When toons come out to play

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CITY LIGHTS - So how is the au­dio-vis­ual sto­ry­telling dif­fer­ent from that in the phys­i­cal book? What did you ex­pect the au­di­ence to take away from the ex­pe­ri­ence? But isn’t it a story of great agi­ta­tion? Ev­ery­thing is up in flames and col­laps­ing… You mean you want the

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

ROY LIU/ CHINA DAILY

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