Fantasia 2015 Review: THE ARTI: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS, You Will Believe That Puppets Can Fight
The Arti: The Adventure Begins is the most impressive full length puppet feature I have seen since Strings. It also helps that it is equally a martial arts film, which is right up my alley.
With its Wuxia themes of loyalty, betrayal and sacrifice the story is very traditional. Mo inherits a wooden robot, Arit-C, from his father which powered by a source of life called The Origin. But like life it can wither away and so it does. On his quest for its source with his sword wielding sister Tong he meets a young prince who is also looking for The Origin so that he may protect his kingdom. Together they cross the desert looking for the legendary city of Loulan. However, as they get closer to their goals are Mo and Tong even on the right side?
The work that that Pili Puppet Theatre from Taiwan, specifically the Huang family, does in this films is near amazing. It is not unlike the vast amount of work that a fellow contemporary The Jim Henson Company has to put into every Muppet movie. Calling it glove puppetry (Potehi in Taiwan) can be a bit deceiving as the players can be often fully cloaked in costume running beneath the crafted sets above.
The merging of traditional effects and modern computer wizardry goes on without little notice. Some of the larger characters and supernatural effects simply have to be aided by computers. Perhaps because we are already watching puppets on the screen this does not stand out as much as it does in a live action production.
But you will believe that puppets can fight. At times there is no differentiating between the action that happens on screen here and what happens in any of the countless costume epics that come out of Asia each year. Yes, there is a children's entertainment element in there. And at other times it is obvious they are puppets, sure. But wow, the action is carried out which much aplomb. The artistry is so convincing you really believe at times that these puppets weigh a few stone and are hitting real stone walls.
Not unlike live action Wuxia films the characters can jump, fly and spin in the air. Impacts on the ground and in walls leave shallow craters. Even their capes billow in the wind with dramatic flair. Seriously, if you are a fan of traditional martial arts films you need to hunt this one down when it becomes widely available.