Thunderbolt Fantasy

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Kung Fu puppetry of Taiwan, but little did I know that I wasn’t the only one who’d taken an interest in Taiwan’s Wuxia puppetry- Japanese writing star Urobuchi Gen (the man behind Madoka Magica, Psycho Pass, and Fate/Zero) had also taken an interest in Pili Puppetry form. In a twist of fate, Pili was also looking to work with him, and as a result of that partnership- Thunderbolt Fantasy (Toriken Koki), a Japanese-Taiwanese hybrid TV series was born! (You can hear about this story in full in the Episode 0 special on Crunchyroll.)

I only heard about this show a week ago, and when I did I got pretty excited. I’ve never been able to watch a Pili series before, much less one as it aired, and this one was being simulcast with English subtitles on Crunchyroll. Thus, I eagerly waited for July 8th, when the first episode would air, and couldn’t wait to watch it last night when it popped up on the list.

So, how was it?

In short- as awesome as advertised!

I’ve seen clips of Pili shows, and even watched Legend of the Sacred Stone, but this was a whole other level. The puppet-work is amazing, the story and characters are engaging, and the craftsmanship in everything is a sight to behold. I couldn’t believe how into it I got, and by the end of the episode all I wanted to do was watch more!

In the Episode 0 (Making-of), the Japanese partners talk about how they were on set in Taiwan and the wonder of watching a piece of wood and cloth come to life the moment a human hand was put inside. I haven’t seen it done in person (although I’d like to, someday) but I can completely understand what they meant, as you literally forget you’re watching puppets at times because of the way they move and act. It really does take the magic of puppet theater and bring it into the 21st century.

thunderbolt-fantasy1

The story?

The story at first blush is fairly standard. A great evil lord is trying to get his hands on mystical artifact, and killing everyone who gets in his way, which leads him into conflict with our heroes. Like I said, standard. But given Urobuchi’s reputation as a writer (it was written by him, but produced by the Taiwanese) I suspect there will be some nice twists coming that take it in a different direction. Not that it matters, because this story isn’t about the plot but the characters and action, both of which will keep you watching.

One thing I did like about this show is that each character has a different voice actor. In the original Taiwanese Pili shows, there is just one person doing the voices for all the characters, which is fine, but having a full cast allows each character to have a bit more life to them. It adds to the immersion, and I liked the voices they chose. One weird thing is that the English subtitles use the Chinese names, while the Japanese actors are using the Japanese names. It does make it more authentic, but it makes it a bit harder to remember everyone’s name since you’re hearing and reading different names.

In any case, Episode 1 has garnered 5/5 stars on Crunchyroll (with 123 votes) and I suspect it will be cult hit here and in Japan. (It’s only disadvantage is that it came out the same week Pokemon GO! launched) I hope so, because it really deserves the attention, and I’d like to see them do more in the future.

Want to check it out?

New episodes air on Crunchyroll each Friday evening starting July 8th (July 16th if you have a free account and are delayed a week), and I strongly recommend you do so. You might watch to watch Episode 0, which is available for everyone July 8th, and includes a preview of the show in the last five minutes.

Enjoy!

Rob

 

 

The Kung Fu Puppetry of Taiwan

Pili Puppet show at Taoyuan International Airport, Taiwan

Pili Puppet show at Taoyuan International Airport, Taiwan. Picture by Harris Tsam

 

As far as I know, Taiwan is one of the few places where puppetry is not only appreciated, but where puppet shows are shown on national television. In particular, the Pili programs of gloved puppetry shows have continued to capture the imaginations of young Taiwanese with their creative and colourful puppet storytelling.

The credit for upholding the long lasting popularity of Hand Puppet Shows in Taiwan, no doubt, belongs to the Huang family. Through their creative performances and their skillful management, they continue to find new ways to evolve the Hand Puppet Shows. Ultimately, the Huang family had developed the famous PiLi Dynasty with the PiLi Puppet Theatre. Following the current trends of modern society and the technological media- television became the new performing stage of the Puppet Shows and delivered this theatrical artistry to even a much broader audience. In its effort to attract the young viewers of the new generation, PiLi Puppet Theatre continued to create new and interesting concepts in their stories, including- illusionary time and space themes and action-packed Chinese kung-fu sequences. Now, the Puppet Show’s stage and presentation techniques can now expand to a different level of possibilities.  From e-pili.com.tw

During my own time in Taiwan, I have seen first hand how popular these shows are, as there are specialty stores selling copies of the puppets and related merchandise and even a Pili-themed museums. The puppets themselves are so beautiful, I was tempted to buy one just for display.

