《龍牙門》 or Leng-Geh-Mng is a Mandarin martial arts comedy written by Lee Shyh Jih and Lim Poh Poh. Set in ancient China, the play follows Yue-Liang-Hong, a palace cosmetics salesman on the run from the Imperial Court. He winds up at the Leng-Geh-Mng Inn where he meets an assortment of villainous characters. Leng-Geh-Mng was staged in 1998 by Drama Box, directed by Kok Heng Leun. The play also has the distinction of being Singapore’s first martial arts theatre production. On top of that, here are five other facts about this unique play and its 1998 premiere.
#1: Leng-Geh-Mng was inspired by the classic Chinese martial arts film Dragon Gate Inn.
Dragon Gate Inn is a martial arts film directed by King Hu. Set in the Ming dynasty, the Emperor’s chief eunuch Cao Shaoqin has executed his enemy, a noble minister, and sent his children into exile. On their way to the border, the children reach the Dragon Gate Inn. Unbeknownst to them, Cao has sent his men to murder them. However, three swordsmen, and the innkeeper, intervene to save the children.
Premiered in 1967, the film was a box-office success in Taiwan, Korea and the Philippines, and is credited with spawning an entire genre of martial arts films, even inspiring Hollywood smash-hits like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and House of Flying Daggers (2004).
Besides loosely borrowing the title and setting from Dragon Gate Inn, Leng-Geh-Mng also spoofs the conventions of the Chinese martial arts film genre, which include gravity-defying fight choreography and a wailing Chinese instrumental soundtrack.
#2: Leng-Geh-Mng has no good guys.
Everyone in Leng-Geh-Mng, from the many supporting characters, to even the protagonist Yue-Liang-Hong, is a villain. There is no hero in the conventional sense. But in most stories, the audience expects the hero to win in the end. So what happens if the baddie wins? Director Kok explained their intentions for the absence of heroes in Leng-Geh-Mng:
We hope that this unusual plot will start the audience thinking about their own lives and to examine if such similar endings where the bad and not necessarily the good are rewarded, happen in their everyday life.
Thus, all the vices portrayed here must not be seen separately on their own but as means to an end … it is an amoral play about morality.Sex and violence? Yes, but it's R(A) or Really Artistic by Lee Shu Hui. In The Straits Times (10 November 1998).
In the programme notes*, Kok likened Leng-Geh-Mng to the late 19th-century French play Ubu Roi written by Alfred Jarry. Ubu Roi (meaning “King Ubu”), a parody of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, is also filled with villanous characters. The play was so wild and bizarre that it reportedly incited a riot among the audience at the end of the first performance.
Perhaps Kok had hoped Leng-Geh-Mng‘s anti-hero narrative would also stir its audience’s emotions, but maybe with less violent outcomes.
#3: Drama Box gave Leng-Geh-Mng an R(A) rating.
Although Leng-Geh-Mng and its 1998 staging did not contain any nudity or gore, Drama Box, on their own accord, decided to impose an R(A) rating on the production. This meant that anyone below the age of 21 was discouraged from attending the production.
According to playwright Lee, the creative team felt that “this play [was] more suitable for mature audiences”* because of the dubious morals of the play’s characters.
#4: The production cost a whopping $80,000.
Leng-Geh-Mng was Drama Box’s first outing as a professional theatre company, and they marked the occasion by staging an ambitious production which cost twice as much as typical theatre productions. And they had huge plans for Leng-Geh-Mng:
The $ 80,000 production took more than half a year to put together and involved a production crew and cast of more than 30 people.
To transport the audience back into the era, coloured flags and bamboo fire torches will line the sides of the road leading to the entrance of the Drama Centre.
The foyer will also be done up in the style of an ancient living room, complete with a 1.2-m antique oil lamp.
The audience can also expect a spectacular, adrenaline-pumping performance, with special visual effects. Actors will leap up a 2-m wooden plank, hang like a bat, upside-down, on a 7.6cm diameter rod, make a series of cart-wheel turns and jump and roll over tables.Sex and violence? Yes, but it's R(A) or Really Artistic by Lee Shu Hui. In The Straits Times (10 November 1998).
#5: The cast had to undergo five months of martial arts training.
Part of Drama Box’s ambitious plans for Leng-Geh-Mng was for the actors to be convincing martial artists onstage. They had to perform their own fight choreography and stunts. This meant hours upon hours of gruelling physical training months before the production.
[Kok Heng Leun] ensured that all nine actors bought their insurance policies and put them through rigorous wushu training under Mr Low Ee Chiang, a martial arts and gymnastics exponent, for five months or so.Former wushu star to act in a play by Chin Soo Fang. In The Straits Times (16 October 1998).
