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Theater review: 'Kung Fu' -- 2 stars

Francis Jue (hoi-Chuen), left, and Cole Horibe (Bruce

Francis Jue (hoi-Chuen), left, and Cole Horibe (Bruce Lee) in "Kung Fu" at The Pershing Square Signature Center/Irene Diamond Stage. (2014) Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

Kung Fu

There's got to be a better way to dramatize the Bruce Lee story than "Kung Fu," David Henry Hwang's flimsy new play that alternately resembles a silly romantic comedy, confrontational family drama, traditional coming-of-age saga, martial arts exposition and biographical Wikipedia article.

Hwang, the Chinese-American playwright best known for his 1988 East-meets-West drama "M. Butterfly," was originally slated to write a musical about Lee with songwriter David Yazbek ("Dirty Rotten Scoundrels") under the direction of Bartlett Sher ("South Pacific").

For whatever reason, that project never materialized, and now Hwang has churned out what essentially feels like a musical in which songs are replaced by fight choreography with music -- a fightsical or dancical, if you will.

Set during the 1960s, it depicts Lee ("So You Think You Can Dance" contestant Cole Horibe, who is charming) as an enterprising immigrant from Hong Kong attempting to make it as an actor and a martial arts teacher as he courts his soon-to-be wife (Phoebe Strole) and fights back against the cultural notion of the subservient, effeminate Chinese male.

All the while, Lee keeps experiencing flashbacks to his disapproving father (the excellent Francis Jue).

If the first half, which culminates in Lee scoring the supporting role of Kato on the TV series "The Green Hornet," is entertaining in a sitcom sort of way, the second half, where Lee struggles professionally and physically until he is finally persuaded to return to Hong Kong, where he will ultimately become an international star, is underdeveloped and dreary.


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