How beautiful are they? Watch this amazing 2010 opening for one of the Pili TV series:

 

There have been several attempts to bring these shows over for English audiences as well, the first was an international release of Legend of the Sacred Stone, a somewhat rare film that has garnered a 7.3/10 rating on IMDB and a small cult following for it’s crazy-ness. You can see a sample here:

 

The other was in 2006, when Cartoon Network took one of the Pili series and dubbed it into a show called Wulin Warriors. Sadly, as is often done with foreign non-animated properties (and some animated ones as well!) the dubbers decided to have “some fun” with it, and “liven it up”. So while the visuals might still give you some of the spirit of the original, the dub itself and the creative changes seem targeted squarely at 8-10 year old boys. Someone has put all 13 episodes up on YouTube, if you can get through that many…

And that character that rambles on about pizza and makes bad jokes? In the original show, he’s a deaf mute. (I guess now we know why!) I haven’t seen the original, but I imagine it’s a heck of a lot more watchable. The only redeeming thing about this one is the beautiful puppetwork.

Anyhow, if you happen to come across one of these Pili productions or characters, now you know what they are. Unfortunately, there’s no fansubbed versions of the shows out there, and unless you speak Mandarin you won’t be able to follow the originals well. My own Mandarin isn’t up to the task, yet, but maybe someday.

More about Taiwan puppet culture in this short 5 minute documentary:

Rob

The Street Fighter

When I mention the name Street Fighter, most of you probably picture something connected with this…

This is pretty natural, since the Street Fighter series of video games is a serious contender for the most popular game series of all time, and is without a doubt the best of the console arcade fighting games. However, prior to 1991’s release of Street Fighter 2: The World Warrior, for almost twenty years people would have had a completely different picture in their heads. This one…

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1974’s The Street Fighter is perhaps one of the greatest martial arts movies ever made. The short version is that at the start of the 70’s Bruce Lee helped to create a martial arts movie boom, and the Japanese company Toei decided to get in on the action by producing a series of what could almost be called Karate Exploitation movies. Kung Fu was big, so they decided to cash in by producing Karate movies, and their flagship film, The Street Fighter, was based around a rising action star name Sonny Chiba.

The Street Fighter was released in Japan, and then worldwide to massive audience acclaim, and if you watch it then it’s not hard to tell why. The movie is shot surprisingly well with a decent budget, the script is just strong enough to keep it interesting, Chiba is charismatic as heck, and the fights are extremely well choreographed. But, on top of all that, the movie has a unique twist- Terry Tsuguri (Chiba) isn’t a heroic character at all, he’s a bastard of the first order who is more like an chaotic force of nature than a lead character. It’s a movie about lesser villains fighting worse villains, and the innocent people caught between them, and that gives the audience something different than the usual good vs. evil fare that tends to fill martial arts movies.

So, if you’re in the mood for some brutal karate action (it was the first film in American history to earn an X-Rating for violence) with a sense of style and one of the coolest theme songs of the 70’s, then check it out here on YouTube.


 

What Jackie Chan can teach us about writing action

Following up my post on what writers can learn from Akira Kurosawa, I’m going to do another blog post on writing- this time based on the nine rules that Tony Zhou outlines in the video below about how Jackie Chan masters action comedy. Naturally, it will be easier to follow if you’ve watched the video, so check it out first.

Jackie Chan – How to Do Action Comedy from Tony Zhou on Vimeo.

Action is primarily a visual creature, and is a natural fit for film, but can you do it well in prose? I would say yes, but let’s see if Tony’s 9 Jackie Chan “rules” can be applied to prose writing.

Jackie Chan’s 9 Principles of Action Comedy (as noted by Tony Zhou)

1. Start with a DISADVANTAGE

This one is pretty obvious. If your goal is to build tension, then having your character at a disadvantage in a scene in a must, whether they’re supposed to fight or just trying to run away. The more of a disadvantage you can put them at, the better, although I should note that Jackie primarily makes action-comedies. There is a reason Batman doesn’t most start fights at a disadvantage- because he’s a kick-butt reader surrogate and is supposed to make the reader feel powerful. If you take that away from the reader, they’re not going to like it much. (Although even Batman does occasionally start fights at a disadvantage for variety and dramatic purposes.)

