Agam's Gecko
Friday, March 17, 2006

ere is a wonderful example from China, of
Glenn Reynolds' "Army of Davids" theme -- in this case a single David empowered by technology to "beat big media... and other goliaths."

Hu Ge is a young Shanghai musician / salesman who loves the movies. Chen Kaige is China's most feted film director, whose latest offering, "The Promise," is the most expensive film ever made in China. Released with a large dose of media fanfare in advance of the Chinese New Year holiday, the film was a major disappointment for Chinese filmgoers. Hu Ge felt exasperated with "the new masterpiece of China" -- but he had an inspiration and went to work.

As Robert Marqand writes in the Christian Science Monitor:
Over nine days he wrote, diced, and sliced, using two computers. He morphed the medieval tale into a present-day story. A wandering plot about a king, a duke, and a slave who all love a queen was compressed into a crime-solving TV drama in China.

The king becomes manager Wang, who runs a money-losing recreational center. The queen is the assistant manager. The slave is a city clerk. Hu dubs all the voices. He throws in rap music, clips from the Shanghai circus, Einstein's theory of relativity, patriotic Army recruitment posters, and a "Brokeback Mountain" homosexual allusion. All are grist for an investigation "narrated" by the deadpan host of "China Legal Report," which airs on prime-time TV.
Hu's homemade video was titled "A Murder Caused by Mantou," and he just sent it to some of his friends for their entertainment. The friends posted it on the internet, and within a short time nearly every Chinese person with internet access had seen it. Across the country, the young generation in particular have been doubled over with laughter at the spoof, which comes complete with spoof advertisements that many felt were the best part.

But it didn't end there. The widespread popularity of "Mantou" was a loss of face for the great director Kaige, who used his public platform to issue some cutting remarks against Hu, and threatened to sue him. This didn't go over so well with the public, and opinion polls on the Sohu.com forum website, one of China's largest discussion centres, had 89% responding that they liked Hu's "Mantou" better than Kaige's "Promise."

Maybe one day we'll get a dubbed version, and Hu Ge's homemade lampoon can become a global phenomenon.

There's plenty of interesting detail in Marquand's piece, I've only scratched the surface here, so read it all. But I do have a bit of a correction to point out. Early in the article, he gets it right:
Using satiric elements similar to Monty Python and the Simpsons, the spoof has flooded cyberspace in unanticipated and unstoppable waves.
But then later on, he gets it wrong:
The effect was something like "Rowan Martin's Laugh-In," a TV show popular in the late 1960s, with its famous line, "And now for something completely different."
I wonder if an editor slipped that in (since Marquand seems to be hip to Monty Python), thinking that "now for something completely different" was from Laugh-In, so he'd just fix the reference. That's wrong of course. Laugh-In's most famous line was "Sock it to me." Even Richard Nixon made a cameo appearance with a self deprecating "Sock it to......... me?"

It was the original Monty Python's Flying Circus television series which made famous the all purpose intro and segue line, as in "... and now for something completely different... a man with three buttocks." In any event, as a cultural phenomenon stirring things up in a society, "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" is probably a better comparison on that score. Though Monty Python sounds to be more in tune with the satirical sense of Hu Ge.

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