Tag Archives: A Boy in China

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Scene from a 2012 independent film titled "A Boy in China" (Image: Empty Mind Films)

I decided to indulge in a little Mandarin to celebrate the Chinese New Year — and news from proud mom Margot Magnum that her son, a young Kung Fu phenomenon named Andre, performed during Chinese New Year celebrations in NYC today. Seems there’s little down time for the energetic redhead profiled in a newly-released film.

A Boy in China” follows the martial arts adventures of Andre Magnum, seen largely through the eyes of parents Kenn and Margot Magnum — whose reflections on parenting a child with dreams that take him far from home are featured throughout the film.

Magnum, who turns ten in February, studies at the Shichahai Sports School in Beijing. How he got from Phoenix to Beijing is the subject of the film — which explores his early battles with hyperactivity and traditional classrooms, his martial arts training at home and abroad, and his adjustment to life in China.

Magnum discovered Kung Fu while watching scenes from a Jackie Chan film at the tender age of two, but it’s a mistake to assume that “A Boy in China” is just another Kung Fu flick from Empty Mind Films, which specializes in martial arts-related fare. It’s a tale of growing up, letting go and pushing through obstacles created by self and others.

Empty Mind Films is an independent studio specializing in “authentic, accurate and realistic” documentaries on China, Japan and India, as well as martial arts. It’s headed by British filmmaker and photographer Jon Braeley, who directed “A Boy in China.”

Braeley was trained at a young age in both Tai Chi Chuan and Akido, and earned his black belt in Shotokan Karate at age 22. Braeley moved to New York in 1990, and now divides his time between Beijing and Empty Mind production studios.

Details about Magnum’s early martial arts experiences, which began with Wing Chun Kung Fu training with Richard Loewenhagen, are conveyed through snippets of interviews with his parents and coaches.

Once the film shows Magnum heading with his father to China for training at the renowned Shaolin Temple, it incorporates vivid scenes of days spent stretching, marching, chanting, boxing and more.

Much of Magnum’s training with fellow students takes place in majestic outdoor settings with giant trees that make even large groups of students uniformly dressed in red or yellow garb feel small — reinforcing the fact that there’s much more to Kung Fu than meticulous movements.

Magnum moves from rural to big city setting once accepted into the Shichahai Sports School, so folks who see the film enjoy scenes of daily life in different parts of China. It’s interesting stuff for American audiences, especially in an age when China-U.S. relations inform so many discussions about education, technology and world politics.

The film is a masterful blend of three threads, beautifully balancing a family’s adjustment to a son’s special gifts and needs, an American boy’s assimilating into Chinese culture, and a martial arts culture that demands great physical and mental discipline.

“A Boy in China” was screened twice at the FilmBar in Phoenix during January. Both screenings were attended by three of Magnum’s coaches, including Gao Xiang, who teaches traditional Shaolin Kung Fu in Beijing. Also Joseph Eager of Eager Kung Fu and Wushu Academy and Jinheng Li of World Martial Arts Academy  — both located in Phoenix.

Eager and his students will be doing Kung Fu demonstrations this weekend as part of a three-day Chinese New Year celebration at the COFCO Chinese Cultural Center in Phoenix. Students at the World Martial Arts Academy will get to enjoy “A Boy in China” during a 6:30pm screening on Tues, Jan. 31.

I sat near Magnum’s parents during an earlier screening, their third viewing of the film, and was touched to see Kenn put his arm around Margot — who got a bit misty eyed at times.

They’ve been married for more than two decades but never envisioned that a Kung Fu journey started while their son was just a toddler would forge a path to the Great Wall of China before he turned ten.

– Lynn

Note: Click here to follow post-production developments for “A Boy in China”

Coming up: A pair of “Midsummers,” Celebrating Seuss

Sooner & farther

I spent part of Saturday afternoon at the FilmBar in Phoenix, a hip venue located near Valley Youth Theatre that screens films, exhibits local art and offers fun refreshments.

Owner Kelly Aubey was gracious when I called at the last minute to alert him of my plans, and took special care to introduce me to Andre Magnum and his parents, who then introduced me to several of Andre’s coaches, both Chinese and American.

Andre Magnum, whose story is told in a 2012 film titled "A Boy in China"

Magnum is the subject of a new film titled “A Boy in China” from Empty Mind Films – which also features mother Margot and father Kenn, plus several of Magnum’s martial arts trainers and school teachers.

“A Boy in China” was filmed at three locations in China, as well as San Diego and Phoenix. It shows Andre learning Chinese characters, training, competing, taking academic classes and spending time with his parents.

The family lives here in the Valley, where Margot works as a preschool professional, but Kenn also lives in Beijing so he can be close to the school where Andre studies and lives in a dormitory during the school year.

Kenn, Andre and Margot Magnum after Saturday's screening in Phoenix

Margot notes that Kenn was the first robotics teacher at Chandler High School when sharing that their only child’s other loves include building giant LEGO creations and playing several sports. Playing soccer with friends was the first order of business after Saturday’s screening.

