Shadows of the empire


  • Arts
  • Saturday, 26 Oct 2013

The two driving forces behind Peperangan Bintang Wayang Kulit – creative designer Tintoy Chuo and wayang kulit master Muhammad Dain Othman (left) – with the Star Wars-inspired puppets.

Peperangan Bintang Wayang Kulit is a spectacular collision of modern sci-fi and traditional cultural art.

SANGKALA Vedeh was approaching. Surrounded by the evil-looking Hulubalang Empayar, the captured Puteri Leia trembled as the sky billowed with blood red smoke and the ominous tones of The Imperial March started playing.

As the music got louder and louder, the dreaded Sith Lord finally emerged, with his red lightsaber in one hand, and waving his other hand around like a Gungan at a fish market.

It wasn’t your usual Star Wars tribute show, that was for sure. We were watching one of the two exclusive previews of Peperangan Bintang Wayang Kulit (PBWK) recently, the first time that this unique combination of Star Wars and traditional Kelantanese wayang kulit shadow puppetry was performed in public.

PBWK was not only a brilliantly unique take on George Lucas’ space opera, but also a remarkable attempt at reviving the traditional art of wayang kulit. Involving a full contingent of musicians, computer-generated visual effects and 12 shadow puppets which the aforementioned Sangkala Vedeh (Darth Vader), Puteri Leia (Princess Leia Organa), R2-D2, Si P Long (C-3PO), and a couple of Askar Pemberontak (rebel soldiers) and Hulubalang Empayar (Stormtroopers), it was the result of a year’s hard work by creative designer Tintoy Chuo, 40, and wayang kulit master Muhammad Dain Othman, 61, one of only 13 accredited master puppeteers from the Wayang Kulit Melayu Traditional Kelantan (WKMTK).

The two driving forces behind Peperangan Bintang Wayang Kulit – creative designer Tintoy Chuo and wayang kulit master Muhammad Dain Othman (left) – with the Star Wars-inspired puppets.

It’s been almost a year since we met Chuo at his Ampang, Selangor home where he showed us two approximately 1m-tall wayang kulit-inspired puppets of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, the result of a collaboration with his good friend TakeHuat (aka Teh Take Huat, a senior art director at an international advertising agency) on a creative project to showcase Malaysian culture.

At the time, he was already dreaming of producing a proper wayang kulit show based on Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, gushing excitedly about the prospect of hearing a gamelan version of John Williams’ The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme) while admitting that it might be a bit too expensive to complete.

Not long after our interview, Chuo was given a new hope that the dream would become a reality. For the past year, Chuo has been working with Pak Dain on developing the show, and he admits that without the veteran puppeteer’s help, PBWK would not even have reach this stage.

“If I never met Pak Dain, I’d never have gotten so far. As one of the accredited master puppeteers of WKMTK, he also has an entire group of musician and crafters under him, so we could work on almost all the elements of the show together under one source,” said Chuo.

Surprisingly, it was Pak Dain who first approached Chuo about collaborating on PBWK (via Facebook, of all places), and before you could say, “help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi”, Chuo was off to Pak Dain’s Kelantan Traditional Wayang Kulit Gallery in Kampung Morak, Kelantan to work on developing the show.

“He really knows what wayang kulit is all about, which is why I was so eager to work with him on this, so I can be sure that I am doing it properly,” said Chuo. “When we met, I asked him lot of questions, and told him my concept and vision. He wanted to make sure that I was on the right track and not out to buat kacau (mess things up).”

Pak Dain only had two things in minds when he agreed to become the Tok Dalang (master puppeteer) for PBWK – that the spirit and tradition of wayang kulit was preserved, and for more people to get to know and watch wayang kulit.

There was just one problem though – he had never watched Star Wars before! To get things started, Chuo asked a friend of his to translate the script for A New Hope into Bahasa Malaysia, and then passed Pak Dain a DVD of the movie to watch.

“After he watched and understood the story, he then looked into modifying the script into a more wayang kulit style,” said Chuo, adding that while most wayang kulit shows are done in the Kelantanese dialect, he wanted PBWK to be conducted using ordinary Bahasa Malaysia so that more people would be able to understand it.

PBWK also mostly utilises traditional wayang kulit music, according to Chuo. “There are 32 tracks of music in wayang kulit, and we could not simply mix the tracks together for the show. There are specific tracks for fighting, war, happy and sad scenes and some that are used for specific characters only,” he said. “For PBWK, we had to choose the tracks carefully – for the fighting scenes, we used the traditional fighting track, and so on. We only created one new track for PBWKThe Imperial March.”

The puppets were based on Chuo’s own designs, and made using a material called sandy emboss, a plastic-like material that required a slow and meticulous cutting process.

“We couldn’t use the traditional cow skin for the puppets because the skin is yellow or brown in colour, and my puppets had to be WHITE,” said Chuo. “We searched high and low for the proper material to use, but many either could not be easily cut, or coloured on. In the end, we found this ‘Sandy Emboss’ that was the most suitable, but also takes a longer time to cut and colour.”

According to Chuo, the response to the two preview shows in the Klang Valley went far beyond their expectations. “We really didn’t expect that many people to turn up, especially for the second preview,” he said. “There were young kids, senior citizens ... and it was good to see the kids sitting down quietly watching the whole thing for 20 minutes!”

The general feedback he has received for the shows have been that of genuine surprise that something as futuristic as Star Wars could be translated unto such a traditional medium.

“The feedback has been very positive so far, as many were surprised to see the fusion (of the two mediums). Most of them had not even seen a proper wayang kulit show before, and were glad they got to see it live,” he said.

With Lucasfilm having given the project permission to go ahead and with strong support from the Official Star Wars Malaysia Fan Club (www.swmfc.com.my), Chuo is now raring to forge ahead with his dream of holding a full-fledged show on next year’s Star Wars Day (May the Fourth, get it?).

“These two shows were so important to our project. After working so hard for so many months, we finally got to showcase our concept in public and get feedback about it. We were relieved that we managed to pull it off, and that we got such a good response,” he said.

“We’ve been working on this for about a year, and we’ve only managed to come up with these 15 minutes. In order to do more, and come up with the full show, we will need a lot more funding or sponsorship.”

Well, if the 15 minutes of Star Wars shadow puppetry goodness that we saw are any indication, the Force is definitely strong with this one.

Do want to know more about Peperangan Bintang Wayang Kulit, or wish to contribute to the development of the show? Visit the project’s official Facebook page (www.facebook.com/peperanganbintang) or join the Official Star Wars Malaysia Fan Club (www.swmfc.com.my) for more information.

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