Photos courtesy of Mu Performing Arts. Photos cannot be reproduced without written permission from Mu Performing Arts.
WHAT THE -F- IS THE KUNG FU ZOMBIE-VERSE?
I’m interested in writing speculative plays.
The Kung Fu Zombie-verse is an anthology of stage works that takes place in a post-apocalyptic alternate reality, framed by the Buddhist tenets and uses influences from popular culture to examine the histories, issues, and ideologies experienced by the Lao Diaspora.
Developed through support from Mu Performing Arts, Kung Fu Zombies vs. Cannibals (Book I) explicitly addressed the CIA’s carpet-bombing campaign (1964-73) on Laos. Over 270 million tons (equal to every 8 minutes, 24-hours a day for 9 years) of bombs were dropped, making Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in history. Forty years later, approx. 80 million tons of unexploded bombs remain buried in Laos’ landscape. Like zombies, these bombs re-animate with every curious child’s touch or every strike of a farmer’s shovel to kill and maim, causing destruction decades after burial.
In 2015 I received a Minnesota State Arts Board grant to develop Kung Fu Zombies vs. Shaman Warrior (Book II). KFZSW examines how the Lao perceives mental illness as demonic possession, bad karma, or a curse. Mental illness is a taboo topic and the community unfairly shames those who live with it or talk openly about their experience with post-traumatic stress or depression.
Kung Fu Zombies vs. Time Travellah (Book III) will examine the Second Generation of Diaspora for the Lao. The end of the Vietnam War saw 4 million+ lives lost and a great exodus of peoples from Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam that ultimately changed the landscape of the world everywhere. What will the Second Generation of Diaspora look like in a post-apocalyptic world? What new identities will we hold? What new form will citizenship take? What will we carry with us? What’s worth rebuilding? The current refugee crises in Europe have made these questions urgent for me.
KUNG FU ZOMBIES VS CANNIBALS
After a series of natural disasters, the fall of civilization quickly followed. Littered with zombies and cannibals, what remains of society is ruled by a singular agency, the World Health Organization. A young Lao woman, Sika, determined to return her parent’s ashes to their homeland meets a ragtag team of reformed Buddhist monks, a young girl, and a woman with a sharp knife and a death-on-contact kick. Their journey, framed by the Five Buddhist tenets, is told through an amalgamation of severed heads, forced kisses, human steaks, and a chorus of cannibals.
Developed through the New Performance Program (Mu Performing Arts/Jerome Foundation), Kung Fu Zombies vs Cannibals features martial arts battles and a hip hop score, spun live by DJ Kool Akiem (Micranots, MF Doom, Rhymesayers). Kung Fu Zombies Vs. Cannibals received its world premiere on October 12, 2013 at The Southern Theater in Minneapolis, MN. The play was developed and produced with funds from the Mu Performing Arts/Jerome Foundation New Performance Program.
Refugenius Labs produced a soundtrack album including the original score composed by DJ Kool Akiem (Micranots, MF Doom, Rhymesayers) and featuring the vocals by artists like Tall Paul, Jake Virden, Desdamona, Fres Thao, Mayda, and more! Album is available at Fifth Element.
Named "Best Production of 2013" by L'Etoil Magazine
Mu Performing Arts' highest grossing world premiere
Excerpt published in "(Re)Collecting the Vietnam War," Asian American Literary Review (August 2015)
Featured at the Consortium of Asian American Theater Artists' 3rd National Asian American Theater Conference and Festival (2014, Philadelphia)
Featured at Bedlam Theater Lowertown Opening (July 2014)
Featured at the Ivy Theater Awards (September 2014)
KUNG FU ZOMBIES VS SHAMAN WARRIOR
With Hanuman as her spiritual guide, a young woman must battle zombies in the jungle, monsters that materialize from Buddhist texts, and her own personal demons in a post apocalyptic Laos. Kung Fu Zombies vs Shaman Warrior examines the perception of mental illness as demonic possession within the Lao community.
Presented as part of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center's CTRL+ALT: Imagined Futures migratory exhibition in New York, 2016
Excerpt to be published in Open in Emergency: A Special Issue on Asian American Mental Health, Asian American Literary Review (forthcoming January 2017)
Awarded the Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant for Theater, 2015
Kung Fu Zombies Vs. Cannibals received its world premiere on October 12, 2013 at The Southern Theater in Minneapolis, MN.
The play was developed and produced with funds from the Mu Performing Arts/Jerome Foundation New Performance Program.
KFZ trailers were produced with funding from Mu Performing Arts.
Filmed and edited by Melissa Vang, produced by Refugenius Productions.
KFZ video projections by Guy Wagner, produced by Mu Performing Arts.
Produced by Asian Economic Development Association.
Skip "Miss Saigon," see Mu Performing Arts' "Kung Fu Zombies vs. Cannibals"
Interview with Amina Harper, Twin Cities Daily, October 8, 2013
Reflections of New Minnesotans: Kung Fu Zombies vs. Cannibals
Interview with Julia Opoti, on AM950, September 23, 2013
Interview with a 'Phi' playwright
Interview with Chanida Potter, Twin Cities Daily Planet, September 20, 2013
FROM Erik Piepenburg, The New York Times
FROM Konchog Norbu, Lion's Roar
Saymoukda Vongsay’s “Kung Fu Zombies vs. Cannibals” a new, undead-infested, carefully choreographed chop-and-kick stage show blasted through with a live, original hip-hop soundtrack and… Buddhist morality at its core.