Magnum’s adventures began after he saw a Jackie Chan movie and told his parents he wanted to try kung fu. He’s studied several different forms of martial arts, and describes himself today as a competitive Wushu and traditional Kung Fu athlete. His goal is to compete in the Olympics.

Magnum’s first coach, Master Joseph Eagar of Phoenix describes kung fu as a blend of sport, art and science that involves not only learning technique, but also history and how to be a good person.

Andre Magnum with three martial arts coaches who attended the premiere

Eagar says the word that best described Magnum the day they met was “energetic.” Magnum’s mom readily shares that he was diagnosed with ADHD at a very early age, and recalls the doctor telling them that lots of physical activity might be helpful. 

When it became apparent that local martial arts classes for kids his age weren’t nearly intensive enough, the Magnums began to consider other options. The time apart is tough, they say, but worth it to help their child pursue his dreams.

Nowadays they’re busy promoting “A Boy in China,” which needs to make the film festival rounds before possible release on a broader scale. Also exploring a You Tube series fictionalizing Magnum’s story, and readying for his second year at the Shichahai Sports School.

After Magnum’s father asked for my reaction to the film, I shared that it reminded me of the precision and perfection expected of my daughter Lizabeth during nearly ten years of training in classical ballet.

I mentioned feeling like James and I have experienced a similar sense of letting go, now that Lizabeth studies theater in New York City. “Every parent has to let go some time,” I told them. “But for you,” I added, “it’s sooner and farther.”

– Lynn

Note: Click here to read more of Magnum’s story in a Floyd Burk piece titled “Kung Fu Kid.” And watch for more news of Magnum family adventures in future posts. 

Coming up: A “Stage Mom” review of “A Boy in China”

Need a film fix?

Fans of films that are a bit off the beaten path have plenty of options in coming months. Here’s a roundup for those of you needing a frequent film fix:

The Film Bar in Phoenix. Offerings include indie films, including the first screenings of “A Boy in China” Jan. 13 and 14. The film follows a boy from Phoenix who pursues Kung Fu training in China (Andre Magnum, plus his parents and coach, will attend both screenings). www.thefilmbarphx.com.

The Film Festival at Paradise Valley Community College. Offerings, focused this year on women in film, include “Catching Babies” (Feb. 2), “Caramel” (Feb. 8), “Water” (Feb. 22) and “Maria Full of Grace” (March 7). “Catching Babies” is a film about midwifery. Free. www.pvc.maricopa.edu.

The Loft Cinema in Tucson. Offerings include new indie works, mainstream and cult classics, film festival shorts, award-nominated shorts and more. Also National Theatre Live broadcasts — including “The Collaborators” (Jan. 15), “Travelling Light” (Feb. 26), “The Comedy of Errors” (March 25) and “She Stoops to Conquer” (April 15). www.loftcinema.com.

Mesa Contemporary Arts (part of the Mesa Art Center). Offerings include “Community Cinema” screenings (“Daisy Bates: First Lady of Little Rock” by Sharon La Cruise Jan. 19). Free. www.mesaartscenter.com.

Phoenix Art Museum. Offerings include individual films, National Theatre Live broadcasts (including those noted in the Loft Cinema list above) and the Masterpiece Film Challenge (a six-week challenge in which 15 filmmaking teams create 5-7 minute films inspired by art from the museum). Also the Ab/Ex Film Series (“The New York School” Feb. 12) and filmed museum tours (“Leonardo Live” exhibit at the National Gallery of London Feb. 19). www.phxart.org.

Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. Offerings include the “Talk Cinema” series (Jan. 10, Feb. 7, March 20, April 17, May 8) and the “Discovery Film Series” (“This Way of Life” Jan. 22). “Talk Cinema” titles are announced on the center’s website just days before screenings (this month’s film is “Declaration of War,” about a couple whose baby is diagnosed with a brain tumor). www.scottsdaleperformingarts.org.

The Anti-Defamation League and Scottdale Community College. Offerings include “The Many Faces of Hate” film series at SCC (including Jay Rosenstein’s “In Whose Honor” Jan. 18). Free. www.scottsdalecc.edu.

Harkins Theatres. Offerings include various film festivals and broadcasts of  “Opera & Ballet in Cinema Series” performances — including “Le Corsaire” (March 11), “La Boheme” (March 13), “Romeo and Juliet” (March 22), “Rigoletto” (April 17), “The Bright Stream” (April 29), “La Fille Mal Gardee” (May 16) and “Raymonda” (June 24). www.harkinstheatres.com.

Many museums, performing arts centers and universities offer film screenings, so check with your local venues for additional options.

– Lynn

Note: If your venue or organization offers film fare with an arts and culture twist, please comment below to let our readers know.

Coming up: Theater meets classic literature