Canada has its Cirque du Soleil, which has astonished global audiences with its creative imagination. Cirque du Soleil transformed the traditional circus into a 21st-century artistic extravaganza.
According to Taiwanfest organizer Charlie Wu, the nearest equivalent in his country of birth is Pili International Multimedia. It has turned traditional Chinese hand puppetry into a modern Taiwanese phenomenon encompassing the worlds of film, television, and fashion.
At this year’s Taiwanfest, from Saturday to Monday (August 30 to September 1), Pili puppets and cosplayers dressed as Pili’s television and film characters will be seen for the first time in downtown Vancouver.
“We’ll be taking the cosplay people to Holt Renfrew to see this East-and-West type of fashion coming together,” Wu told the Georgia Straight over lunch at Earls Restaurant on West Broadway. “You can see the cosmopolitanism of Taiwan and see how it has really come from a tradition.”
This puppetry that inspires the cosplayers originated in China, and immigrants from Fujian province brought it across the strait to Taiwan in the 1800s. There, the Huang family cultivated the craft of hand puppetry through Pili Puppet Theatre through several generations before launching a hit television show with puppets in the 1970s. Wu said that the government eventually banned the program because its audiences were too large. It attracted a whopping 97 percent of the viewing audience, bringing the country to a standstill.
“The whole puppetry they do is based on superheroes,” Wu said. “It’s got the ancient Chinese charisma in it.”
In 1985, Pili launched a new TV series that’s still popular in Taiwan, highlighting traditional martial arts through puppetry. In 2000, the president of Pili, Chris Huang, wrote and directed a popular Taiwanese film, The Legend of the Sacred Stone, which combined puppetry with computer-generated images. In film and on TV, Huang’s brother Vincent provided the characters’ voices.
Pili characters in traditional attire are so popular that they appear at fashion shows. And in 2006, an edited version of Pili puppetry showed up on the Cartoon Network, but it was soon pulled because fans objected to changes made for American audiences.
As the Straight went to press, Pili International Multimedia was scheduled to perform at the Museum of Anthropology on Wednesday (August 27) as part of the museum’s Spotlight Taiwan initiative, which will showcase the Ouxi Taiwanese Puppetry Festival from November 4 to 9.
As part of Taiwanfest, an exhibition of Pili puppetry will be in Pacific Centre from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday (August 30) and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday and Monday (August 31 and September 1). Pili Puppetry Fashion Live will take place at Holt Renfrew at 2 p.m. and at the Metropolitan Hotel at 3:15 p.m. on Saturday, and again at the Metropolitan Hotel at 11 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, and 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Monday. On Saturday (August 30) at 4:30 p.m., there will be a discussion of Pili puppetry at the Metropolitan Hotel. The Legend of the Sacred Stone screens at 5 p.m. on Sunday at the Metropolitan Hotel. All events are free.