FROM Rob Callahan, Vita.mn
"Kung Fu Zombies Vs. Cannibals delivers as promised"
"When it’s time for a last stand against the undead horde, it’s like the climax of an old Toei film. Each fight scene builds up to a bigger, tougher challenge yet to come, pitting Sika and her band of antiheroes against increasingly impossible challenges as they level up in preparation to face the end boss."
"Fans of Shogun Assassin (or, for the purists, Lone Wolf and Cub) will delight in a stage play that takes its cues from the same source material that influenced… Quentin Tarantino, and accomplishes everything you used to be pretty sure live theater can't do."
FROM Dominic Orlando, HowWasTheShow.com,
"Randy Reyes has made a bold choice for his first production as Artistic Director of Theatre Mu. Actually, that’s a bit of an understatement. Reyes is not only producing but directing his inaugural show—which is a world premiere—by a first-time playwright—about a future apocalypse—in which zombies and cannibals have all but taken over the world. Yikes. In the sense that “Kung Fu Zombies” is truly a one-of-a-kind experience, I’d say Reyes’ artistic gamble paid off."
"Director Randy Reyes... does a strong balancing act as each of the different elements in the work gets a chance in the spotlight."
"Playwright Vongsay wraps all of this up in an exploration of Buddhist teachings, which provides part of the play’s structure and plenty of extra philosophical fiber to chew on."
FROM Tommy O'Brien, MXDWELL.com
"One of the main strengths of this production is [its] refusal to rest on conventions and its protagonist is certainly no exception to this rule. Sika encapsulates all of the strength and assertiveness of an 80’s male action star, but unlike her predecessors she comes across all too human."
"With a complex narrative involving high concepts like the basic tenants of Buddhism, the lasting scars a country faces after war, and an apocalyptic outbreak of zombies who know kung fu, it’d be easy to lose any semblance of reality throughout it all. And yet it doesn’t. It’s a testament to the script and those involved in its production that they manage to keep everyone involved so grounded amid the chaos."
FROM Sheila Regan, TC Daily Planet
"Kung Fu Zombies Vs Cannibals... has all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster. There’s zombies, Kung Fu and the cutest little girl that would give Dakota Fanning a run for her money during her I am Sam period... It’s an action-packed adventure."
"…the play does best when it embraces its wackiness. Vongsay has a good sense of humor (and director Randy Reyes milks those moments to good effect)... One of my favorite parts was the cameo by Jeannie Lander, as the evil cannibal priestess named Mara. Lander embraced Vongsay’s over-the-top style and delivered a gloriously malicious performance... she was able to take the show to a higher stylized level."
"There’s a lot to enjoy in this unlikely mélange, under Randy Reyes’ direction. Jeannie Lander delivers a visceral, over-the-top performance as a tent-revival style preacher espousing a gruesome gospel of cannibalism. Ayden Her is a delight as an unaffectedly adorable 6-year-old refugee, while Maxwell Chonk Thao offers up a hilariously comic and irreverent performance as a wannabe gangbanger turned Buddhist monk. Allen Malicsi’s fight choreography is beautifully balletic, introducing startling notes of grace to the fairly gory proceedings."
"Mu Performing Arts deserves credit for bringing this ambitious new playwright to their stage."
FROM Emily Eveland, Minnesota Daily
"The narrative, at first, sounded intentionally average. But as the recorded story came to a head, Sika paused and the tone changed dramatically.
“And for some reason, these motherfuckers knew kung-fu,” she said. With those words, DJ Kool Akiem’s funk-laden beats filled the room, the slow-motion fight scene switched to full speed and “Kung-Fu Zombies vs. Cannibals” proved to be more than your average zombie story."
“Kung-Fu Zombies’ quirky character list includes a 6-year-old cannibal, a gang-banger turned monk, a principal who secretly doubles as a kung-fu master and an old villager who shows love for his wife by dry-humping her side. Where did Vongsay come up with this stuff?"
"[Kung Fu Zombies] is a high-energy piece applying Buddhist tenets to a zombie-filled fantasy...with showy martial arts choreography impeccably executed by the actors."
FROM Amina Harper, Twin Cities Daily
"Art doesn’t just exist to promote communication and visual intrigue, but to debunk antiquated stereotypes and messages founded in ignorance—and I’m happy to announce that Saymoukda Vongsay’s Kung Fu Zombies vs. Cannibals is the perfect remedy to whatever racial mayhem stories like Miss Saigon may leave in their wake. It features a well-crafted Asian-American female lead surrounded by a diverse cast of characters aiding her on a journey of self-discovery and compassion in the midst of a violent zombie apocalypse. I know, I see you about to buy tickets."
American Theatre Magazine, October 2013
City Pages, October 2013
Star Tribune, October 2013