I went to the "Kung Fu Festival" last night, bet you didn't know they had such a thing.
Well yeah, of course they have Kung Fu Conventions and such (I think) but that's not the type of thing I'm talking about. I mean "Festival" like the "Renaissance Festivals" - with the jousting, and the smelly people saying 'hark' and 'hail', and drinking mead with their wenches, and comparing their cod pieces, and archery and - well, uh -- actually I've never been to one of those either but I'm sure all this goes on, and if it doesn't get your act together folks, that's what it was like back then! Heck, throw in a sprinkling of "the consumption" for the poets to be all nostalgic over if you have to.
"Sake Flavored Cotton Candy"
No, this was the "Kung Fu Festival" and what a blast. Perhaps it would have been more accurate to call it a "Kung Fu / Samurai (Film) Festival" but that would have suggested that there would be movies shown. This was more of a festival held in the style of Kung Fu films and not necessarily good ones at that.
It had a full collection of all of the trappings of modern commercialization that tends to ruin these types of events: From the Sake Flavored Cotton Candy to the overabundance of people dressed as the same person - in this case it was either skinny kids without shirts screaming like Bruce Lee or their fat fathers wearing 'blind' contacts trying to give massages to all the pretty girls or worse yet the Chuck Norris look alike contestants (mostly with oversized blond afro's, and although I don't really recall him having one I don't doubt it either) that looked just about as much like former Elvis impersonators as they did Chuck Norris, and that's not a fine line to tread. Speaking of Chuck Norris, yup the man was there. If you looked hard enough you could see him hiding in the corners of tents ready to take out punks wearing shirts that said "Chuck Norris ______ _______ ______". (It should be noted that Chuck Norris actually gets a kick out of the "Chuck Norris Facts" but I am one of the few people who saw that terrible cartoon that was made starring him in the eighties and it left me thinking 'he makes a better bad guy.')
He wasn't the only celebrity there either, at one point Sulu(!) went running around brandishing his sword at everyone and occasionally grabbing a woman or two to "protect" As a geek I'm quite aware that in that particular episode of Star Trek he was actually using a Fencing sword and that that is not very Kung Fu at all, but unfortunately as a child when I first saw it I was too young to understand the minute differences in sword fighting styles, a sword was a sword. To be honest for a while I thought that Sulu(!) actually was Bruce Lee since I had never actually seen any of his movies and the only image I had of him was the one that was on a poster, in a garage across the street from where I lived (Where he also had 'illegal' nunchucks and throwing stars and liked to brag about how 'illegal and dangerous' they were, then would promptly leave the room while the local kids were playing with them. By the way kids, nunchucks hurt like hell even when you're the one swinging them around with your puny 4 or 5 year old arms.) I suppose the neat thing about this was that he seemed to be doing the exact same stuff he did on that episode, he had this badly edited fuzziness around him that made me suspect that they had just stolen that part of the show and edited it into this dream. It was more apparent when he would appear in the Black and White section of the festival.
"By the way kids, nunchucks hurt like hell..."
I've seen a good deal of Samurai movies in my time and a good deal of them were made in black and white and unfortunately I had to watch them with subtitles, usually unreadable ones at that since they insisted on using either white or black and half of it was always the same color as what was happening in the movie itself. The Black and White section wasn't really all that much fun for me, partly for this reason, but not entirely. I did seem to be alone in my boredom though as everyone else seemed to be having a blast yelling randomly for what seemed like hours and hours then holding up signs that would say something short like "Hi!" or the opposite, but equally marginally funny version of saying a one syllable word then holding up paragraph after paragraph of writing. I guess it was kind of cool walking around in black and white just for the effect though. As I left the area there were notices that the evenings events were about to begin and with names like "Wire Battle" and "Samurai Showdown" I felt a compulsion to quicken my pace in that direction.
For the "Wire Battle" I was expecting to see some really interesting acrobatics or at least something absurd in the vein of MXC but when I arrived there it was actually a reenactment of the Bazooka Circus trapeze scene in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I was not mentally prepared for this, but it may not be something that you ever should be prepared for. If you're not familiar with this scene, you must correct that, but in the mean time it should suffice simply to say that it included a pregnant woman giving birth, a midget being shot out of a cannon and a doctor with a giant set of scissors. Not convinced? Damn, if that doesn't make you want to see it for yourself I've got nothing.
As for the tent with the sign that said "Samurai Showdown" I was grateful for the previous disappointment, since it convinced me to do a bit of investigating before standing in line and plunking down a small fortune. I snuck my head through a crack in the tent and as my eyes adjusted to the light the world suddenly took on an abstract distinctiveness, this was shaping up to be the gem of the night.
The tent was filled with all manner of somber ceremonial goodies and lit by hundreds of candles that sent off a misleading army of shadows that appeared ready to attack at any moment. From my vantage point I could see just one man in the tent, he was dressed modestly with a dull orange kimono that gave off the impression it had been crafted by a quality artisan at some point in the distant past, beneath this his faded black pants billowed out from an unseen breeze. He had his black hair tied behind him in a ponytail, as would be expected, and the hilt of his blade, held in its scabbard was loosely gripped by his right hand ready for action.
A gong sounded and another man entered from the distant opening, he was wearing a bright orange coat that looked entirely out of place and was brandishing his sword in both hands out in front of him as though pointing at his adversary's brow would somehow defeat him. Behind him the door was propped open and the next contestant, also wearing a garishly bright orange jacket, stepped in to watch. Presumably this event had just begun and I was thrilled to think that I had not missed anything.
The first contestant took two loud shuffling steps forward and began to scream. Confused I looked toward the other samurai only to see him silently returning his sword to its sheath. Had I looked a moment later I would not have thought he had breathed let alone moved at all.
Out of nowhere two large men picked up the dead man and hurled him into a corner. When they moved toward the door I noticed that the next person, who was as pale as could be expected, had begun to turn and leave. He was stopped by one of the large men and thrust back into the room where he was promptly chopped in two. Simultaneously his replacement had begun walking proudly into the tent with just enough time to wet himself before finding the same fate. I stood frozen as this series of event continued to unfold in front of me for far longer than I would have expected I could withstand nor would I readily admit.
"It was the only thing I saw that day that was faster than the Samurai's sword."
Yet strangely, the events that transpired showed only marginal variation: Occasionally the contestant would stand ready for action confident in the knowledge that the person before him was a fool and that he would benefit from his opponents over confidence having faced such a poor opponent. More often it was a repeat of the first three, either inching forward to die without a clue what they had gotten themselves into or immediately lapsing into some form of panic, be it soiling themselves in some way, begging for mercy or trying to escape. In one instance I bore witness to a father following his son and couldn't help thinking that he may have stood a chance had he gone first for I had never seen a tear form and drop from a man's eye with such speed. It was the only thing I saw that day that was faster than the Samurai's sword.
Eventually my senses did return to me and as I ran from my hiding place in hopes that I could warn the people in line, I found that I had begun to float away. In a few seconds the tent no longer obscured my view of the line and I could see that the orange-coated men numbered in the hundreds, perhaps thousands. I shouted many times for them to leave even though I knew already that I was too high for them to hear me. Eventually my voice grew hoarse but I feared that if I stopped trying to yell it would undoubtedly turn to tears. It was in this state that I awoke for a very early breakfast and a much welcome sunrise.