However, one member of the cast was exempted from all the martial arts training – Chiew Hui Yan, a former national wushu athlete who won two gold medals at the South East Asian games.
Leng-Geh-Mng 龍牙門 (1998)
11 – 15 November 1998
Drama Centre Theatre (Fort Canning Park)
Lee Shyh Jie & Lim Poh Poh
Kok Heng Leun
*Interview with the Playwrights & Director
Taken from the Leng-Geh-Mng programme, translated by Zelda Taitiana Ng.
[SJ = Lee Shyh Jih / PP = Lim Poh Poh / HL = Kok Heng Leun]
|为什么做武打剧？Why produce a martial art production?|
|SJ||We wanted to do a martial arts production…|
|HL||So we just did it. And because I like martial art films…|
|SJ||We first thought of the characters together, then individually thought of how to write for each character…|
|HL||I told them I had read the play Ubu Roi and all the characters in that story were bad guys. It was a spoof of Macbeth. When this play was staged in France on 11 Feb 1896, it caused a huge uproar.|
|SJ||As for our show, we haven’t considered whether the audience is able to accept it…|
|HL||I’m only worried that the audience will compare our production with martial art films or TV shows. There are many limitations when it comes to staging a ‘live’ martial arts production on stage…|
|为什么都是坏人？Why are they all bad guys?|
|SJ||I want to see how the audience will respond, because not every play is like Leng-Geh-Mng, where there isn’t a single good person in the play…|
|HL||Normally, audiences will use the good person (character) in the play as a way to ‘cleanse their souls’…|
|SJ||And this play does not have any good characters. The audience will not be able to find a character that can speak to their beliefs and emotions…|
|庆亮||在权力斗争的游戏里，道德标准是没办法立足的，每个人都在为达到自己的目的而争，你看政治人物，还有 office politics。。。|
|HL||In a power struggle, one can’t have any moral standards. Everyone is fighting for themselves, just look at the politicians, office politics…|
|SJ||I thought of this when I was writing this script: in a power struggle, it’s hard to see the kindness. The persons involved will think that they are merely trying to survive, whereas people observing from the outside will find them immoral. They will feel that these people are twisted…|
|PP||I don’t have such profound thoughts. I just wanted to write a script. But the more I wrote, the more I feel the human soul is despicable…|
|So the moral of the story is。。。？故事的主题思想是。。。？|
|SJ||A friend told me that it would be difficult for Eastern audiences to accept this play. He felt that local audiences will not be willing to empathise with the characters; they will probably reject them.|
|HL||We are not teaching you how to be a bad guy.|
|SJ||Our objective is to not let the audience evade human nature by hiding behind a good character in the play.|
|HL||Actually, local English theatre has already done something like this before.|
|SJ||The Chinese theatre audience seems a bit different…|
|HL||Audiences are very intelligent nowadays… They know when you present a very negative plot, your intention is to evoke greater positivity.|
|SJ||Even though we have created a bunch of bad guys with awful characters and personalities, I am still very optimistic about our human nature.|
|PP||I’m not. I am pessimistic. The evil in human nature will never change. It is only through regulation that we are forced to be good.|
|HL||I think it is human nature to destroy and rebuild.|
|如果有观众觉得这是一个笑话，没有意义只有狂笑？What if audiences were to think that this play is only a parody, a joke with no particular value?|
|HL||That’s ok, they can laugh. Politics has always been a farce. The funniest thing is, the winners of a power struggle are often the ones we least expected. In this play, the most incapable character will be ultimate winner! Can you accept this ending? But that’s what happens over and over again in reality… Just look at that…|
|SJ||Maybe the audience will speculate that we are referring to a recent incident…|
|HL||We didn’t predict it. We’ve been working on the script since April…|
|SJ||Some people won’t understand why the play is rated R(A)…|
|庆亮||这部戏不是关于性，而是提到性被利用为工具，politics 充满 sex, lies and lust。。。|
|HL||This play is not about sex, but sex is used as a tool. Politics is full of sex, lies and lust…|
|SJ||We believe that this play is more suitable for mature audiences…|
|HL||Next time, I will try to do a martial arts play with only good characters…|
|请形容这齣戏。Please describe this production.|
|SJ||A perfect storm of evil and corruption.|
|PP||The Legend of the ‘Despicables’|
|HL||It gets cold in high places.|
The Vault: Leng-Geh-Mng is a revisit of the first martial arts production in Singapore theatre of the same title by theatre-maker Zelda Tatiana Ng. Under her direction and alongside some of the original cast members, Leng-Geh-Mng is retold in the format of a radio play refreshed with the use of Chinese dialects.