 

2. Use the ENVIRONMENT

Tony is actually combining two points here in the video under one.

The first point he brings up is that Jackie uses the environment in his fights, which makes them more real and unique in a sense. If you can offer your reader something they haven’t seen before in a fight, like a character fighting with a ladder, then that can show that you’ve actually taken the time to think through this fight scene and make it interesting for the reader. If you emphasize the environment properly, it gives the reader a sense of place and can be used to help set up shots.

Speaking of which, the second point is really to set up your shots! If you want to have an action scene, then give the reader a sense of the terrain before and during the action sequence. Don’t be afraid to foreshadow or even lead a little with your descriptions like Jackie does in his movies. In the example they give, Jackie does a shot of a stuntman being knocked down a spiral staircase before he himself uses it shortly for his own actions- and there’s no reason you can’t do this kind of thing too! Use people, objects and even descriptions to lead the reader through the action, and make it easier for them to follow.

 

3. Be CLEAR in your shots

This is a trickier one for writers than you might think.

Normally, writers increase the pace of action scenes by using short, clear sentences and paragraphs to increase the pace of the action and story. They also focus on the very key elements of the events happening to keep from letting description bog down the action as it’s happening. However, to be truly clear about what’s happening you need to describe the action, and you need to do it in a way that paints a clear picture in the reader’s mind so they can follow it without being confused.

So you have to find a balance:

  • Too much description = slow reading and pacing.
  • Too little description = reader confusion.

This is one of the things that makes writing action so difficult- finding that sweet spot that conveys a clear image of the events for the reader to experience and enjoy while at the same time not bogging them down with too much, or disorienting them with too little detail.

 

4. Action & Reaction in the SAME frame

Not sure if this one can apply to writing. The only think I can think of goes back to #3, about being clear in your shots and #2b about letting the reader know where the action is going before it does. If any of you have other thoughts on how this one could be applied, please leave it in the comments.

 

5. Do as many TAKES as necessary

For writers, this is really about how much time you want to spend on your action scenes and effort you want to put into detailing them out. Especially in the modern self-publishing world where getting books out fast is often linked with financial success, it can be hard to spending days, weeks (or months) planning an action scene or sequence, but there are times when quality really is linked with time spent.

Again, like most things with writing, it comes down to balance.

You need to know what you’re capable of, and how much time you’re willing to spend, and then use that time accordingly. If you think you’ll benefit from storyboarding out a whole action scene first and you have the time, then why not? (It might also make a great extra for loyal readers, or to get people to join your mailing list.) But, if you’ve got two weeks to finish this book or the rent doesn’t get paid next month, then you’ll probably want to just do what you can and move on.

 

6. Let the audience feel the RHYTHM

This goes back to #3- let the audience understand what’s happening and they’ll be able to appreciate it more. Also, too many quick cuts (jumping from different points of view, or jumping between simultaneous action at different places) can prevent the reader from really appreciating what’s happening. Both POV jumping and jumping between scenes are effective tools for dramatic pacing in a book, but if you overuse them the reader can get confused or tired by it- so as with garlic and salt in cooking, use them in controlled moderation to avoid leaving a bad taste in the audience’s mouth.

 

7. In editing, TWO good hits = ONE great hit

This is a film editing trick, and I don’t think it can be applied to prose action writing. However, if anyone has some thoughts feel free to note them in the comments section below, I’d be interested to hear them.

 

8. PAIN is humanizing

This one is pretty self explanatory- we empathize with suffering, especially suffering we’ve experienced ourselves, and it brings us closer to the characters and makes them more human. Don’t be afraid to let your characters be hurt, even if it’s just superficial hurts it still reminds us that they’re people and made of flesh and blood like the audience.

Obviously, it also adds to the drama when characters are hurt, because it puts them at a disadvantage in the action and forces them to try even harder to get out of the hole they’re in. If your characters are macho tough-guys, then maybe you don’t want to show them being hurt too much, but if you want the audience to really feel for the character, showing them suffer is a great way to do it. Writer Chuck Palahniuk (of Fight Club fame) once advised that if you want to connect with the reader describe a character’s feet or their mouth, because both places are filled with nerve endings and give us intense sensations in real life.

