Little Dragon Redux: Mike Lai at Southern Exposure Gallery
Just closed out my Chinese New Year celebration last Friday by attending Mike Lai’s wacky and inspired performance, The Legendary Lions vs. The Fists Of Fury. Staged one night only at Southern Exposure gallery in San Franciso’s Mission District, the performance was a face-off between two traditional Chinese lion dance troupes and the Fists of Fury, Lai’s goofy take on that venerable martial arts/dance/acrobatic form that featured two gigantic paper mache fists trailing yellow-and-black tails.
The performance continued Lai’s obsession/fascination with all things Bruce Lee and included yellow-and-black custom-made M & M’s emblazoned with Lai’s face in a Little Dragon bob. Mike Lai is heavy into Bruce and several of his past performances have referenced Siu Lung and his films. He’s especially fond of Bruce’s signature yellow-and-black tracksuit from Game of Death and has used that motif a bunch of times, including at an excellent event at the Queen’s Nails Annex Gallery where he painted tiny yellow-and-black designs on the nails of lucky manicurees.
For the first couple rounds last Friday at Southern Exposure the battle was pretty well-balanced between the lion dancers and Lai’s nouveau-dance Fists, but it was all over when the second lion dance troupe took the stage. Leung’s White Crane is one of the top lion dance crews in the world and they’ve performed in oodles of international competitions—the very next night following the SoEx battle they carried the gigantic dragon puppet at San Francisco’s Chinese New Year parade. So though Lai’s Fists put up a valiant fight, they were no match for the mad skillz of Leung’s veteran troupe.
Although the event was a bit too oppositional for my acculturist tastes (does it really have to be trad vs. modern?) it was a fun and furious, hella loud experience. The night ended with an impromptu confetti fight between myself, my younger daughter (staying up late to watch performance art with her mama), and Chi-Hui Yang, director and curator of the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, which is about to start in exactly two weeks. Chi-Hui informed me that Mike and the Fists will reprise their performance at the Film Fest’s big all-day Festival Forum event on Sat. Mar. 13 at 6pm in Japantown’s Peace Plaza. So check it out—it will be brilliant.
Just for kicks, here’s a video of Leung’s White Crane performing atop ten-foot high poles at the 2008 Genting World Lion Dance Championships in Malaysia.