Lee, now 28, reveals he was not at all fond of shadow play at the beginning. “At first, shadow play gave me an old-fashioned impression, I even felt there was no use working on it any longer,” he says with embarrassment.
Lee decided to inject something new into this traditional art and was inspired by a Michael Jackson concert where the star dances behind an illuminated backdrop much like a puppet in shadow play.
Wong and Lee collaborated to produce their unique shadow play show of Jackson’s Moonwalk.
Lee appreciates the fact that Wong, a member of an older generation, welcomes new ideas. “Master Wong is very nice and willing to adopt new things, very open-minded,” Lee says with a smile.
Moved by his example, Lee is now a part-time shadow play tutor, committed to passing this traditional art to the next generation. To attract children, Lee creates colourful cartoon characters that are new to shadow play. He also uses plastic and tracing paper to make puppets rather than cowhide.
Recently, Lee co-operated with a group of creative and interactive media production students at the Community College of City University to produce an animated film of a shadow play show.
To his surprise, these youngsters soon became fascinated with shadow play. “Its uniqueness lies in the rich body language of the shadow puppets. I cannot imagine how this little thing can make such complex and delicate moves,” 21-year-old Chow Wai-kuen says.
Chow thinks shadow play enables him to gain a deeper understanding of Chinese culture. As a Chinese, he feels he is responsible for preserving and passing on this traditional Chinese art.
Another student, Kurt Ho Chun-hin, was amazed by how many people and how much effort was needed to produce a shadow play show. He thinks the art embodies team spirit. Directors, script writers, puppet-makers, performers and backstage helpers must co-operate to put on a good show.
Ho thinks shadow play has lost its appeal for a new generation due to its outdated image. He suggests using new scripts and music to replace the traditional Chinese opera stories on which shadow play is generally based.
“Les Miserables, a novel written years ago, is still popular today and is and being re-enacted on the stage and big screen,” says Ho. “That is probably because they have constant innovations.”
However, innovation does not come easy. The most significant obstacle in producing the shadow play animation was how to blend and balance the traditional art with effects.
The students thought of many new ideas: stop-motion film techniques to produce the animation, modifying the shadow play show from two-dimensional to three-dimensional, and adding colours to the black and white puppets among a wealth of others.
“However, we questioned ourselves many times about whether it would still be shadow play after the new elements were added,” says Ho. “We struggled a lot as we wanted to add modern features but, at the same time, did not want to lose the traditional flavour.”