Toronto documentary gets real about kung fu dream

Mon Sep 8, 2008 6:32pm EDT
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By Claire Sibonney

TORONTO (Reuters) - They went to kick butt and gain enlightenment, but what the men in new documentary "The Real Shaolin" found in China was loneliness, pain, bad food and angry kung fu teachers.

For aspiring martial artists, movies about kung fu fighting are the stuff of which screen legends are made. The stars' names are well-known: Bruce Lee, Jet Li and Jackie Chan.

But the reality, as told in "Real Shaolin" which debuts at the Toronto International Film Festival this week, has little to do with flying fists and more with hard work.

"The difference between movies and the reality I try to show is that in the movies when they experience hardship, it's romanticized," director Alexander Sebastien Lee told Reuters.

"In China if you go to a master and tell them I want to learn to beat someone up and kill somebody they'll tell you to go somewhere else," he added.

"Real Shaolin" follows two Chinese and two Westerners who journey to the Shaolin Temple in central Henan province, inspired by the mythical feats from film heroes Li and others.

Glorified images of warrior monks effortlessly breaking spears with their throats and withstanding brutal body blows inspire many to learn the deadly art form at its birthplace.

A Korean-American, Lee decided to make his documentary after venturing to Shaolin to see if he could survive the excruciating training. Lee, 29, a black-belt in tae kwon do and a first-time director who wrote, produced and shot the film, found something else.   Continued...

<p>Documentary film "The Real Shaolin" subjects (L-R) nine-year-old Yuan Peng, Orion, Eric and Zhu pose in this undated handout photo. REUTERS/Films Transit/Handout</p>