In the blink of an eye
THE art of face-changing ( bian lian in Chinese) is best known for its “blink and you will miss” acts of changing masks or faces in quick succession.
This 300-year-old dramatic art which originated from China’s Sichuan province, forms an important part of the local opera. The performers in brightly coloured masks and costumes, change their masks in the blink of an eye, sometimes with the aid of props like a fan, umbrella or the cape that is part of their costume.
Like other forms of magic, the performers do not reveal the secrets behind the art of bian lian.
Malaysia’s first Indian facechanging performer S. Suresh said he was sworn to secrecy to protect the art, to maintain its mystery and magic.
Although the secrets of this art had been previously passed down from one generation to the next through the male lineage, mindsets have changed over the years.
Nowadays we have Malaysian female bian lian performers like Pinky Loo and Candy Chong who have made a name for themselves.
The different types of lian pu (Chinese opera facial make-up) and colours on each mask reflect different characteristics and expressions.
A Chinese movie entitled Bian Lian (also known as The King Of Masks) was released more than a decade ago. It told the story of an ageing street performer who was looking for a male descendant to learn the rare art, and of the conflict between his desire for an heir and societal traditions.
The movie won numerous awards, including Best Actor and Best Director at the 1996 Tokyo International Film Festival, the Best Foreign Language Film at the 1997 Palm Springs International Film Festival, and Best Foreign Language Motion Picture at the 2000 Satellite Awards.
Making a name for himself: Suresh is the first Indian face-changing performer in Malaysia.
A poster for TheKingOf
Masks, the story of an ageing bian
lian performer seeking to pass on his knowledge to the next generation.