Mission 100 is a 12-episode documentary series recording my journey learning about the physical aspect of Jingju or Peking Opera through firsthand experience. Peking Opera is one of the most exigent Chinese performing arts out there, requiring an extensive toolbox of skills: strong vocals, great muscle memory and coordination, exceptional body control, meticulous attention to detail and a whole lot of self-discipline. I have just 100 days to nail down the basics, pick up a few head-turning moves and eventually put on a show in front of a live audience.
It's Day 73 and the fragile equilibrium that I've established with my trainer is now disturbed by the emergence of a new but familiar face.
It's always been me and teacher Zhu. He's taken my hand and guided me through the labyrinths of Peking Opera, from the leg stretches to the jump kicks to my solo number at the opening of the play.
Zhu laoshi (teacher) has been in charge of turning me into a stage warrior. But every hero needs a villain and we've reached a point in the journey where the other half of the two-hander needs to join the party.
And so, Yu Huikang, the quick-footed Wuchou (or martial clown) who showed me his skills when I was fickle-minded about which role to choose for my training on Day 2, is back in the house... and he's ready to rock!
But I am convinced that three is a crowd. Double the teachers, twice the embarrassment!
I'm used to marching at my own beat in class but now I have to account for someone else's pace – and Yu is one speedy ball of energy.
Our stage characters have an antagonistic relationship. They hold mutual suspicion against each other, are armed and ready to go in for the kill. Yu is absolutely delivering, and seeing him in his element is a real treat. But Yu also has over 10 years of a head start.
Meanwhile, I am in struggle town. Population: Me.
I've never wielded a weapon before (fake or otherwise), my posture is lopsided, my moves are jerky and I have no fighting experience to draw from. Of all the uncertainties, one thing is for sure: I'm no Bruce Li.
Stage combat in Peking Opera, even though for show, still requires great speed, meticulous movement and incredible synchrony. It takes two to Tango but I just so happen to have two left feet – and this is proving troublesome.
My scene partner and I have to sway our bodies and blades in perfect harmony and with speed, standing within an inch of each other. He strikes, I jump. I kick, he ducks. He charges, I sidle. But what is supposed to be a well-choreographed scuffle is now looking pretty rough around the edges.
The end-all-be-all rule in Peking Opera – beauty in movement – is being savagely disregarded (I'm guilty as charged!) but if my very limited training experience has taught me anything it's that time will make everything better.
Zhu laoshi is convinced I am scared of tussling with Yu at such close range, but the truth is I am more worried I'd hurt Yu.
Handing a rookie a (dummy) sword is a risky gamble. I don't trust myself and neither should my opponent. But I still admire him for looking danger in the eye and not blinking.
Video Cover Designer: Gao Hongmei Chief Editors: Zhang Wan, Chen Ran Line Producer: Ma Chutian Producer: Xu Jiye Executive Producer: Zhang Xiaohe Supervisor: Zhang Shilei
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