 

9. Earn your FINISH

Story can be said to be about struggle. Nobody wants to watch a story about a guy who just walks through park and nothing happens, or someone doing something that isn’t hard or difficult for them to do in some way. While you don’t have to make it a series of ever-stronger bosses like a Jackie Chan movie, you should do your best to show that the character had to overcome something (mental, physical, emotional or social, or some combination thereof) to reach their goals and achieve victory.

Don’t be afraid to stack the odds against your characters, and let them have to do something outside of their comfort zone to win. Of course, if you overdo it, it can become ridiculous, so make sure your poor character does at least have a slim chance of winning in the reader’s minds.

 

Final Thoughts

I’ve always been fascinated by the art of writing action in prose form. I think it comes from growing up on comics and action films and then transitioning into literature, where unfortunately the ability to write action varies widely by writer. It’s not an easy skill, and it’s one I struggled with when I was writing my Little Gou short stories and novel, especially since that was literally an attempt to write kung-fu adventures! I don’t claim to have mastered it, and I think I learned a few new tricks watching this video and thinking through this article, but in any case it’s a skill any writer can benefit from developing- whether you’re writing kung fu in old China, car chases through Cairo, or gunfights under the Texas sun.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this! Please comment below!

Rob

YouTube Martial Arts Theatre- Wheels on Meals

Legend has it that when the head of Golden Harvest productions heard that they were about to release a movie entitled Meals on Wheels, he refused to let them use the title. It wasn’t that he was afraid of someone suing him- he was afraid of losing money! You see, the previous two big Golden Harvest releases had both had English titles that started with the letter “M”, so he was sure this one was going to fail too if they used that title. Talk about superstitious!

So instead, they flipped it around to the pretty much nonsensical title of Wheels on Meals, and released what would go on to become a martial arts classic. Which in itself is a bit of a surprise, because it’s actually not really a martial arts movie at all! It’s actually a comedy with a strong martial arts element, but the fighting in it (especially the end fight) is so well done that it became known as one of the must-see martial arts films of its time anyways.

The plot is simple- a couple of Chinese (a young Jackie Chan and his buddy Yuen Biao) who run a food truck in 1980’s Barcelona, Spain find themselves involved with a beautiful and charming Spanish street thief who is being hunted by a group of mysterious men. She’s also be tracked by a bumbling private detective (played by Sammo Hung, who is also the director), and this all comes together as they try to solve the mystery of why this girl is so popular with all the wrong people.

The movie is from 1984, and is a total 80’s flashback highlighted by the visuals of Barcelona and the fashions of the times. The movie flows a bit awkward at times (normal for 80’s Hong Kong films), and the comedy is hit or miss, but it’s so light and generally fun that you can forgive it for its flaws. I definitely recommend giving it a watch, and this particular copy has good sound (a decent dub too) and good picture quality as well, so sit back and enjoy!

 

Crocodile Princess Excerpt 2/3- The Lin Family

For these three days, I’ll be posting three chapters as an excerpt from my newly released novel Little Gou and the Crocodile Princess, available now wherever eBooks are sold!

Crocodile Princess  Front-med

——-

Chapter 17- The Lin Family

“…His daughter’s life for the box.”

Meiyu stared at the scene in shock- her maid, her closest friend, Little Jing was only a thin silver blade away from death. She couldn’t believe that the Lin family could be so ruthless or underhanded as to do something like this. Didn’t they know what this would do their family reputation?

And what was this box she was talking about? What could be so important?

But Meiyu pushed aside such questions as she heard her uncle finally begin to speak below.

“Madam Lin!” Gan gasped. “This is outrageous!”

The prune faced old woman merely looked at him curiously. “Clearly you are unaware of the stakes involved. Nothing is too outrageous in times such as these.”

At this, the assembled Mao family escorts wanted to lunge forward and attack, but Gan held them back with a gesture.

“Madam Lin…” He said, his voice showing the great effort it was taking to remain calm. “Whatever grievances you have with our master, the girl is no part of this. Don’t sully the names of your family or shame your ancestors by engaging in such low acts as kidnapping.”

