'Always listen to your muyu', says the Abbot with the long white beard. He's giving advice to the Shaolin temple's newest recruit, a boy of about eight. In case you were wondering, the muyu or 'wooden fish' is a gourd with a slit that produces a pleasant sound when struck with a small hammer. To get the audience in the mood, a youth in a saffron robe was striking one in the foyer of the Coliseum when I went on Monday. 'Already seen by 2 million in Beijing!' confided my Chinese ticket facilitator.
In fact, music was almost the only aspect of the show I liked - bells and zithers and chanting that reminded me of the Buddhist chants on CD that makes a pleasant prelude to sleep.
No chance of falling asleep during Chun Yin, a tale within a tale of a reluctant novice left by his mother at the temple. To encourage him to stay, the Abbot tells the story of another hesitant disciple, a story enacted in a number of striking and contrasting scenes by a talented cast of Chinese acrobatic dancers and singers.
The spectacle was impressive. But watching half-naked men breaking sticks over their heads, tumbling about the stage or flying through the air suspended on lengths of cloth doesn't thrill me at all. No amount of smoke and bubbles and flashing red lights, not to mention clashing cymbals and drumming, can convince me the quasi-mystical cult of physical prowess ('Carve your body like wood or stone!') leads to spiritual enlightenment.
It was more coherent and watchable than 'Monkey' at the O2 last Winter and more honest than the Falun Gong-funded show I complained of at the Festival Hall, but a dream sequence about rejecting female temptation needed more explanation for a modern audience. So my attention wandered in the second half. It didn't help that I was seated in the upper circle behind three rows of Chinese youths who moved about and commented on the action.
Chun Yi:The Legend of Kung Fu http://www.chunyi-kungfu.com/home/