DVD piracy, kung fu and bad subtitles in Beijing

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DVD piracy, kung fu and bad subtitles in Beijing

On the second day of our trip to China to participate in a school drama festival, we stepped into the theater at the International School of Beijing. It was an awe-inspiring, albeit sterile, monster with all the technical goodies of a professional performance hall.
Our pan-Asian lot of teenage thespians were supposed to arrive at the theater by 8:15 a.m. Of course, we were late. The groups we formed for the workshop were a motley crew ― at best. Wu, the group my friend Leia and I were assigned to, had a bunch of kids from the Brent school in the Philippines sporting their lion-crested blazers, polo shirts and khakis. Then there were the painfully hip kids from Canadian Academy in Kobe, Japan. The delegates from Shanghai American and ISB seemed like a family of tree sloths on Ritalin. Maybe being so close to home had them down.
After getting acquainted with our group members, we headed to Li Du market, which stretches for about 1 1/2 kilometers (1 mile) down a busy Beijing street. Neighboring Li Du we found a retailer of pirated DVDs. American and Korean DVDs lined the store’s shelves, ranging from oldies to the newest hits like “Chicago.” I meticulously picked out about 16 flicks, which cost me a whopping $12. Who says piracy is a bad thing?
Following the shopping spree, we had to sit through a Peking opera performance. Unlike Western theater, Peking opera relies heavily on surrealistic makeup, disciplined physical movement and vocal proficiency, with a lot of high-pitched screeching and fluid kung-fu pantomime thrown in.
It was all very impressive until I actually tried to follow the story. Often the English subtitles to Korean movies are butchered. But these Peking opera subtitles redefined the term “awful.” Here’s an excerpt: “Minor Warrior God see magic pearl want, hey, you! Over there, sit me now.” Huh?
On the morning of our third day we went through a grueling Peking opera workshop. The highlight was a Wu Shu kung-fu session with the ISB’s Wu Shu instructor, who pals around with martial arts choreographer Yuen Wo Ping of “The Matrix” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” fame. I missed his demonstration when a speck of dust caused me to blink. Then his class of sixth-grade girls beat my friends and me into submission.


by Phil Chang

The last of this three-part series will appear in the May 14 edition of J-Talk. ― Editors

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