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Thread: Chinese Lion Dance

  1. #211
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    From “Kung Food” creator Haipeng Sun

    Kung Food is in my queue...

    May 6, 2022 3:58pm PT
    ‘I Am What I Am’ Review: Ready-for-Export Chinese Toon Elevates a Low-Class Reject Into a Lion Dance Champ
    This delightful indie export opens the door to a whole new realm of Chinese animation, showing that the country can compete with Pixar and company.

    By Peter Debruge

    Courtesy of

    A ridiculously satisfying underdog sports story set in the highly specialized arena of Chinese lion dancing, “I Am What I Am” features a plot familiar enough that it could have been generated by computer, peppered with specifics unique enough that the experience consistently manages to surprise. The result is an inspired mix of engineering and ingenuity, distinguished by some of the most human character animation this side of the uncanny valley — not realistic, mind you, but relatable, and a welcome departure from the cutesy cartoony-ness of Pixar and its American ilk, produced at a mere fraction of the budget.

    World premiering as a work in progress at Los Angeles’ Animation Is Film Festival, this “Karate Kid”-like crowd-pleaser from “Kung Food” creator Haipeng Sun represents another breakthrough for China’s fast-growing animation scene. Packed with culturally specific humor, the toon is clearly intended to serve local audiences (on the Douban and Maoyan platforms, it proved to be 2021’s highest-rated domestic release after opening in China on Dec. 8), though foreigners should also appreciate such a relatable glimpse behind the mask of the colorful custom, in which teams of trained dancers steer the two-person costume across tall pedestals and other challenging obstacles.

    A sheepish, scrawny boy with a girl’s name, teased by others for looking like a “sick cat,” Juan lives alone in a rural town in Guangdong province while his parents work in the big city. His self-esteem is nearly nonexistent until one day he witnesses a mystery contestant outmaneuver the local bullies in a lion dance competition — a thrilling “capture the flag”-style game set on an elaborate bamboo scaffolding, which the virtual camera observes with all the dynamism of a wuxia movie. The winner turns out to be a girl his age, also named Juan, who gifts the kid her lion mask and gives him the motivation he needs to give the sport a try.

    The next half-hour will seem fairly familiar, as Juan (the boy) enlists fellow-reject friends Cat and Dog to form a team, then seeks out former champion Huang Feihong, now a salted-fish seller, to coach them to victory. The movie stacks one montage after another, alternating between obvious and unexpected jokes along the way, to compress the kind of physical training that would normally take a decade or more. After Juan wins an early local competition, the plot takes an unexpected turn, as Juan does the honorable thing in order to help his parents, bowing out of the next level and instead moving to Shanghai to earn money for the family.

    In moments like this, the film walks the line of feel-good propaganda, reinforcing how honorable and obedient citizens are expected to behave, instead of celebrating the kind of personal glory to which American audiences are more accustomed (although rest assured that U.S. toons feel like a kind of behavioral brainwashing to foreign auds). Screenwriter Zelin Li gives these gangly kids memorable personalities, which prove all the more lively through the endearingly exaggerated way they’ve been rendered — to say nothing of the elegant, accelerated lion dance moves.

    In China, the film drew criticism for its character designs, which include small, squinted eyes (reportedly done to differentiate the style from Japanese animation) and unflattering proportions (one of Juan’s pals is a Fat Albert-style stereotype). But the truth is, the faces here are so expressive, they raise the experience above its relatively formulaic plot, reminding that animation is a bit like lion dancing, as artists hide behind elaborate avatars and try to convey behavior and emotions the general public can recognize. The backgrounds are especially impressive, including a golden-hued forest with its crepe-paper canopy of saffron red leaves, demonstrating just how far computer animation has come.

    While “I Am What I Am” clearly speaks to various national-identity issues, the feelings represented are universal. There’s something to be said for how it celebrates characters from the bottom of society, like working-class Juan. It’s still quite uncommon to encounter a Chinese film that centers ordinary people, as opposed to mythical and magical heroes (like “Ne Zha”), but easy to understand why that would resonate with audiences.

    Of course, the movie wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying if Juan didn’t have a last-minute change of heart, showing up to compete in the big Shanghai competition. Kudos to the team for conceiving a surprising way for that to play out, where winning isn’t nearly as important as Juan proving his own value to himself.


