Theme: the arts vs violence and hatred
DRAGONMASTERS is the untold story of the Chinese dragon in America. When this symbol of good fortune and
benevolence first arrived, it found communities in trouble and was soon employed by their handlers to battle
prejudice, violence, and exclusion.
Utilizing a mix of documentary interviews, archival material, vérité footage, and filmed in six locations in New York,
California, Canada and China, this 67-minute “authored-documentary” film with multiple storylines, is the story of
the evolution and cultural impact of the Chinese dragon and its Masters in America. The film
features two dragons and their handlers. The first arrived in Marysville, California in 1890 and the second in
New York City, introduced in the early 1970s. Both of these North American dragon teams were formed at a
time and place in America where violence and exclusion were the order of the day.
Dragonmasters illuminates the origins and history of the dragon from its ancient beginnings in folklore and
ceremony to the spectacular ceremonial event centered around the Puzhai Fire Dragon in Guangdong Province.
The 19th-century marked a period of open anti-Chinese rhetoric in America. Confronted with racism, prejudice,
and violence, Chinese Americans reacted peacefully through legal and diplomatic channels. What is not well
known is the Chinese also responded by sharing and showcasing their culture, participating in civic events and
celebrations in a concerted effort to present their ancient traditions in an attractive light to the broader
community. In 1890, the Chinese community in Marysville, California imported a remarkable Golden Dragon from
China which was used extensively in non-Chinese festivals and parades across America from the West to the
The Chinese Dragon Team on the East Coast of the United States was founded in the early 1970s by Chia Meng Woo, an aging kung-fu master in the heart of a community that was one of the most violent ghetto neighborhoods in America: Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Woo developed the team from a mix of Hispanic, Black, Chinese, and other teenagers in his community. Via his role as a teacher and
mentor Master Woo positively impacted the lives of many young men in Williamsburg. Dragonmasters focusses on these men, now grown, and tells their gripping stories.
The Marysville and New York Dragons tell stories of how the Chinese reached out with their traditions to project a positive image and engage the broader community with hopes of acceptance and unity. At its core, this story demonstrates the power of culture to overcome hostility and rejection.
A sequence in Dragonmasters highlights a contemporary Chinese artist working on an enormous piece covering Doyers Street in Manhattan. His artistic project, Song of Dragon and Flowers, brings a message of “Love and peace” to the broader community and a 21st Century view of the iconic Chinese Dragon.
The filmmakers hope to show that cultural differences are what keep the world rich and vibrant, and by sharing and accepting, they open doors to friendship and harmony towards a positive future.