FU - Signature - review
Posted: 2/24/14 at 10:04pm

”Kung Fu” does not feel like a play; it’s too wordy to be considered a dance concert; it’s not a musical. Perhaps this is a new theatrical genre — the fusical?
Kung Fu Review: Bruce Lee’s Story Retold as a Fusical

GilmoreGirlO2
Broadway Star
joined:4/13/05
KUNG FU - Signature - review
Posted: 3/6/14 at 02:10pm
I saw “Kung Fu” this past weekend and have to agree with much of what the majority has said: the script just doesn’t cut it. There is absolutely no flow. There didn’t seem to be much of through-line to connect the scenes. It held my interest, but I wouldn’t necessarily say I was entertained (aside from the choreographed sections which were, as everyone has said, quite brilliant – however, I do wish that, as the play went on, these scenes differed a bit from each other. I was happy for each one to begin, but each one delivered essentially the same things as the previous dance/movement sections). I was also never invested in the characters at all which, to me, was the biggest downfall of the show.

Not helping the lack of flow was, what seemed to be, an inability from the director to settle on a world/style of the show. The flip-flopping of stylistic/dreamlike sequences with Lee’s father to realistic, present day scenes worked fine…but then there were scenes within the realistic scenes that were being played so largely if felt as if they were straight out of “How to Succeed…” or another musical comedy from back in the day (namely, the scene with the ABC execs when they decide Kato will wear a mask).

On another note, I am all for blind casting (and it was very nice to see such a racially diverse group up on the stage), however, in this instance, it confused me. It’s difficult to blind cast shows that are specifically talking about race. I found myself wondering if the producer of the “Batman” series was actually Asian, if one of the ABC execs was actually black, and what race James Coburn was (Coburn is a name I knew, but didn’t know much else about him). I was trying to figure out if these people in real life were the actual races of the actors portraying them and what that would mean in context of the show; such as society being accepting of someone of Lee’s race being in such a high position as long as it was behind the scenes, or a minority actor who had made it into the spotlight telling another minority actor what he might try to do to get there as well, etc.

Perhaps blind casting these other parts is supposed to be symbolic in some way – showing that, even in today’s world, America can be more accepting of other minorities in the entertainment industry, but Asians still have a lot stacked up against them? Or, perhaps, if none of the characters were portrayed by an actor the same race as the character, it would have been easier to follow. However, having some actors play the same race as their character and others not (particularly others that are specifically talking about the discrimination of other characters’ race), I must admit I was left a bit confused.

Also, I had no knowledge of Bruce Lee’s life prior to the show, other than knowing he was a martial arts movie star. How Hwang leaves the ending makes me think that he assumed his audience is well aware of the rest of the trajectory of Lee’s career. Not knowing Bruce’s life (or much about his movies), I am left to assume that his work in Hong Kong launched him to becoming a big name in America, but, at the end of the show, I still don’t know the path of him reaching that goal. (For example, did he build a name for himself in Hong Kong and then get cast in American movies or did his Hong Kong-made movies become big in America?) Seeing as reaching this goal seemed to be the main focus of the second act, it was a bit frustrating having to guess at how he became the movie star he did.

I actually thought Cole was really great, but found some of the more experienced actors to be quite lacking. It’s hard to say, however, whether this is due to the material, direction, or their interpretations.

It wasn’t a bad night at the theatre and I didn’t feel my time was wasted, but I truly didn’t feel much at all: I came out of the show quite indifferent about the whole thing.

Lots of discussion of why he isn't getting a lead role in an American film or TV series, but never because of either his accent or his acting, only his being Chinese.

Perhaps this was changed since you saw the show, but there was a mention (once) of his accent being a hindrance to his getting cast.

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