When toons come out to play
Not content with being one of Hong Kong’s leading comic book creators, Lai Tat Tat Wing recently made a movieand-theater experience based on one of his most popular titles, The Pork Chops Inferno. Lai spoke to China Daily Hong Kong about his creative inspirations, noting he didn’t want audiences to see his work as “funny”.
It’s a story about seven people, trapped in a burnt-down office. They have been turned into spirits and therefore can’t touch anything unless it’s burnt, so they’re in need of a cigarette lighter. It’s a property retail office where they would deal in large properties when they were alive. Now the only thing they want to get hold of is a lighter.
In the story, I was alluding to the Chinese practice of burning spirit money in remembrance of the dead and at the same time channeling the scene in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies where the children marooned on an island after a plane crash scramble to get hold of a piece of glass as it is useful to light a fire.
For the theatrical version, I adapted my graphic novel to the extent that it’s almost a new story. Like the graphic novel, its stage adaptation has no dialogue and is completely image-driven. The seven stories in it all take their cues from stories familiar to children, like The Boy who Cried Wolf, Pinocchio and the novel Moby Dick.
A reader of a comic book can control the timing, flip through pages and choose the ones he likes, read backwards if he wants to. The tools used in the theatrical version are different, namely video images projected on the big screen and actors performing live. In comics you can do close-ups and show a lot of detail; in theater you cannot do that. On the other hand, pages or a detail from the comic book projected on the big screen could be manipulated by regulating the lights, using fade in and fade out, pausing the image, showing a digital simulation of images from the book going up in flames on the screen. The projections are simultaneously on the screen, walls and floors, creating a shadow effect. I hope the show had a calming effect on the audience.
I am a very strange person. Even while the images show a collapse or chaos, the music playing in the background might suggest a totally different mood altogether. I chose particularly soothing, calm, slow, even romantic music to which the actors can do a slow ballroom dance. The combination is meant to give the audience more scope for using their imagination. So the idea here might be quite something other than what you see. That’s what I would like. But the audience might feel differently.
Well, the book and its stage adaptation are informed by the same idea. In fact, I see the theater version as one of the three parts of the total experience. Part 1 is reading the comic book. Part 2 is experiencing the show in a theater. After watching the show, audiences get a copy of The Pork Chops Inferno Part 2. Reading this new book at home is the third segment of the experience.
These three works are quite different from each other, although the common threads holding them together are the seven characters. In Part 1, they are trapped in the comic book. In Part 2, the actors playing these characters are trapped in the theater. And in Part 3, they are back inside another book. However, I’d rather the audience worked out these connections for themselves. Flute,
I gave the children the option to choose more than two eyes for the puppets they made. This was to help them realize that art could be different from the usual familiar physical realities. Some of them asked me: “Can we give more than three eyes to the puppets in that case?” As you know, children have no boundaries.
All art is based on certain simple rules, and it is easy to link these up. Multi-disciplinary and participatory art-based education is being favored in Hong Kong’s schools. School authorities appreciate our effort in using theater as a means of education.
Interviewed by Chitralekha Basu