Better than TV

By Ian Bartholomew  /  Staff Reporter

Fri, Mar 15, 2013 - Page 12

Puppetmaster Huang Jun-hsiung (黃俊雄) created one of the most enduring theatrical events in Taiwan’s history with the creation of The Scholar Knight of Yunchou (雲州大儒俠), an epic story of chivalry that at its height achieved ratings for Taiwan Television (台視) of 97 percent. Broadcast of the series was temporarily suspended by the government in 1974 for its deleterious impact on agriculture and industry.

The epic now spans hundreds of episodes of television, but according to Wang Yi (王奕), personal assistant to Huang, this great epic now has to do battle with the many other channels of entertainment available to young people.

“Nowadays we don’t do as many live performances,” Wang said, “Fewer people these days come out to watch traditional theater. But Huang is a national treasure, and when he comes out to do a performance, people still come.”

Huang will head up a performance of Shih Yen-wen and Mirror Man: The Final Conflict (史艷文、藏鏡人終極戰), an episode in the The Scholar Knight of Yunchou saga this weekend as part of the series of performances celebrating the second anniversary of the Dadaocheng Theater (大稻埕戲苑), a venue that specializes in showcasing traditional performance arts.

The performance will feature the large-sized puppets developed by Huang in his efforts to give traditional puppets greater expressiveness. While puppeteers will manipulate the puppets, Huang will perform all the dialogue for the 90-minute show on his own, showcasing his enormous vocal versatility and astonishing command of the story that he created. “This is something that you don’t get to see in the televised performances,” Wang said. “Performing live, there is no chance to do a retake when the action goes wrong. You really get to appreciate the skill of the people involved in staging the show.”

Although Huang is now 79 years of age, Wang said he still takes an active part in the technological developments that have brought traditional puppet theater to television screens around the country. “Originally, performances were with conventional glove puppets,” Wang said. “But Huang has always sought greater realism and expressiveness, and the puppets got bigger, had more joints and even expressive eyes.” The story too, with its roots in a simple tale of chivalry, has developed a huge cast of characters, many familiar to every Taiwanese adult over a certain age.

To accompany the show, the Dadaocheng Theater will also be hosting a free exhibition of Huang’s puppets on the theater’s 8F exhibition area. The exhibition is free and is open daily from 9am to 6pm, Tuesday to Sunday (except public holidays) from March 16 to July 28.