Shaolin Ulysses: Kungfu Monks In America

Five Shaolin Monks Set Out to Make New Lives Teaching Their Craft in Unlikely Parts of America

Film by Mei-Juin Chen and Martha Burr Premieres Nationally on Independent Lens, ITVS's Acclaimed Series on PBS Tuesday, October 28, at 10pm (Check Local Listings)

For Immediate Release 

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Program companion website, visit

"Instantly charming. . . In less than an hour, we feel like we really get to know these monks—but there's still enough high-flying, high-kicking action to keep genre fans happy.” 
—Scott Foundas, VARIETY 

(San Francisco, CA)—In 2000, Ang Lee's Academy Award-winning film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon opened the eyes of audiences to kungfu fighting warriors. But while many thought the characters were based on fiction or perhaps some ancient art forgotten long ago, SHAOLIN ULYSSES: Kungfu Monks in America is the story of real fighting kungfu monks and their quest to bring their Buddhist martial arts style to the United States today. Breathtaking in its sheer physical virtuosity, the film thrills with martial arts performances and jaw-dropping techniques such as "iron neck” and even "iron crotch,” which must be seen to be believed. SHAOLIN ULYSSES airs nationally on the PBS series Independent Lens, hosted by Don Cheadle, on Tuesday, October 28, at 10pm (check local listings). 

SHAOLIN ULYSSES traces the odyssey of five Shaolin kungfu monks from China who came as immigrants to America in the 1990s. These New World pioneers of Shaolin kungfu and Zen Buddhism share their lives, ambitions and visions of building American temples, doing Las Vegas shows and producing Olympic sport champions. From New York to Texas to Las Vegas, their stories reflect a unique version of the American Dream, Shaolin style. 

The film began as a concept between producers Martha Burr and Mei-Juin Chen several years ago. Burr was the editor of a kungfu magazine and Chen had recently debuted her documentary in Berlin on the famous Chinese opera star Mei Lanfang. Both shared an interest in Chinese culture and cross-cultural topics, especially between China and America. They decided to explore the stories of five immigrant kungfu monks from China's Shaolin Temple: the legendary birthplace of kungfu, Zen Buddhism and today's contemporary kungfu mecca. 

The stories of the five kungfu monks who left their homeland are as individual and varied as the men themselves. Shi Guolin opened a successful Buddhist temple and kungfu school in Flushing, Queens. Li Peng Zhang has married an American woman and now is raising a family in Brooklyn, NY. Two monks, Shi Xing Hao and Shi De Shan, have landed in Houston, Texas, where they coach young athletes aspiring to the Olympics (where kungfu may be a medal sport in 2008) and teach brutal self-defense and submission takedowns to Texas police. And, finally, one of the biggest Shaolin stars, Shi Xing Hong, is springboarding to Las Vegas, where he sees a perfect opportunity to spread Zen and kungfu in America. 

Interspersed throughout the documentary is footage and history of China's Shaolin Temple in Henan province, chronicling the creation of Zen and kungfu by a wandering monk named Bodhidharma, 1500 years ago. Today the temple is a mega-tourist attraction, the world's largest kungfu school and a UNESCO World Heritage Monument applicant. The film explores the cultural interface of Shaolin kungfu, Zen Buddhism and America. It is at once a story about immigrants, a story about kungfu and Buddhism, a story about dreams and a story about journeys. Obliquely it poses the question: will Shaolin change America, or will America change Shaolin? 

The program's interactive companion website at features detailed information about the film, including an interview with the filmmakers, as well as links and resources pertaining to the film's subject matter. The site also features a "talkback” section for viewers to share their ideas, preview clips of the film, and much more. 

Credits SHAOLIN ULYSSES: Kungfu Monks in America 
Produced and Directed by Mei-Juin Chen & Martha Burr
Featuring Shi Guolin, Li Peng Zhang, Shi Xing Hao, Shi De Shan, Shi Xing Hong
Narrated By Beau Bridges
Director of Photography: Teodoro Maniaci
Associate Producer: Gene Ching (Shi Xing Long)
Written by Martha Burr
Edited by Mei-Juin Chen
Consultant: Kungfu Qigong Magazine
Additional Writer: Michael Cho
Music By John Zorn
Animation Produced and Created by San-Wei Chan 

About the Filmmakers 
Martha Burr (Co-producer/Co-director/Writer/Sound) received her PhD in American Studies at New York University, where she also studied filmmaking after attending Harvard as an undergraduate. She has directed music videos for record companies such as Interscope, which aired on MTV's various shows, and worked in other film production capacities. Burr is a consultant for museums, including the Cowgirl Hall of Fame Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, and for documentaries such as the recent Kungfu: The Animal Within for the Discovery Channel. From 1997-2003 she was the Executive Editor of Kungfu magazine. In this role she pioneered three Special Issue magazines devoted exclusively to the Shaolin Temple, in 1999, 2000 and 2002. She has traveled extensively throughout China and works with many international martial arts organizations, including the leaders of the Chinese Wushu Association and Shaolin Temple. Burr was honored by her peers with the Outstanding Contribution award in the Hall of Fame of the USA Wushu Kungfu Federation in 1999. 

