AUSTRALIA IS HOME to the Wiggles, the Vegemite sandwich and some of the most fascinating wildlife on the planet. But there’s another wonder from down under, and his name is Vincent Nguy.
Nguy started Dragon Style Kung Fu in 2001, more interested in lion dancing and getting his hands on some firecrackers. He travels to Hong Kong to improve his Dragon style Kung Fu, but has also increased his knowledge of Hong Kong style Futsan lion dancing including its lesser-known customs. He also had the opportunity to learn the kei lun dance and yearns to delve more deeply into this art. He hopes to find enough people willing to learn the dances so that he can start a performing team.
“I decided to undertake this restoration project with Linda Ung (Nguy’s classmate) as it was our Sifu’s first lion head. I felt it had a lot of history associated with it (evidenced by the 3000 firecracker holes burnt into the head and tail). I didn’t want to see something so meaningful to the school burnt or thrown away, especially since our Sifu has retired. While restoring the lion, I thought one way I could help honor the lion’s past was to try to keep as many original parts as possible. The only part I could salvage was the horn and it takes pride of place on top of the lion, complete with twenty year-old firecracker remnants still stuck in its fur.
It didn’t seem like a hard project at the start since I’ve never restored any lions before. Simply take some photos, strip the lion, replace the broken bamboo strips with new ones, tie the frame together, re-paper, paint and we’re away.
But oh, was I wrong. After stripping the lion down, I spent a long, long, long time just staring at it, wondering where to start. I didn’t realize how badly damaged the frame was. Not just broken bamboo strips, every end came undone so just getting the shape and finding out what bamboo strip went
where was very difficult. This difficulty was compounded a year later, when after I thought I was done tying the frame together, I found everything was a bit too forward, looking more like a Hoksan lion than a Futsan lion. So, I undid all the joints and reshuffled everything again. It took a lot of experimenting with materials such as the binding medium for the joints and types of paper for the papier-mâché. I think everything fell into place after I put the first layer of paper on. That’s when it really did look like a lion and I felt all my effort fixing the frame was fruitful.
Painting the lion wasn’t too hard. Coming up with the design was. I tried to match the designs as closely to the original as I could, but, unfortunately, I didn’t have any clear or close up photos of the lion to work with. So, I know it’s sad to admit, but I ended up watching Once upon a time in China 3 about 50 times pausing the movie at all the bits where I saw some cool/fierce-looking black lions, and managed to get some generic designs that way. After persevering, I finallly finished it! Woohoo!
Overall, I think the best thing about restoring this lion is, it really made me appreciate the work and effort lion head makers/manufacturers have put into their craft. Every time I see a lion head now, I always look at the strokes and the designs they put on their heads and the way they’ve tied the frame together. Trolling through the various forums for information and tips on restoring the lion has helped me come across invaluable information not only on restoring lions, but on the history and other aspects to the art.
Now all there is for me to do is to train up some guys in lion dancing, wait for a replacement tail, find a date to dot the lion, and revive my Sifu’s name and school.”
Good onya! Have a burl at your dreams Vincent! You’ll persevere again and she’ll be right.