Martial-arts fighters with lightning moves, the clang of swords, the whoosh of garments, special effects and. . . puppets?
Does that ring a bell? Fantasia International Film Festival veterans might remember a wonderful gem from Taiwan called The Legend of the Sacred Stone. For me, it was one of the most impressive films at Fantasia in 2000. Well, the organization behind that film, the Huang family’s Pili Puppetry, is back at Fantasia with The Arti: The Adventure Begins. (奇人密碼－古羅布之謎)
The Arti of the title is actually Arti-C, a wood and metal mechanical man with movable eyebrows and Astroboy ankles. He is like a sibling and a servant for brother-sister orphans Zhang Mo and Zhang Tong, and he’s controlled by a sort of wearable console on Mo’s arm.
The film is set in ancient China and contains many familiar themes, in addition to the orphan one. For example: being outcasts/misunderstood while carrying on a father’s work, a desire to restore the family honour and that father’s reputation, going on an adventure to unfamiliar and dangerous lands. The younger sister, Tong, is the “feisty female character” who is quite handy with weapons herself. Mo looks a bit like a manga character, with his hair falling fashionably in his face.
The Arti-C runs on a mysterious power called The Origin, which seems to be petering out. So Mo, Tong and the Arti-C go searching for The Origin’s source. While they are still at the local market, which seems like quite a multinational sort of place, a red-haired woman named Kameedia just blatantly invites herself along on their adventure.
In the course of that adventure, they will cross a desert, ride giants camels and insects, get caught in a sandstorm, visit the luxurious palace of the King of Loulan, enter the Arti-C in a martial-arts tournament against many impressive foes, and meet several scary creatures, human and otherwise.
There’s an environmental message, and a “why can’t we all get along” one, too. Before I read any background material about the film, I could tell that Avatar was one of its inspirations.
Stick around when the credits start to roll and you’ll see the creation of the puppets, the sets (some with green-screen backdrops), scenes being shot, and some of the many, many people involved in making the film. The Arti: The Adventure Begins seems to indicate the possibilities of sequels if this first film is popular enough.
BTW and FYI: I was curious about the history of mechanical men. While researching that, I came across an interesting article on a Stanford University web site. The title is Man-machine and Artificial Intelligence and it’s written by Bruce Mazlish. It’s adapted from Mazlish’s own book, The Fourth Discontinuity: The Co-evolution of Humans and Machines, Yale University Press, 1993.
Here’s a paragraph from that article: “The wealth of mechanical toys cited in ancient China is awesome. In addition to the flying machine mentioned earlier, mechanized doves and angels, fish, and dragons abounded; automated cup-bearers and wine-pourers were prominent; and hydraulically-moved boats, carrying figures of singing girls, animals, and men in motion are said to have amused the emperors. Of particular interest are the chariots that moved of themselves-auto-mobiles-attributed by legend to the scientist Mo Ti in the fourth century BC. Were they actually wheelbarrows, or “pedicarts”? A mechanical man of jade is reported, as well as all kinds of wooden dolls, gold Buddhist statues, and puppet orchestras.”
Is the Mo Ti mentioned here the same Mo of the film? Maybe not, but maybe the name was inspired by him?
The Arti: The Adventure Begins, will be shown once, on Sunday, July 19, 2015, at 13:00 (1 p.m.) in the Hall Theatre, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W., in downtown Montreal. The monsters aren’t so scary that you couldn’t take your children!
The Arti: The Adventure Begins
Sci-Fi / Fantasy/ Animation, Taiwan, 2015,102 min, DCP, Mandarin, with English subtitles
Director: Huang Wen Chang
Screenplay: Huang Liang Hsun
Voice cast: Huang Wen Tze, Ricky Hsiao, A-Lin
Company: Golden Network
The Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 14-Aug. 4, 2015. Read more about the festival at fantasiafestival.com/2015/