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African Shaolin warrior's journey to the east

(Global Times)

08:33, May 03, 2013

Luc Bendza Photo: Courtesy of Luc Bendza

For a lethal martial artist commonly portrayed as a villain, kung fu grand master-turned-actor Luc Bendza has a disarming smile that belies his intimidating on-screen persona. Since coming to China more than 30 years ago, Bendza has built a reputation he modestly shrugs off as the "African Bruce Lee."

A member of the International Martial Arts Association, the 44-year-old from Gabon is a pioneer among African entertainers in China.

"Most [foreigners] who practice kung fu come and go. They learn it or take part in competitions, but no one has stayed for years like me," he explains. "Most expat roles in TV and movies go to Caucasians. There are few black roles, which is a shame."

Married to a Chinese wife with a young son, Bendza has starred in dozens of films and TV drama series alongside superstars such as Jackie Chan. Showing some of his work to Metropolitan on a portable DVD player over coffee, his pride in his craft - and roles - is obvious.

"This is The Legend of Bruce Lee," he says in polished Putonghua, referring to a 50-episode series aired on China Central Television based on the namesake Hong Kong martial arts icon. "I play Jesse Glover, an American student of Lee's who later becomes his first disciple. Through this series, I learned my childhood idol was not only a kung fu master but also a warm, helpful person."

He says he learned Chinese because he wanted to know the culture behind the superficial martial arts gestures.

"When I came to China, I was a teenage filled with love for martial arts who had a simple wish to learn it well. When you need to learn martial arts on a deeper level, you have to learn the language, the technical terms and the culture surrounding it," he says.

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