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Puppet Kaos - where Kelvin Kao plays with puppets and tell random stories

Pili Prestige: The Dragon Warrior

Taiwan’s biggest TV puppetry production company has just released their new series Pili Prestige: The Dragon Warrior (霹靂震寰宇之龍戰八荒). This is the new opening theme:

As usual, it’s fancy-looking and a seamless combination of animation and puppetry. Unlike the previous opening themes (see here, here and here), this one does not have as much of a story. Instead it’s a showcase of all the primary character of the series. While it looked nice overall, two things caught my attention, in particular.

First, there’s the dancing girl with long wavy sleeves, first seen at 0:48-0:54. The camera shooting from the top while the character spins is something rarely seen in these things, since these puppets are manipulated from below. The spinning motion is really fluid, natural, and human-like. They did a really good job with it. She can been seen dancing again from 2:48 to 2:58. The wrist movement is the most smooth and delicate I’ve seen for this type of puppet, so they definitely improved on the technique (and maybe mechanism) some more.

And then there’s the shot with the monk at the end (4:29-4:33) in which he turned twice in the air, and hit the ground with his weapon while landing. This was also beautifully done. Normally how they would film this was, they would first show the character spinning in the air from waist up, because it would be difficult to control the legs at the same time. Then they would cut to a shot with just the legs and feet touching the ground, and finally his weapon swinging downward. Of course, these shots would each be very short and cut together smoothly to represent the movement, but this time they did the whole thing in one straight shot. I could imagine that it took several puppeteers to get this exactly right, and with post-production crew cleaning up the images afterwards, but the end result looked really good. Beautifully done.

The rest of the video were nicely done too, using transitional effects representing brush motions in traditional calligraphy or painting. However, those two shots stood out as I went back to re-watch those portions multiple times. :-)

Public Service Announcement about H1N1

Pili shot a public service announcement regarding the swine flu. Although most of my readers won’t understand the language spoken, you can see from that movements that they are telling you to wash hands with soap, refrain from touching your eyes, mouth, and nose with a dirty hand, and don’t greet each other by shaking hands.

Not that you don’t know that already, unless you are completely disconnected from the rest of the world (in which case you probably have nothing to worry about anyway).

New Taiwanese Puppet Series: Legend of the Dragon Blade

The new Pili series, Legend of the Dragon Blade (刀龍傳說) was just released last week. I looked at the opening theme (video below) and my thoughts were: Hm, very shiny. Yup, sparkle, sparkle. It was a good-looking video, though it didn’t feel as amazing as the previous two. That doesn’t mean that they’ve stopped re-inventing themselves, but just mean that this is sort of the beginning of a new stage.

What was really different about this series is the distribution. Decades ago, these puppetry series were half-hour episodes shown on network TV. About 20 years ago, the government decided to limit the hours of Taiwanese language programs in favor of Mandarin programs and the producers of these shows decided to go off air and go into the VHS rental market. Back in the days, there were only three networks, all owned and tightly controlled by the government. Cable television neither was allowed nor had the infrastructure to make it possible. So the VHS rental market was an important one, as it offered a variety of programs like music/sketch variety shows, American movies and Japanese drama. The puppet series went there too and was popular. This established the one-hour format that we still use to this day. When VHS was phased out, they switched to VCDs, and eventually DVDs.

Now, the company, Pili, had decided to make a really big change. They decided to stop using the DVD rental chains (like Blockbuster) for distribution and sign with FamilyMart instead. FamilyMart is a convenient store chain from Japan, and they also have franchises in Thailand, South Korea, Taiwan, mainland China (Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Suzhou), and the United States. (The North American version is branded Famima!! and all locations are in the Greater Los Angeles area.) The official reason was to make it more convenient for viewers because there are way more convenient stores than DVD rental stores, but of course, it was probably related to a fallout between the series producers and the distributors. It was more of a business decision to cut out the middle man. Whichever reason it was, it was a major experiment to change up the model that was in place for 20 years.

The other implication was also interesting. To rent these episodes, you put down a NT$10 deposit, and then pay the NT$120 rental fee. You can keep the DVDs for as long as you want. But how is this different from just paying NT$130 to purchase it? The difference is, if it were a purchase, you are now the owner of the disk and you can freely distribute it. You can sell it and you can rent it out. If it’s a rental, you do not actually own it. The company still owns them. You can watch them, but you can not, say, get the disks and open your own rental store.

