Backstory: The student body is kung-fu fighting

They may not kick like Bruce Lee, pack a Jet Li punch , or even act like Jackie Chan. But for 18 teenage boys living at the Heng Xing Ying Shi Kung Fu Acting School, becoming a kung fu star is their dream.

Their largely poor, rural families are staking much on that dream – sending the boys off to this bare-bones, but pricey, school run by Master Guo Shao Heng. They hope that the master – a prizewinning fighter in his teens who has been kicking and punching his way through movie sets for 12 years as a movie-fight choreographer – can help them hone their fight-acting skills enough to break into kung fu films.

"Kung Fu fighters lack acting skills, and we want to create a school where they can learn not only to fight, but also act," explains Mr. Guo, whose year-old program has placed a few students in movies and TV series.

On referrals from local kung fu teachers, rural families ship their sons off to Beijing and pay up to $1,000 a year for a rigorous three-year program of early morning and afternoon training six days a week.

Li Xiang who made the Hollywood-style pilgrimage to the city lights – a 13-hour train ride from his village – because, he says, "I want to be a movie star." Living on site with just the bare necessities, the teens forge close bonds, sticking together between workouts of high-flying kicks to the chest, fighting with wooden swords, and grazing knuckles along the ground and perching in trees to perfect their monkey kung fu.

Though Beijing is the host of next year's summer Olympics, kung fu has so far failed to become an Olympic sport. Guo's students are unconcerned: They're looking for the riches of the silver screen, not Olympic gold.

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