Once Upon a Time in the Bamboo

DECEMBER 2, 2020
USA | 5 minutes | 2020

Action short film directed by Peilin Kuo
Starring Celia Au, Adam Lim, William Yuekun Wu, Jet Spiro

Watch the Trailer

Once Upon a Time in the Bamboo

Chinese title: 竹林傳奇

A martial arts short film inspired by the 1971 film A Touch of Zen, Once Upon a Time in the Bamboo weaves together Chinese history and mysticism told from a modern boy’s imaginative perspective.

New film fuses martial arts with fantasy

By Patricia Robert for The Rivertowns Enterprise
Reposted on CAF with permission

Hastings resident Peilin Kuo’s love of martial arts and the movies inspired by them are at the heart of her latest short film, “Once Upon a Time in the Bamboo.”

“I grew up with martial art movies in my native Taiwan,” she said in an interview on Nov. 17. “What I love is not the action — that is just about the outside — but what is going on inside.” 

Kuo studies t’ai chi with fellow Hastings resident Ed Young, an award-winning illustrator and author of children’s books. Before the pandemic, he taught at the James Harmon Community Center in Hastings, and now conducts classes on Zoom.

“Ed often says that you must look inside to find what is guiding you, that is more important,” Kuo said.

Her 5-minute film is an ode to the 1971 classic “A Touch of Zen” by director King Hu. “It has all the elements of his film — a female warrior and a bad guy — which I combine with my story of fantasy,” Kuo said. “I’m not just a copy cat, I added my own ideas.”

While her film looks like it unfolds in a forest of the fabled trees with  shimmering leaves, it was shot within a stand of bamboo outside her home. 

There is indeed a female warrior (played by Celia Au), an imperial agent (William Yuekun Wu), a monk (Adam Lim), and a small box that holds a magic secret. Then there is the boy, played by her son, Jet Spiro, who was 11 when the film was made in 2019. He is now 13, and an eighth-grader at Farragut Middle School. 

“The boy understands what is in the box through his imagination,” Kuo explained. “Young children can see things we don’t see through their imagination. For myself, I don’t want that to fade. So through my boy’s eyes, I want to create new worlds that are universal. I feel a need to help imagination remain a part of you.”

“Once Upon a Time in the Bamboo” is the third of Kuo’s films to be selected for the Big Apple Film Festival (BAFF), which was held online from Nov. 13-15. The next screening will be at the Golden Short Film Festival in Italy in 2021. In 2009, Kuo’s “Private Party” won the Golden Palm award at the 2009 Mexico International Film Festival, and in 2012, her film “Prescott Place” won an honorable mention at the Asia On Film Festival.

“BAFF has been very supportive over the years. They get my vision,” Kuo said. “But I must also cite the teamwork behind the making of this film. Two of the crew are local — producer Cynthia Rodriguez lives in Dobbs Ferry and our costume designer, Teresa Snider-Stein, in Hastings.” Each of her collaborators, Kuo said, “brought their own perspective.”

Kuo came to the U.S. in 2002, and moved to Hastings in 2008.

“I wanted the big picture, the culture of New York, which was known worldwide as being the ‘melting pot’ and famous for its artists. So I thought I would give it a shot,” she said. “It was a turning point in my life. At times I was very confused about what I wanted to do. Now, sometimes, I think ‘your destiny was calling you.’ It was a brand-new world, always exciting, and I am glad that I did it.”

Now, for Kuo, “it is time when I have to move on to a bigger challenge.” That challenge — her “patient project” — is a biopic about Anna Mae Wong, an actress considered to be the first Chinese American movie star. Wong is also recognized for refusing to accept stereotypical roles. In 2017, as part of the RiverArts Studio Tour, Kuo presented a short conceptual film, “To Die or To Dream,” that demonstrated what she hopes to achieve with Wong’s story.

“She was someone caught between the East and the West, someone who lived through the anti-Chinese discrimination of the 1920s, and this spoke to me,” Kuo said. “It will be a period piece, about a real person, so I am finding my way with that. At present, I do have a producer reading the script. This ‘patient project’ is the long haul.”

The film is still in the festival circuit and will premiere in 2021.

This short film is one of the many great projects shared with CineAsian Films through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them, submit your film.


Director, Writer: Peilin Kuo
Producer: Cynthia Rodriguez
Cinematographer: Arthur Woo
Composer: Mike J Kelly

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