“She is a member of your clan, that is enough.” Said the elder. “Now, lay down your blades.”

Meiyu watched as her Uncle Gan gave a deep sigh and shrugged. “Fine, if you wish there to be blood, then that’s how it will be.” Then at a whistle from their leader, the nine warriors of the Mao Armed Escort Agency who stood with Gan moved in a flash to surround the old woman and her grandson with their blades.

“Even with your skill, madam.” Gan said in an intimidating voice that Meiyu had never heard before, “You and your grandson will not escape us alive.” Then he looked up menacingly at Dancing Cloud. “The girl will not escape us either, when we are done with you. So I offer you a trade, your lives for those of your hostage.”

It was a standoff. And, Meiyu watched in rapt fascination as each side faced down the other, neither saying a word as a war of wills took place. She knew her uncle was the veteran of over a hundred caravans, and had no doubts had been in this situation many times before. However, she also knew that Madam Lin was long experienced in these manoeuvers of deceit and treachery that often took place within the martial underworld.

Against another opponent, each would likely win, but against such fearsome opposition, who would be victorious was anyone’s guess. Either way, the outcome was likely to be short, fast and brutal if one did not back away from the challenge…

And then it happened.

One of her uncle’s fighters gave a loud groan, and doubled over.

Everyone looked at the man in shock, but then, another man did the same!

Gan gave Madam Lin a sharp look, “We checked the food for poison.”

The crone smiled. “Do you know why my grandchildren are called the Twin Dancers? Because two things which are good when apart can be most deadly when they are brought together.”

“No!” Gan shouted, and lunged at her with his sword, but the poison was already starting to affect him as well, and she easily avoided his clumsy attack. Then she counterattacked with her small hands in a burst of moves that left Gan, and the two nearest Mao men lying crumpled on the floor. Her grandson finished the others with equal speed, not leaving a single member of the Mao escorts standing.

Meiyu then watched as Madam Lin stood over the barely conscious Gan.

“I apologize for the methods, but we cannot have you following us. The poison is not lethal, and you will recover…in a few weeks.”

Then she turned and stabbed a finger at the innkeeper.

“You.”

The short, chubby man bowed nervously. “Yes, my lady?”

“Their servants, fetch them.”

While the innkeeper sent a boy to do so, Meiyu considered her options. There wasn’t much she was going to be able to do against this old witch, and it sounded like if she kept still these devils would be gone soon. On the other hand, if they left they would take Little Jing, and when they learned she wasn’t Meiyu they would likely kill her.

There had to be a way out of this, and Meiyu struggled to think what it was as she watched Dancing Cloud escort Jing down the stairs to join the others below. What would Little Gou do in a situation like this, she found herself thinking. If only she’d paid more attention to those ridiculous stories he always told while trying to impress her. Perhaps there would have been something there she could use.

But no, she wasn’t Little Gou, she was Mao Meiyu, her father’s daughter.

And she knew what had to be done.

Meiyu waited until the lead servants appeared, and then made her move.

While Madam Lin instructed the servants to take the poisoned men to their master and pass along the message of her hostage, Meiyu got from her seat and walked down the stairs.

Dancing Blade saw her coming, and perhaps concerned she might be fighter or escort he let his hand fall on his sword hilt as he fixed her with his sharp gaze.

“Begone,” he said, watching her approach.

His need to speak caused the others to turn and look at her, and Meiyu saw the shock in Little Jing’s eyes as her friend saw her approach. She could see the pleading look in Jing’s expression, not for help, but for Meiyu to leave her be! But, this attempt at sacrifice only made Meiyu’s determination to carry through even stronger.

“You have the wrong girl,” Meiyu said, pulling off her black cap to let her long hair flow free. “I’m the one you want.”

For the first time in the evening, even Madam Lin looked confused.

“What is this?”

“I’m Mao Meiyu,” she said, standing before them. “That girl is my servant who was taking my place while I ate out here.”

The elder Lin looked her over with care, then had Dancing Cloud bring Jing closer so she could be examined. Finally, the old fighter looked at the servants from the caravan she had summoned.

“Is that one,” she said, pointing at Meiyu. “Your master’s daughter?”

No, the three servants assured her, Jing was in fact their master’s daughter, not this stranger.