    ‘I Am What I Am’ Review: Ready-for-Export Chinese Toon Elevates a Low-Class Reject Into a Lion Dance Champ

    Reviewed at Animation Is Film Festival, Los Angeles, Oct. 24, 2021. Running time: 104 MIN. (Original title: “Xiong shi shao nian”)

    Production: (Animated – China) A Beijing Cheering Times Culture & Entertainment,YI Animation Inc. presentation of a YI Animation Inc., Beijing Cheering Times Culture & Entertainment production. Producer: Miao Zhang.
    Crew: Director: Haipeng Sun. Screenplay: Zelin Li.
    With: (Mandarin dialogue)
    threads
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    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
    Support our forum by getting your gear at MartialArtSmart

  2. #212
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    Background checks in HK

    Criminal records checks of lion dance performers necessary, Hong Kong security chief says
    Regulations on public lion dance, dance or unicorn dances were necessary to ensure such performances were not used as a cover-up for unlawful activities, Secretary for Security Chris Tang told the Legislative Council on Wednesday.
    by KELLY HO
    19 HOURS AGO

    The Hong Kong government did not intend to “impede” the development of traditional Chinese lion dance activities with rules requiring police checks of performers’ and organisers’ criminal records, the city’s security chief has said.

    Regulations on public lion dance, dance or unicorn dances were necessary to ensure such performances were not used as a cover-up for unlawful activities, Secretary for Security Chris Tang told the Legislative Council on Wednesday.


    Lion dance in Hong Kong. File photo: GovHK.
    The minister’s remarks were made in response to a question raised by lawmaker and Lingnan University history professor Lau Chi-pang, who said some people saw the government regulations as having “created a negative impact” on the development of the dragon and lion dances.

    Under the Summary Offences Ordinance, it is illegal to organise or participate in a lion dance, dragon dance or unicorn dance, or attend any such performance in a public place, unless a general or special permit has been obtained from the police commissioner. The provision does not cover performances held in private venues.

    The purpose of the regulation was to prevent “lawbreakers” from being involved in the performance, as well as making sure the activities would not cause public disorder such as traffic congestion and noise nuisance, Tang said in a written reply to the legislature.

    When considering permit applications, the police would take into account the venue, the organiser’s background and past record, the nature of the activity, the impact on traffic and residents, and other factors, the official said. Applicants were required to submit copies of their identity documents and authorise checks of their criminal conviction records, which Tang described as “useful references” for officers to consider the legitimacy of the activities.


    Tai Hang’s fire dragon dance. File photo: GovHK.
    “Given the unique nature of lion dance activities and attendant martial arts displays, it is necessary for the Government to ensure that public order is not disturbed and that public safety is not affected when such sport activities are conducted in public places,” he said.

    As of last month, the Hong Kong Chinese Martial Arts Dragon and Lion Dance Association had around 190 organisation members. In the year of 2018-2019, the association organised five dragon and lion dance competitions with funding from the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. The competition saw more than 200 participating teams and more than 2,100 participants in total.

    Some of these competitions were cancelled in the following year owing to the extradition bill protests, while the association did not organise any competitions in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

    Police issued 2,421 permits in 2018, while 2,364 permits were granted in the following year. The number of permit applications dropped below 2,000 in 2020 and marked the first time applications were rejected since 2018. Application number dropped further to 133 last year, and 21 were rejected.

    The police did not have figures on breaches of the permit terms, Tang said, adding that the police would “take appropriate enforcement action” in case of any violation, subject to the circumstances of each case.

    Tang on Wednesday said the current permit system had operated effectively over the years and the authorities did not intend to hinder the development of lion dances. Police would conduct reviews of the application procedures to see seek improvements, the minster said, adding the police launched an online platform for lion dance organisers to submit the required documents through the website instead of in person.

    “We would like to stress that there is no intention on the part of the Government to impede the proper development of lion dance activities and attendant martial arts displays,” Tang said.

    In August, Hong Kong’s iconic Tai Hang dragon dance was called off for the third consecutive year, after the authorities refused to grant them an exemption to hold the performance amid rising Covid-19 infections in the city at the time. The century-old custom traditionally involves around 300 current or former residents of Tai Hang, a neighbourhood near Hong Kong’s commercial district of Causeway Bay.

    KELLY HO

    Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.
    The Number of applications for lion dance permits between 2018 and 2021 graph is interesting but I'd have to screenshot and upload it and I'm not going to bother. If you're interested, follow the link.
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
    Support our forum by getting your gear at MartialArtSmart

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