Laughing in the Wind: A Cautionary Tale in Martial Arts

Foreground: Sen Yang (Little Fox). Behind (LR): Ashley Liang, Zane Haynes. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

The play is a martial arts epic with a fighting/kicking ensemble of 18 actors playing 26 speaking parts. It is based on a story about friendship and love, deception and betrayal, ambition and lust for power which was originally titled “Xiao Ao Jiang Hu” when it was published in 1967, and has been variously translated as “The Smiling, Proud Wanderer” and “State of Divinity.”

In the story, various parties are vying to recover a scroll that contains a powerful martial arts technique that can propel the owner to premiere leadership, but are eventually outdone by a young lad, Little Fox, who is devoid of all ambitions. The story deals with Little Fox’s journey: his development as a swordsman and his witnessing the various intrigues which take place. Many warlords and fighters from six clans lust after the manuscript, among them the leader of a so-called Five Mountains Alliance. Despite the popularity of Jin Yong’s novel, the symbolism of the six clans has never been coherently interpreted. The Five Mountains Clan might be taken to be an indirect reference to the five sacred mountains in China.

The various clans have also been interpreted as a parody of one people with multiple political systems. Jin wrote, in a 1983 epilogue to his book, that the rival clans in his book personify “political prototypes” he observed in China during the Cultural Revolution, without being specific allegories to any particular persons or groups. He asserted, “Only what is rooted in our common humility can withstand the test of time and have lasting value.” The book has been adapted into three major movies (“The Swordsman,” 1991; “The Swordsman II,” 1992; and “The East is Red,” 1993) and a 40-episode TV series (“Laughing in the Wind”). The title “Laughing in the Wind” refers to a piece of music jointly created in friendship by two elderly swordsmen of opposing clans, which eventually leads to their tragic deaths.

Jin’s “Xiao Ao Jiang Hu” was originally serialized in his newspaper, the Ming Pao Daily of Hong Kong, as well as in 21 other newspapers in various languages. Its leading characters have sometimes surfaced in political dialogues around the world, with one politician accusing another of acting like Master Yue (hypocritically) or Master Zho (harboring secret ambitions to become dictator).

The Martial Arts genre is a relatively recent literary development in the context of thousands of years of literary tradition in China. Joanna Chan suspects that its unsurpassed popularity, with the recurring them of revenge, may have an impact on the Chinese psyche a'” an acceptance without question the vengeful spirit of an-eye-for-an-eye, however justified the cause, and a cynicism towards the rule of law.

Joanna Chan originally received permission to adapt Jin Yong’s book in 1989 for the International Arts Festival in Hong Kong, while she was Artistic Director of Hong Kong Repertory Theatre. The premiere, performed in Cantonese, was attended by Jin himself.

Now, Yangtze has requested and received permission from Jin Yong to restage the production in New York with different designers, a multi-ethnic cast (Asian, African-American and Caucasian, all martial artists and dancers) and an original score, with bilingual subtitles. The production will be in English, Mandarin and Cantonese Chinese, with Chinese and English subtitles.

Fight choreographer is David ChienHui Shen (Taiwan; Set design is by Yoki Lai (Hong Kong, An original score is being created by Sam Su Seng (China). Costume Design is by David ChienHui Shen and Yoki Lai. Lighting Design is by Joyce Liao (Taiwan).

The actors, all martial artists and dancers, are Wayne Chang, Rachel Filsoff, Aki Goto, Zane Hayes, Carl Ka-Ho Li, Ashley Liang, Ajia Maximillian, Phillip Redmond, Adrian Sinclair, Peter Song, Derrick St. Hill, Rashawn Strife, Steven Sun, Stephanie Willing, Sen Yang, Cedric Yau, Sarah Yu and Jie Zhuang.

Jin Yong

Jin Yong (the pen name of Louis Cha), a co-founder of Hong Kong’s Ming Pao Daily, was author of fifteen Martial Arts novels between 1955 and 1972 and is considered the preeminent writer of the golden age of the Wuxia genre, which extends from the 1960s to the 1980s. The popularity of the genre has caused it to spread to art, comics, films, television, theater and video games. He was born in 1924 and retired from writing in 1972. Most of his works were initially serialized in Honk Kong newspapers, particularly Ming Pao, where he was co-owner and Editor-in-Chief. Beside his Wuxia novels, he has also written many non-fiction works on the history of China and received many honors, including the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1981 and the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur (1992) and Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (2004) from the French government. He served on the Hong Kong Basic Law drafting committee, but resigned in protest after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. He was also part of the Preparatory Committee set up in 1996 to supervise Hong Kong’s transition by the Chinese government. He revised and reissued all his major works between 1999 and 2006. As of June 2007, he was studying for his PhD in Oriental Studies (Chinese History) at St. John’s College, Cambridge.

