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The Impressive China Night 2009

Tickets for this year’s China Night performance were completely sold out, and it’s not hard to understand why.

The variety show centered around the various antics of Shanghai Jones, Indiana Jane and Sum Ting Wong. Singers, dancers, steppers, musicians, and models added energy and flair, rounding out the entire performance.

The story may seem tired or childish when taken out of context, but it fit the actors’ personalities exceptionally well. More importantly though, the act was greatly amusing to the large crowd on Saturday night.

Shanghai Jones (Kevin Chen), a history professor, is called away from his class and given the simple task of bringing the spoils of his previous adventure, a golden good fortune kitty, back to China. The task quickly evolves, however, into a chase through the ancient and historic cities of China in search of other artifacts needed to find the “lost scroll of Confucius.”

There were the obligatory pop-culture references but they were presented in a relatively (and unusually) tasteful manner; for example, when Jones needed to reach his next destination, and had no immediately available vehicles, “T-Pain” would appear with a boat, or a Jeep, or even a cloud.

Periodically, stones inscribed with guru- and not-so-guru-like advice showered Jones and Jane (Linda Kim) to guide them on their journey.

As the two traversed China independently, the audience was discreetly treated to Chinese fables and folklore, enough that it was not immediately evident until the show was over.

Classic romantic tensions between Jones and Jane, shifted from contempt and developed into compassion, which added additional depth to the story and plot line. This is especially illustrated when Jane is kidnapped by Sum Ting Wong (Kevin Chiu).

Jones is forced to choose between saving her from Wong’s ambitious polygamy — in which Jane would become his eighth wife — or continuing his quest. Around then, Jones becomes tired of trekking all over China as well, and must consider whether he wants to continue at all.

The several performances by the live band, dance teams, singers, and other entertainers were seamlessly blended into the story and setting, along with being impressive. They contributed to the show’s lighthearted mood and spiced up otherwise dull segments, while longer and more elaborate pieces occupied the audience’s attention during scene changes.

The step-dance routine when Jones encountered the terracotta soldiers in Xi’an in an attempt to retrieve a sword from one of the statues, could have easily been its own independent performance. Also, while being told of the first (additional) artifact Jones must find — the staff of the Monkey King — the legend of the was acted out utilizing the Lion Dance Team during the Monkey King’s battle with the dragons of the four seas.

Jane, in a valiant and successful attempt to save Jones’ life near the end of the evening, unfortunately dies, prompting a somber yet spectacular singing performance by Monica Feng after Jane breathes her last breath in Jones’ arms.

However, all is not lost at this point. Jones returned the artifacts he collected throughout the night to find the lost scroll of Confucius, a papyrus roll with a smiley face drawn on it, an extremely unexpected yet amusing outcome. Seeing it as worthless, in what is still an amusing scene, Jones reflected on why he went through all that he did, and came across a revelation: it was not the final result that mattered, but the journey he took to achieve it.

After this realization and via a disjointed transition, Jones promptly wakes up in his history class, having dozed off during the lecture, to find that Jane is alive, sitting just a few rows behind him, mocking him for awkwardly saying “Hello.”

Although the ending felt awkward, as there was no indication of this other reality, it was still a satisfying conclusion to Jones’ epic adventure, which was overall a very entertaining event to watch.

The Chinese Association at Stony Brook hosts China Night every year in the spring, and it is always their largest event, closing the academic year’s activities.

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