Mei-Juin Chen (Co-producer/Co-director/Camera/Editor) is a native of Taipei, Taiwan. She has resided in Los Angeles since 1989. She received her M.A. at the University of Southern California in Film and Anthropology. Chen has directed for the Current Affairs Department of China Central Television in Beijing. She has also translated and subtitled approximately 250 films into Chinese, and writes articles on American culture and film for Taiwan and China-based newspapers and magazines. Chen is an award-winning documentary maker whose work has shown on broadcast television in the U.S., Asia and Europe, and in film festivals throughout the world. Her previous work, The Worlds of Mei Lanfang, debuted at the Berlin Film Festival 2000, and won an honor from Women in Film. 

Teodoro Maniaci (Director of Photography) has shot 20 commercial and documentary features since graduating from New York University with an MFA in film production. Several of these critically acclaimed features have premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and at Cannes, including The Business of Strangers and The Tao of Steve. His experimental documentary for Laurie Anderson premiered at Berlin International Film Festival in 2002. 

John Zorn (Composer) is a New York based avant-garde musician who has longtime interests in cultural collisions and interfaces. Zorn is known for his eclectic compositions and improvisational style. He often works with Asian musicians and Asian themes. He has composed dozens of film scores and scored Mei-Juin Chen's first documentary, Hollywood Hotel, in 1994. 

Beau Bridges (Narrator) is the son of actor Lloyd Bridges and brother of actor Jeff Bridges, with whom he co-starred with in The Fabulous Baker Boys. Bridges has starred in many films and television shows since he began acting in 1967, and has won several Emmy awards. He has four children and lives with his wife Wendy in Calabasas, California. 

Featured Subjects 
Shi Guolin became a monk of the Shaolin Temple at age 17 and subsequently became the leader of the martial monks in the '80s and '90s. In 1992 he led the first tour of Shaolin kungfu monks to the United States where he left the tour in San Francisco to stay for good. He settled in New York, and in 1995 established the USA Shaolin Temple Overseas Headquarters in Flushing, Queens, which recently expanded and re-opened in 2000. He maintains close ties with the Shaolin Temple of China and is next in line to be Abbot there. He currently teaches kungfu and Buddhism at his Flushing temple and is active in the Chinese and Buddhist community there. 

Zhang Li Peng was a star member of the Shaolin Temple martial monks group, and he toured the world performing Shaolin kungfu. He also starred in an early Chinese Shaolin documentary when he was 16. In 1995 he left the monks tour in Europe and settled in Holland where he opened a successful kungfu school. He also promoted a successful European Shaolin kungfu tournament. In 1999 he married an American, Dawn Dubois, and they moved to Brooklyn, New York, where they now raise their three year-old-son Matthew. Li Peng teaches kungfu in New York and is currently opening a kungfu school there. 

Shi Xing Hao was a star member of the Shaolin martial monks group, touring the world. He toured America in 1997 and stayed, opening a temple with his kungfu brother Shi De Shan in Houston Texas. He specializes in teaching competitive wushu (kungfu) to young kids who dream of making the Olympic team in 2008 if kungfu gets accepted into the Games. 

Shi De Shan was also a member of the martial monks and left the same American tour with his kungfu brother Shi Xing Hao. His specialty is fighting and qinna, or joint locks and takedowns, which he taught to local police near the Shaolin Temple in China. He now teaches these defense techniques to Houston police, as well as teaching kungfu to his Houston students. Since the making of the film, 

Shi Xing Hao and Shi De Shan have split up and now maintain two separate kungfu schools in Houston. Shi Xing Hong was another star of the Shaolin martial monk team. He left China several years ago to settle in Budapest Hungary, where he teaches kungfu to police and other students. He is planning to come to Las Vegas where Shaolin disciple Rich Russell is opening a Shaolin kungfu school in the near future. 

About Independent Lens 
Independent Lens is a weekly series airing Tuesday nights at 10pm on PBS. The acclaimed anthology series features documentaries and a limited number of fiction films united by the creative freedom, artistic achievement and unflinching visions of their independent producers. Independent Lens features unforgettable stories about a unique individual, community or moment in history, which prompted Nancy Franklin in The New Yorker to write "Watching Independent Lens ... is like going into an independent bookstore—you don't always find what you were looking for but you often find something you didn't even know you wanted.” Presented by ITVS, the series is supported by interactive companion websites, and national publicity and community outreach campaigns. Further information about the series is available at lens. Independent Lens is jointly curated by ITVS and PBS, and is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a private corporation funded by the American people, with additional funding provided by PBS. 

About ITVS 
Independent Television Service (ITVS) funds and presents award-winning documentaries and dramas on public television, innovative new media projects on the Web and the weekly series Independent Lens on Tuesday nights at 10pm on PBS. ITVS is a miracle of public policy created by media activists, citizens and politicians seeking to foster plurality and diversity in public television. ITVS was established by a historic mandate of Congress to champion independently produced programs that take creative risks, spark public dialogue and serve underserved audiences. Since its inception in 1991, ITVS programs have revitalized the relationship between the public and public television, bringing TV audiences face-to-face with the lives and concerns of their fellow Americans. More information about ITVS can be obtained by visiting ITVS is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

Posted on July 21, 2003