Joanna Chan, playwright and director

The 60-plus productions she has directed include her own works and classics. Reviewing Chan’s “Oedipus Rex” at Sing Sing in 2006, Michael Millius wrote in the (Bedford, NY) Record-Review, “You might think I’d have seen some great theater over the years with my aunt, Michael Strange being married to John Barrymore, or my work with Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weber as creative director of MCA Music. But still, even after all that, and more than half a century of theatergoing, I was not prepared for the experience of seeing a performance of “Oedipus Rex” by inmates at Sing Sing prison. When written by Sophocles circa 430 B.C. (and considered by the ancient Greeks to be his best work), the author couldn’t have imagined how his play would enjoy one of its finest hours 2,500 years later, being rendered by inmates in a maximum-security prison.”

David ChienHui Shen (fight choreographer) graduated from the Chinese Cultural University, majoring in Martial Arts with a focus on Tai Chi Chuan. In 1997, he won the gold medal at the National Tai Chi Competition in Taiwan and began his dance career with the Chinese Youth Goodwill Mission, touring 25 cities around Asia in 1991. He danced professionally with the Taipei Folk Dance Troupe from 1991-1997, where in 1992 he choreographed the Martial Arts Suite for the Troupe’s special performance “Ode to Chinese Culture” at Lincoln Center. In 1996, Mr. Shen performed the special role of Villain in the Taipei production of the dance drama “The Peacock Princess” and as “Director” in the opening dance for the “Golden Horse Movie Award”s on Taiwan TV. He was the lead performer in the “History of Taiwanese Jazz Dancing” series, a 6-month series of performances exploring the history of Taiwanese cultural dance. Soon after that he joined the Peggy Wu Jazz Dance Company, where in 1998 he was a member of the first Taiwanese Jazz Dance troupe to be invited to tour mainland China. After performing in “The White Snake Legend,” a Chinese drama, at the Taipei Cultural Center in New York in 1999, Mr. Shen moved to the United States to work with the Nai Ni Chen Dance Company, where he performed until 2003 when he joined the Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company. With these and other companies he continues to perform around the world. He currently works as a dancer and choreographer based in New York City. He appeared in “Li, The Last King” with Mabou Mines at PS 122. He is a member of the Executive Board of Yangtze Rep and has appeared in its productions of “Luo Shen,” “Forbidden City West” and “Beyond Time and Place.” Last fall, he was one of four choreographers featured by Yangtze Rep in “TRACES: Variations In A Foreign Land #10” at Flushing Town Hall. (

Sam Su Seng (composer) is a noted music producer in Mainland China, a professional lyricist, composer, opera singer and pianist. He also specializes in keyboards and synthesizers. His works “You And I On The Road Of Love” and “The Fish Looking For Love” won prestigious awards for original music composition in China. He has been a television producer for South East TV and Sinovision.

Yoki Lai (set design) has designed sets and costumes in the US, UK, Hong Kong and Japan since 1999 and earned her MFA from Yale School of Drama in 2008. She designed “From Mao to Met” for PBS. She won theA Donald and Zorca Oenslager Fellowship Award in Design from Yale School of Drama in 2008, The Asian Cultural Council Fellowship Award in 2007 and two awards from Hong Kong Federation of Drama Societies: Best Set Design in 2006 and Best Make-up & Image Design in 2005. She is currently assisting Santo Loquasto. (

Joyce Liao (lighting design) holds an M.F.A. in theatrical lighting design from Ohio University and has designed lighting for operas, musicals, dance and plays in NY and across the country. Her design for “The Caucasian Chalk Circle” won the USITT Peggy Ezekiel Award for Outstanding Achievement in Lighting Design and was included in the World Stage Design 2005 Exhibit in Toronto. Her recent projects include “Soul Of Shaolin” on Broadway at the Marquis Theatre, “King Lear” at the National Black Theatre and “Stella Rising” at the Marjorie S. Deane Little Theatre. Her NY credits also include “The Stronger” at ArcLight Theatre, “Handball” at Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, “The Alice Complex” at Cherry Lane Theatre and “Nowadays” at Metropolitan Playhouse.

Performances are April 30 to May 23, 2010 at Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue (at E. 10th Street), Manhattan. Show times are Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 3:00 PM. There is an additional performance Wednesday, May 19 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $25.00 general admission; $20.00 for Seniors/Students; TDF is accepted. There is a 20% discount for groups of 10 and above. To contact the box office, call 347-574-4369. You can also purchase tickets online at or reserve them by email by writing [email protected].