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Kung Fu expert shows moves from hit film

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Gao, who lives in Long Island with his wife and daughter...

By Bryan Schwartzman

Xian Gao loves to teach Kung Fu and the actor, who appeared in the hit film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” will be displaying his martial arts prowess at a demonstration in Flushing Saturday.

Gao, who lives in Long Island with his wife and daughter and runs Kung Fu schools in Flushing and Manhattan, spent three months in 1999 training the film’s stars, including internationally known Chow Yun Fat, in the martial arts.

During the training sessions in Peking, Gao also worked with the women in the cast, including actress Michelle Yeoh, who unlike Yun Fat already had a martial arts background.

On Saturday Gao and his students will be showing their stuff at the Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel at 1 p.m.

“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” which combines mind-boggling martial arts sequences with a love story set in ancient China, began showing in art movie houses in the fall but soon gained widespread popularity and moved into mainstream theaters.

It has appeared on many U.S. film critics’ list of best movies in 2000.

In addition to training the cast, Gao also appears in several scenes as Bo, a guard for a policeman who has traveled from afar to track down a villain.

“I didn’t expect this film to be so popular,” said Gao during an interview in which Flushing businesswoman Jean Huang acted as a translator. Gao said since the Taiwanese-born director Ang Lee and the cast and crew represented the best of Asia’s film industry, he knew the movie would have an audience in the West but has been stunned by its success.

But for Gao, films are just a means to an end. He wants to spend his time teaching and showing students the confidence, discipline, and inner peace that Kung Fu can bring to a person’s life.

“Kung Fu can help you maintain your body health and increase your flexibility,” said “It can help fight sickness and make a long life.”

Gao runs Kung Fu studios in Manhattan, New Jersey and Queens but hopes to move his schools, which are located in small cramped storefronts, to larger spaces.

“I want to teach as many students as possible,” said Gao.

Gao grew up in mainland China during the tumultuous period of the Cultural Revolution, when many of the country’s elite were persecuted by the communist government. Gao’s father, who managed a train station was often the target of physical and verbal attacks and Gao decided to learn Kung Fu to protect himself and his family.

He trained with a Kung Fu master in secret since learning the martial art forum was frowned upon by Communists and represented a link with China’s feudal past. Restriction on Kung Fu learning eventually eased and during the 1970s martial arts became a national sport in China.

“It was seen as sport and not culture, so it was acceptable,” said Gao.

He won China’s national Kung Fu championship and went on to act in many Chinese martial arts films before moving to the United States five years ago.

Gao had a difficult time when he first arrived, and worked for a moving company and as a bus driver before opening his first Kung Fu studio.

Huang, who owns Hi-Lite Computers Corp. on Northern Boulevard in Flushing, met Gao when he began giving lessons at her son’s Chinese Sunday school in Long Island. Several weeks after meeting him, Huang and her son Randy went to see “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and were surprised to see Gao on the silver screen.

“The movements were so beautiful,” she said of the film’s martial arts scenes, which resemble ballet as much as fighting.

Huang, an immigrant from Taiwan, said many people had helped her adjust to American life so she feels compelled to help Huang reach a larger base as a teacher.

Both Huang and Gao said they believe the movie’s popularity means that more Americans are being exposed to the beauty of Chinese culture.

“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” belongs to the Chinese film genre of Wuxia Pien, which is somewhat akin to a Western in American cinema. Wuxia Pien films focus on the adventures of knights during the time of Confucius, who lived in the 5th century B.C.. The movie is based on a series of books written hundreds of years ago.

The Sheraton LaGuardia East is located at 135-20 39th Ave. Call Huang at 917-972-1903 to reserve a space at the event.

Reach contributing writer Bryan Schwartzman by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

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