Wed, Mar 03, 2010 - Page 2 News List

Puppet show celebrates 40 years

GROUNDBREAKING The Hoklo-language puppet show was so popular when it debuted that kids skipped class, workers went home and farmers quit their fields

By Shelley Shan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Puppeteer Huang Chun-hsiung, second right, and colleagues display different versions of the warrior figure Shih Yan-wen that have been used since the character first appeared, at its “40th birthday” party in Taipei yesterday.

PHOTO: SUNG CHIH-HSIUNG, TAIPEI TIMES

The Taiwanese puppet show The Scholar Swordsman: Shih Yen-wen (雲州大儒俠 — 史艷文) celebrated its 40th anniversary yesterday.

The show features Shi Yan-wen, who leads a group of swordsmen to fight evildoers. Other popular characters in the show include “Mirror Man” (藏鏡人), “Two Teeth” (二齒), “The Goddess of Bitterness” (苦海女神龍) and “Weird Old Man” (怪老子).

When The Scholar Swordsman debuted on March 2, 1970, on Taiwan Television (TTV), it set a record television rating of 97 percent. Students reportedly skipped class to watch the show. Farmers, factory workers and doctors were also said to have stopped what they were doing because they did not want to miss the show.

The government eventually stopped broadcasts of the show in 1976 on the grounds that it was disrupting the nation’s work schedule. The fact that the characters of the show spoke Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese) also conflicted with the “Mandarin only” policy at the time.

Broadcasts resumed later. Aside from TTV, the puppet show was subsequently shown on China Television Co, and the China Television Service. The style of Shi Yan-wen changed when the show aired on a new TV station.

Show creator Huang Chun-hsiung (黃俊雄) yesterday recalled how the show was produced in the 1970s, when there was no pre-recorded programs and everything had to be done live. The crew had to set up six different sets simultaneously. They also had to have three puppets for each character in the show to ensure that the scenes could change quickly and smoothly.

Aside from being a puppeteer, Huang did voice work for nearly all the characters in the show. Honoring the 40th anniversary of the show yesterday, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) dubbed Shi Yan-wen a national hero, adding that Huang’s father, Huang Hai-tai (黃海岱), had created the character Shi Yan-yun (史炎雲) from Chinese historical anecdotes, which Huang later adapted into Shi Yan-wen.

“Shi’s image as a just and kind man became part of the nation’s memory. He also comforted the people of Taiwan in the 1970s when national morale was low after Taiwan withdrew from the UN,” Ma said.

The puppet show was aired on Hong Kong’s Asia Television in 2000 and was dubbed in Cantonese. It was made into DVDs and is also available in English. Starting this month, the show will embark on a tour of the nation’s 319 townships.

The first show will be at Taipei’s Living Mall on Saturday.

Huang Chun-hsiung’s son, Huang Li-gang (黃立綱), said that in future the show would use 3D technology, particularly for fight scenes between Shi and the baddies.

Taiwanese opera actress Chen Ya-lan (陳亞蘭) will also portray Shi Yan-wen in a new TTV Taiwanese opera.

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