And the decision seems to have been finalized very close to the actual release date. If you look at the end credit video, you can see that most text has transparent background, except for the distributor text. As someone that edits videos, it was obvious to me that the black background was used to cover up text that was originally there. That means this switch was finalized quite last minute.

How would this new distribution model work? Not much can be said yet, since it’s only been two weeks. We’ll see how it goes.

New Taiwanese Puppet Series

There’s a new Taiwanese puppet series just released this month. Here’s the opening theme:

This new series is called 黑白龍狼傳, which translates literally to The Chronicles of Black-White, Dragon, and Wolf. (The literal translation sounds weird and somewhat meaningless but let me assure you that it sounded much better and more meaningful before translation. :-D) The series is produced by Li-Gang Huang (黃立綱), the youngest son of Chuan-Hsiung Huang (黃俊雄). To give a little bit of background information, Chuan-Hsiung Huang is the puppet master whose series dominate the TV screen decades ago, and Pili, a series created by his two oldest sons still dominate the TV puppetry DVD rental market to this day. So now, the old puppet master is helping his youngest son with the new series to get a portion of the market share.

Objectively speaking, this video combined puppetry, computer animation, and special effects, so maybe I should have been more impressed by it. However, quite a few of the shots from the opening theme imitate what Pili has already done (and done better) so I wasn’t particularly impressed with it. (You can see the videos on Youtube here and here, and I’ve already blogged about them a few months ago here and here.) It wasn’t bad. I’ve just seen better, that’s all. I will write another post comparing the videos later.

But you know they say not to judge a book by its cover. I don’t think you should judge a series by its opening theme either. I watched the first six episodes and I like it so far. The story line is a lot simpler than Pili’s, which is actually quite chaotic and not very good at this point because they did not coordinate the stories between different writers very well. This new series, on the other hand, has a simple story line, while the characters’ own stories are woven into it. I like it this way, but also, they need to make the story more complicated soon, or it will go stale in a few more episodes. As you can see, it’s a fine balance.

But I am also not going to judge it by the first six episodes. They actually had problems (funding, distribution, etc.), so these six episodes were actually filmed a while ago. And then the production was halted and finall resumed this year. Between then and this year, the voiceover person went through a lot more training (rumor says) and they hired a new writer. They also fixed up the puppets and sets so I really don’t know what episode seven would be like. I am interested in finding out.

So far, I like it.

Taiwanese Puppets at World Games Opening Ceremony

The World Games is an international multi-sport event held every four years. This event is meant for mostly sports that are not in the Olympics, for example: korfball, fistball, Tchoukball, softball, beach handball, trampoline and tumbling gymnastic, and sumo. Yeah, I bet you haven’t seen half of these games, which makes it even more interesting.

This year’s World Games is held in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. And as we know about these kind of events, the opening ceremony is often a big performance put on by the host country showcasing their culture. And of course, one of the most Taiwanese thing is its puppetry. The opening ceremony features two of the most popular singers for today’s TV puppet shows, five people dressed as puppet show characters, over 200 puppets and the puppet master who provides the voice for each speaking character. To summarize the premise: basically it’s a good vs. evil story and they are fighting it out. Hence all the dry ice and fireworks for special effects. It’s really cool for me to see puppets performed in an occasion like this. Unfortunately, the lighting is not good, and really, the puppets are hard to see from such a distance. But it was cool nevertheless, especially the huge video projection in the very beginning.

Here’s another clip from a rehearsal. You can see the puppets and how the puppeteers are manipulating them so much better.

Visually Stunning Taiwanese Puppet Video

Just saw this visually stunning Taiwanese puppet video. They did a great job combining puppets and 3D animations together. I watched the video over and over for an hour admiring the work. Okay… that sounds a little obsessive, but it’s really good! The video doesn’t allow embedding though, so Click here to watch it over on Youtube:
(Remember to click on the HQ option for best quality.)


To give a little bit of background information: The video is the opening theme for the new series by Pili, Taiwan’s biggest and longest running TV puppetry production. It was also used as an advertisement, first premiered at their own store (yes, they have their own stores selling Pili puppet related merchandise) for fans to come and take a peek at the newest episodes. The video is designed by Zheng Bao-Pin (鄭保品) whose amazing work integrating puppetry and animation has been featured on this site before. One of them was the opening theme to the previous Pili series, and the other is the Fearless video that’s been viral on the internet.


Word is that Pili had hired him to do these opening themes after being impressed by the Fearless video. I don’t know if he will end up being one of the directors for the series, but this guy certainly has a lot of talent with videos like these.

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