Review: Shaolin Warriors

by Jane

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You know when you’re at home and sick, or exhausted, or on holidays so it’s not like you’re going to be doing anything productive anyway, and you’re watching The Brady Bunch because that was legitimately an excellent TV show when you were six? And when it ends the remote isn’t within reach, but because you’re sick, or exhausted, or on holidays so it’s not like you’re going to be doing anything productive anyway, you decide to watch the terrible ‘80s midday movie sequel? You heard the original was good, so maybe this one will be okay.

That midday movie is Shaolin Warriors. And it’s really not okay. There’s that cheese factor of watching something that was clearly choreographed thirty years ago; it’s unintentionally hilarious in all the wrong places, but you walk away just a little worse off for having watched it.
Featuring such compositional hits as ‘Pensive Woods for Synthesisers’, ‘Kung-Fu Training Sequence for Synthesisers’, ‘80s Law TV Drama for Synthesisers’, ‘CD Track Skipping Over Scratches’, and my personal favourite, ‘Silence When The Scene Wasn’t Properly Timed to the Length of the Track’, the sound design is as perplexing as it is awful. Occasionally the cast brought on Zhangu drums, their boom echoing throughout the theatre, energy moving from the stage to the audience, but these moments were short lived. Why use live music when you could choose to play ‘Chinese Drums Over Pan Flute for Synthesisers’?

Not to be outdone, though, lighting design gets in on the act. There is no cohesion in how or when the lights change. The performers are often partially obscured in darkness before the lighting not-so-quickly changes to rectify this.

While the large ensemble of men are skilled and occasionally show some great feats of dexterity, leaps and strength, Shaolin Warriors is seemingly choreographed for a maximum number of applause breaks and minimum amount of artistry or effort. Far from that great circus mantra of repeating a trick until it lands, here the interval curtain fell after just two failed attempts at ramming a log into a performer’s stomach: twice he jumped back and scuttled away before impact.

The best part of the production was seeing 40-odd young boys (and two young girls) have the time of their life when brought onto stage to learn a routine, the joy on their faces radiating across the theatre. The remaining two audience-participation sections, however, were simply awkward as grown men uncomfortably followed instructions from the performers, the will of the audience waning for the tryingly long time these scenes took.

We’ve become lucky enough to appreciate and expect circus with all the artistry and wit of the likes of Cirque De Soleil and CircusOz – the Shaolin Warriors possess none of this. In the OzAsia Festival, an event ostensibly supposed to show us the best of Asian art, Shaolin Warriors is a tired relic. It’s best to get up and find that remote.