BWW Reviews: KUNG FU Makes Little Impact

February 25
1:09 AM 2014

Perhaps David Henry Hwang's intention with his Bruce Lee bio-drama, Kung Fu, was to mirror the clunky dialogue and thinly-drawn characters of his protagonists' starring vehicles; mere filler to set up the spectacular martial arts fight scenes.

BWW Reviews: KUNG FU Makes Little Impact
Cole Horibe (Photo: Joan Marcus)

But while it's doubtful anyone ever expected clever and captivating writing out of Fist of Fury or Enter The Dragon, the author of M. Butterfly, Golden Child and Yellowface is certainly capable of a much more in depth study of his subject than what's seen in the new Signature Theatre Company production.

Cole Horibe has an attractively cocky charisma, starring as the youthful Hong Kong cha-cha champion who popularizes Kung Fu through his own martial arts classes, becomes the only thing people remember about the TV series, The Green Hornet, and achieves icon status as a high-kicking, fist-flying action movie hero before his death at age 32.

BWW Reviews: KUNG FU Makes Little Impact
Francis Jue and Cole Horibe (Photo: Joan Marcus)

But he's rarely called upon to play any kind of deep emotion. Hollywood's unwillingness to cast him beyond racial boundaries is mentioned, but never dramatized, and his wife (Phoebe Strole), is written to be more of a sidekick than a romantic partner.

Only the reliable Francis Jue displays the acting chops to rise above the material, playing Lee's memory of his demanding father, Cantonese opera star Lee Hoi-Chuen. The play's most memorable moment involves Lee as a child (Bradley Fong) earning his father's attention.

Director Leigh Silverman zips the story along until the moments when fight director Emmanuel Brown and choreographer Sonya Tayeh take over. The multiple displays of martial arts, including classroom conflicts and movie set mayhem, are certainly impressive, but with little dramatic weight to the evening, Kung Fu barely lands a blow.

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