The Shaolin Kid (AKA A Boy in China) is a 2012 documentary about an American boy named Andre. As a young child he was diagnosed as being extremely hyperactive – the treatment prescribed was lots of exercise.
After seeing a Jackie Chan film when he was three years old, he got interested in Kung Fu, and his parents enrolled him in classes. He thrived, and when he was eight he had the chance to go to China and study in Shaolin and later Beijing.
The documentary is about the challenges he faced on his journey.
To be honest, I found the whole thing quite disjointed and hard to follow. There were a lot of training montages interspersed with interviews with his parents and teachers, but there didn’t seem to be much in the way of structure. It just jumps in with the parents explaining how hard it was to be separated without explaining what was going on.
Another example; in Shaolin, Westerners are not usually allowed to stay in the dorms with the Chinese students and train with them – it was never explained why Andre was allowed to.
The confusion aside, the documentary has a lot of interesting points. I enjoyed the training montages, because they showed the wide range of things the children were learning – not just one style of wushu but several, and also strength, flexibility and stamina. They also spend time on academics as well as cleaning and other chores.
It was also clear that discipline was a strong driving force at the school. It looked hard work – and occasionally painful.
I was interested in the fundamental difference in attitude between Western parents and Chinese parents. In the West, parents often expect their children to be constantly progressing. In China, if you’re not good enough, you go back to the basics class; perfection is required before you can move on.
The documentary makers were at great pains to make sure we know that all this was the child’s choice – not being pushed on him by the parents, but fully supported by them.
That attitude seems to have paid off – Andre is now eighteen and still practicing various Chinese martial arts. He competes with the US National Team, and has over 200 gold medals.
You can see a recent interview with him on You Tube, which also contains some clips from the documentary. The full documentary is available on Amazon (to buy*, or free on Prime), and also to buy in various places around the internet.
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