Enter the World of Pili Puppetry 進入霹靂布袋戲世界

It may seem a little strange that my first travel/cultural experience post is not about Japan but Taiwan. I am not sure how many people feel the same way, but having been to both countries multiple times, to me, Taiwan is not very different from Japan. I believe there is a historical reason to this. When Qing China lost the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) to Japan, she lost the province of Taiwan as well. As such, from 1895 to 1945, Taiwan became a colony of the Japanese empire. (You can read the full wiki article here if you are interested to know more). After 50 years of colonisation, it’s reasonable to conclude that in the process of colonisation, “Taiwanese culture” became highly influenced by Japanese culture. That’s all for the mini history lesson; the main focus of today’s posts is supposed to be my most recent interest: Taiwanese puppetry!

Here’s how everything started. In 2016, my brother shared a gloved puppet television series called Thunderbolt Fantasy with me, and I was HOOKED!! Thunderbolt Fantasy is a collaboration between Japanese companies Nitroplus and Good Smile Company and Taiwanese puppet production company Pili International Multimedia. The story is written by the famous Gen Urobuchi while the puppet play is done by puppeteers from Pili International Multimedia. I will not go into details on Thunderbolt Fantasy in this post but will do a more detailed one soon. In the meantime, you can check out the link here to find out more if you are interested.

As a cultural studies person, I was immediately taken in by the awesome-ness of these puppets and started to research more about the company (Pili). I found the original Taiwanese series and boy was I impressed!! I became a fan instantly!! Pili (霹靂), which translates to thunderbolt, is a new age glove puppetry that evolved in Taiwan in the 1980s. Unlike traditional glove puppets, Pili’s puppets are very exquisite and the company uses CGI for their puppet’s action sequences. The company, however, retained traditional voicing, where the voices of all the characters are voiced by just one person in the Minnan language. For more information on this, do read the Chinese wiki page here (PS: I got my info from the wiki page and kinda translated the important basic info. If you really want to know more but can’t read mandarin, drop me a message and I’ll help you.)

It might be hard to understand the awesome-ness of Pili Puppetry without visuals. So…. here is link to the opening theme of the current series from their official YouTube channel and some pictures I took of their puppets during my trips to Taiwan.

Everything about Pili is cool with the exception of 2 tiny problems. Firstly, it is quite hard to get hold of the DVDs of the latest/current series because they are released in Taiwan weekly. This means that you have to either live there or have friends who live there and are willing to buy and send them to you weekly. If you don’t (like me), you could get it through expensive means using forwarding services such as ShopandBox or through Airfrov. If you wanna watch the older series, you could get the box set either at their stores in Taiwan or online (which is related to the second problem I will talk about later). I found the complete series on Youku and Bilibili (Chinese versions of YouTube), but sadly it was region locked and only available for view in China =(

I believe that there are people out there who will probably torrent it and stuff, but not me.  Honestly speaking, purchasing them through official means is a way of giving thanks to the company and the people who work so hard to provide amazing content. Let’s face it, how can a company continue to function if no one supports it financially? (Disclaimer: I am not in any way getting paid to write all these. These opinions are my own views).

Anyway, a cheaper and legal alternative to all these is to just view the super short clips (really short compared to the full length feature) Pili uploads onto their official YouTube channel to get a quick fix of puppets in action. I have since feedback to the company about this issue. I do hope they will make it easier for fans (like me) to have better access to their contents. I seriously don’t mind paying subscription to watch it online.

Apart from the DVDs, there are also loads of merchandises you can get. With the many (I mean loads) different characters, it’s difficult not to find one that you like. Till now, I can’t remember the names of every single character but I am getting better at it as time goes by. However, here comes the second problem. They have an online store, but unfortunately they do not ship to Singapore. Similar to the DVDs, you could, however, still get the merchandises through forwarding services or just take a trip to Taiwan and purchase them at their physical stores. I have been to the stores every single time in my multiple trips to Taiwan in the past 2 years.

Honestly, I would definitely recommend shopping at the physical stores if you happen to be in Taiwan. This is not just because of the convenience (shopping online and the forwarding services can give you unnecessary stress at times) but more about the awesome service. During my trip in January this year, I complained *ahem* feedback to the store about how I can’t shop online and have to rely on forwarding services. Instead of just giving me a run-of-the-mill reply to brush me off, one of the staffs actually volunteered to ship items to me directly if I ever wanted to buy anything from the online store. All I needed to do was to drop them a message on the store’s Facebook page and pay for shipping. Top notch service if you ask me.

To give you a feel of what kinds of goods are available, these are just some of the character goods I bought during my trips to Taiwan (ignore the non-Pili items though).

Everything I bought from one of my Taiwan trips

Mug of one of my favourite characters 陰川蝴蝶君

Figurine

Pillow case

In order to gather fans of Pili Puppetry in Singapore and Southeast Asia, I recently created a Facebook page. If puppets, particularly Pili’s puppets, fascinate you, do click here and give my page a like =)

In my next post, I will be sharing my experience at Pili’s latest exhibition, which is still ongoing till the 24th of September. Stay tune =)

Karen Ang

Karen Ang

Amateur Japanologist. Aspiring academic. Loves Taiwanese Puppetry. Enjoys learning new languages, cultures, and the arts. A curious traveller who likes exploring unknown lands.
Karen Ang

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About Karen Ang

Amateur Japanologist. Aspiring academic. Loves Taiwanese Puppetry. Enjoys learning new languages, cultures, and the arts. A curious traveller who likes exploring unknown lands.
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