Saturday, March 5, 2011

Review- 108 Heroes- Shanghai Theatre Academy

A reinterpretation of the classic Chinese story
When I go to a Hong Kong Arts Festival Show I go with expectations. They are supposed to be the best of the best from all over the world. My roomie Michael and I saw the ads for 108 Heroes: Tales of the Water Margin online when we bought our tickets through pre-sales. It was advertised as a kung fu, rock/roll infused Peking-rock opera. Having seen Peking Opera and Canto Opera before I was excited to see a modern style opera as the traditional ones aren't particularly my style of theatre to enjoy. I wouldn't say that 108 Heroes was a bad show, it just wasn't great... And when I spend money on HKAF tickets I want to see great shows.


First let's start with the good, the costumes done by Sara Lai were beautiful! They were the best part of the show. It was like seeing a real like anime come to life with their beautiful printed robes, avant guarde hair and intricate designs all over their shoes. My favorite costume belonged to the wudan character or the female military character. She had this very cool headdress, she later changed into a blue and gold chrysanthemum covered gown with only one leg covered.
An example of Lai's costumes! Best part of the show!
There was a trampoline put into the scenic design and although underused it did allow for some very cool physical moments during act one when they were going through the battles and destroying of the village. And their were some good musical moments, the ballad Heroes sung by Liu Jin at the end of Act Three was very pretty, although personally I didn't understand why it was sung twice within a 15 minute period.

My favorite actor was 17 year old Gao Feng. He spent the entire show in a crouched position. He danced and jumped while continuing to squat the whole show! It was very impressive and he looked very cute and fat in his costume. Kind of like a Weeble. (Weebles Wobble but they don't fall down!) He was hands down the best actor in the show!

I also need to give mad props to the Chorus in this show who really worked their asses off. I think one of my favorite moments was the drowning of the horses in the river which was done completely by the chorus. Much better than the drunken ribbon dance of Xing Pengyuan.

Okay, There was a lot of bad in this show. HKAF listed in the program that 108 Heroes was 2 hours long. LIARS! It was almost 3 hours long, and it felt like 3 hours. It could have been MUCH shorter. Many actions, songs, jokes were done in triplicate and lost their humor with every repeat. If a joke works don't do the exact same joke again. Also some of the dances/songs were repeated 2 to 3 times. The finale was exactly the same as the opening/choreography and everything. (Useless... Make it different.) The beautiful song Heroes was sung twice within 5 minutes. When the brother rose from the dead in Act 3 he and the lead rambled on for a good 20 minutes repeated the same words OVER AND OVER again. The show needed to be shorter as we lost about 1/4 of the audience at intermission and we had several people abandoning ship during the second act. Michael and I left before the bows were over. We waited for 5 minutes and then left because it was getting ridiculous. Bow twice, don't go for twenty minutes! We had left the APA, going down 3 sets of stairs and they were still going! It seemed very self indulgent but perhaps it's culture. I remember my friend Gaelle telling me that bows typically go for 10-15 minutes in France.

This is more of a criticism of the space than the show it's self. People over 5'10 should not be seated in the gallery seating. It was very painful at times to sit there because our legs were crushed up against the marble wall in front of them. We couldn't move hardly at all and although we had a great view, it was like being on a United Airlines flight for 3 hours. I think if we had been of typical asian height and weight we would have been fine but it hurt to sit in that seat being our heights!

THE "OMG" Moment
I learned from 108 Heroes was that you never drink and ribbon dance. It was hysterical to see this one part of the story. Lu Junyi is mad at the world so he gets shit faced and then does an interpretive ribbon dance across the stage. Solid Gold for Laughs! But I don't think it was meant to be funny... You could see him trying so hard and being so serious and it was just... not!

In closing, this show had a lot of potential. An exciting story, talented people, beautiful costumes and designers behind it but sadly it fell short. They used all plastic weaponry in the show and their fights looked unrealistic and uncommitted. We as audiences was our fights to be daring and we want to believe them! But with the plastic and the lack of contact between actors it became really frustrating to watch. I found myself thinking "just kill him already!". Fights would go on for twenty minutes only to end with an actor putting down his swords voluntarily. ARG! Talk about a lack of commitment to the death and a lack of fight from the character. To just give up? I love a good fight show and this was advertised as one to the public. It is not a good fight show.

Dear Producers of 108 Heroes, hire a new fight choreographer and get some metal swords. Thanks!



  1. I saw the performance as well. I agreed on some of your comments esp the singing bit. The fight scenes were ok; as classical opera styling, the sword fights are symbolic sometimes the props do not even touch each other. After all it was not commercial kung fu movie. However the fatal flaw of the show is the storyline, the basic lesson against unquestioning loyalty did not come across. That was a shame. You can read more on

  2. It really was a shame. It had the potential to be a great show but they did everything half way. Except the costumes, those are still some of the best I have seen in years.