Today, April 30, 2008, is the 20th year anniversary of Su Huan-Jen’s (素還真) very first appearance on April 30, 1988. Wow, 20 years. I’ve been watching the same character for 20 years. That’s more than 1300 episodes and it’s still going. Today, let’s recount how the puppet has changed in the last 20 years.
To give a little bit of background information: The most popular puppet series in Taiwan is Pili (霹靂). It’s one never-ending, good vs. evil, epic saga that has gone on for more than 20 years. Su Huan-Jen is the lead character of Pili. He is handsome, intelligent, eloquent, and calm. He is also a kung-fu master and full of wisdom. He is the leader of the good people and is constantly trying to resolve conflicts in the Wulin (martial arts world) and is always fighting against the evil ones.
Enough of that. Let’s see some pictures! (Note: These are all screen shots from videos that span 20 years. There are Chinese characters at the bottom because the show is close captioned.)
1990: In this shot, he was reading a letter from his wife, who had to go into hiding without saying goodbye. She did that because she did not want to become a burden while he faced the enemies. It didn’t help. He spent a lot of time looking for her and had gotten into more danger because of it. Too bad.
1994: This particular puppet is a little odd. Normally these puppets have a neutral expression but this one seems to be smiling. Maybe that’s the reason that they didn’t use it for very long. But it was interesting to see.
1995: This is around the time that Pili was experimenting with bigger puppet sizes. Around this time, all characters have really broad shoulder paddings because they were in the middle of figuring out how to hide the mechanism inside the puppets.
1998: In this shot you can see that he’s wearing white clothes and has black fabric on his head. This is because he was mourning his son’s death. (Don’t worry. His son later came back to life. Su Huan-Jen himself died many times and came back to life many times, one way or the other. You’ve got to take breaks every now and then if you are going to be around for 20 years.)
2000: This puppet is using a head that’s similar to the one from the movie Legend of the Sacred Stone that they were shooting at the time. I cannot put in words what exactly is different, but it’s more similar to the movie head instead of the regular TV heads.
2007-present: I actually didn’t like this face as much when I first saw it. It was meaner than the previous one, but the more I looked at it, the more I liked it. I guess it’s because it made him look more decisive and determined when he was faced with challenges.
So, that’s 20 years of Su Huan-Jen. The puppets certainly changed many times. There were a few things that were his trademarks and pretty much didn’t change though. The puppet maker that carved out the first head and face decided to give him swirls in the eyebrows. And that became something that’s very recognizable him. The first stylist that worked on him decided to give him a hat shaped like a lotus flower. And he’s been wearing variations of that throughout the 20 years. Also, he normally carries a duster (拂塵). In traditional Chinese and Taiwanese drama, you often see characters carrying these things. Unless they are actually servants, these are usually elegent-looking dusters that serve as decorations. People carry these as symbols to remind themselves to rid their minds of dust to achieve clarity.
Ah, 20 years. That’s pretty crazy. I’m certainly happy to have been born in Taiwan to have a chance to know about and witness this phenomenon.