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.
Note: Click here to follow post-production developments for “A Boy in China”
Coming up: A pair of “Midsummers,” Celebrating Seuss