Friday, April 17, 2015

Meet Wang Chi
Dennis Dun (as Wang Chi) and Kurt Russell (as Jack Burton) in Big Trouble in Little China

New Millennium Theatre Company is rolling out the publicity for their modest little Cowboy Western mashup/tribute/spoof of John Carpenter's 80s cult classic Big Trouble in Little China

They have a little "Meet 'Wang Chi'" video up with me talking briefly about joining in the fanboy mayhem. Check it out here. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Some material reposted from the blog of Chicago Aikido Club (CAC)

Last weekend, Professor Donald Levine of the University of Chicago passed away on April 5 after a long period of illness. I first met Professor Levine as an undergraduate in 1993 when I took his Conflict Theory and Aikido course, followed by training with him as a member of University of Chicago Aikido Club.
A professor of sociology, Professor Levine began studying aikido in his 40s, eventually receiving the rank of yondan (4th degree black belt) under the Aikido Schools of Ueshiba (ASU)Over the years, he served as the conduit by which many young people first discovered and nurtured their interest in the martial art. He was also the founding president of Aiki Extensions, Inc., an organization that networks and supports individuals involved with “off-the-mat” aikido applications.
I actually started studying aikido the year before I met Professor Levine as an exchange student to Waseda University,  however my time with him proved very influential on my training overall. It was through him that I was introduced to the teachers and schools that have informed my aikido to this day: Kevin Choate, Marsha Turner, Wendy Whited, Joe Takehara, etc. He will definitely be missed.
A service in memory of Professor Levine will be held at 1:00 pm on April 9 at KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation, 1100 E Hyde Park Boulevard, Chicago, IL 60615.
Reposted from the blog of Chicago Aikido Club (CAC)

Dr. Joe Takehara (竹原譲), senior instructor of Chicago Aikido Club (CAC) and a founding member of the original Illinois Aikido Club celebrated his 84th birthday on Saturday, April 4 at a party organized by his daughter Susanne. The lively gathering was attended by members from the CAC, as well as members of theMilwaukee Aikido ClubChicago Aikikai and Ravenswood Shorin-ryu Karate Dojo.  Happy Birthday Takehara Sensei!!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Ya Got Trouble in Little China

After spending most of the past year since my son's birth cooling my heels actor-wise (which has unfortunately included missing most of my friends' performances), I'll be jumping onstage again in May in New Millennium Theatre Company's show The Big, The Trouble and the Little China

The show is in keeping with the New Millennium's ethos of raiding the American pop culture closet for fun and laughs, something I first encountered when I saw their homegrown Evil Dead: The Musical performed in the backyard of my former Scrap Mettle SOUL colleagues Bill and Mary Claire Hersh (called RowHouse Theatre) in 2002. This time around, it's a mash-up of the 80s John Carpenter/Kurt Russell cult classic Big Trouble in Little China and Westerns films and TV shows, tossing in bits from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Once Upon a Time in the West, Mel Brooks' spoof Blazing Saddles and the HBO series Deadwood.

Interestingly, if you check out Big Trouble's IMDB trivia page, you'll find out that the film was originally conceived as a Western, which was eventually deemed too difficult, so the setting was updated to the present day.

The show is coming at an interesting time for me. On one hand, it's perfect for this still periodically sleep-deprived dad: it's short, incredibly silly, entirely inconsequential and aiming for nothing but good-natured laughs from the audience and knowing appreciation from fans of the original film. 

On the other hand, it's also a self-indulgent thrill ride for me, even if on a modest itinerant Chicago theater scale. I'm getting to play Wang, the character played onscreen by Dennis Dun. One of the notable things about Big Trouble in Little China is that even though the white guy (Kurt Russel) is ostensibly the lead, he is portrayed largely as a fool and buffoon. Wang is presumably the obligatory sidekick when the story begins, but as things unfold, it is clear that he is the more knowing of the two characters, and certainly the more competent hand-to-hand fighter when the kung-fu breaks out.

Dennis Dun as Wang

According to the IMDB trivia page, Carpenter originally wanted Jackie Chan to play Wang, based on his then-recent Hong Kong work (including the classic Police Story). However, this was still a decade before Chan would break into the Hollywood box office, so the studio was unsure of his casting, and Chan himself apparently wasn't interested. 

Personally, I'm glad Chan didn't get the part. He's one of my all-time favorite action stars, but I think his naturally exuberant clowning would not have fit the character. One of the fun things about watching Dennis Dun in the role is he's so unassuming; he makes for a great martial arts everyman that the audience can root for. Also unusual for an American martial arts film is that no attempt is ever made to offer an explanation for Wang's martial arts prowess. Usually there is a need to include a bulky explanation or backstory for why someone fights the way they do (especially in 80s Hollywood films), whether they are ex-military or grew up next to an old master. When the fisticuffs begin, Dun just launches into action, and not even Kurt Russel's character bothers to question it (which is funny since up to that point, Dun is presumably just the proprietor of a Chinese restaurant).

Dun is probably one of the reasons that Big Trouble has a lot of fans among Asian Americans. At the time it came out, there was even less representation of Asian and Pacific Islanders onscreen than today. So it was really thrilling to see a film with so many Asian faces about, both the good guys and bad guys, even if Kurt Russel and a pre-Sex and the City Kim Cattrall were supposed to be the leading guy and gal. 

Going back to The Big, The Trouble and the Little China, it's also going to be the first time I have really had a chance to extensively fight as a martial artist onstage. Although I had fun as one of Lifeline Theatre's Three Musketeers  and as an onstage combatant in Roméo et Juliette at the Lyric Opera, this time I get to draw upon my background in aikido and live out my personal Jackie Chan and Jet Li fantasies.  I am actually quite grateful to our fight choreographer for allowing me to insert some dancelike Asian stylings into the action. 

On a final note, I recommend that any fan of Big Trouble in Little China should also check out Zu - Warriors from the Magic Mountain. This absolutely insane Hong Kong kung-fu fantasy sword and sorcery film directed by Tsui Hark was supposedly one of John Carpenter's inspirations for Big Trouble and shouldn't be missed.


Probably a good idea if I actually include the information on the show, right?

New Millennium Theatre Company Presents
The Big, The Trouble, And the Little China

Adapted and Directed by Meagan Piccochi

Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm
May 1st - May 23rd
Sunday May 3rd at 3pm
At the Royal George Theatre
1641 N. Halsted

Tickets available at