Satisfied, the old woman made her decision, and at a nod from her, Jing was released and Dancing Sword grabbed Meiyu’s arm.

“You resemble your mother,” Madam Lin commented. “But, I needed their lies to be sure.”

***

“Hold.”

When Last Brother Shou raised his hand, his two companions brought their horses to a stop. It had been almost a full day and a half since they had stolen these mounts after setting the barge on fire and fleeing from Green Rapids Town. Now, they were searching from inn to inn, looking for any sign or trace of the Mao bridal caravan.

Having stopped for dinner, their questions had borne fruit- some merchants had seen the very caravan they were looking for to the west earlier in the day. They didn’t even stay to finish their meals before they were on their hard-worn mounts again and riding, following directions to the most likely place where such a caravan would spend the night.

Now, just before midnight, they had found the Inn in question.

The three dismounted, and Shou sent Xiao to look in the stable yard.

He came back a few minutes later to indicate that there was indeed a large caravan here, including a bridal palanquin.
They had found the right place, at last.

Forming up with Shou at the lead, the three headed straight for the front gate of the Inn. It was quiet inside, but that wasn’t unusual for this hour. Only a few lanterns were lit, which meant most of the people would probably be asleep.

All the better for them. [Author’s Note: Shou, Xiao and Mah are not the good guys. ]

Pushing open the gate, they walked inside. The main hall of the inn was quiet, as expected, and the only occupants of the many tables were a chubby, balding man and what looked to be two servants sitting and talking over wine. The chubby man, who Shou took to be the innkeeper, jumped up and scurried to greet them.

“Gracious guests,” he said, bowing slightly, “Welcome. Welcome. Do you need a room for the night?”

Shou kept his voice low, glancing about.

“I’m looking for a bridal caravan owned by the Mao family. Are they staying here?”

The innkeeper froze, his smile fading.

“Ahh…Yes…” He finally said, and something about his tone and odd expression made Shou pause.
“Have they not all come?”

The Innkeeper hesitated, and then explained…

***

The sun had just crested the horizon to the east and the air was still filled with the light mists of morning when the horse Meiyu was riding came to an abrupt stop and jolted her out of the half-sleep fatigue had pushed her into.

Looking up, she saw they were now on the bank of what looked to be a long but extremely straight river. Dancing Cloud was beside her, looking as tired as Meiyu felt, and the elder Lin had gone forward with the girl’s brother to a very small port along the waterway. There, she could see them bargaining with some dark-skinned merchant from the South who was using his hands a lot.

“Where are we?” Meiyu asked, hoping the sister was feeling talkative.

The girl gave her a sharp look for talking, but then her face softened. She was too tired to play the captor. “It’s a canal,” she said in her thick Northern accent. “We’re going to travel by boat to prevent them from finding us.”

Meiyu nodded, but didn’t say anything. Weary as she was, even she knew that wasn’t correct. Maybe to Northerners, who lived in a dryer climate, water and river travel represented a way to lose their pursuers, but here in central China travel on the canals was anything but private. Not only would everyone in this village know the way they had gone, but everyone along the canal who they passed (and there would be many) would also take note of them.

Her father, Crocodile Mao, had earned his nickname because of his fondness for escorting people and goods on the rivers and canals of the central plains. The Empire was built on its ancient canals, and there was always trade passing along these busy networks of waterways. While it was not the majority of his business anymore, many of the tales Meiyu had grown up on were of jobs done on the water.

She knew the tricks of the trade here, but wondered if the Lin family did.

After a time, Madam Lin returned to the horses and ordered the girls to dismount. They untied Meiyu’s hands from the saddle horn, but kept her hands tied together and Dancing Cloud led her along like a horse. The whole group and their horses were escorted to the dock, which at the moment was empty of boats, barges, or anything else resembling transportation.

Dancing Cloud put her on a stone bench and told her to sit quietly, trying the end of the rope to nearby post, and then left Meiyu alone while she walked a short distance away to see to the horses. Not that this gave Meiyu a chance to escape, for Dancing Sword was still near her, seeing to his grandmother’s needs.

It seemed they were going to have to wait for the next barge. This suited Meiyu fine, as it meant she wouldn’t be on a moving animal. After the night before, even the bruises on her backside had bruises, and she enjoyed sitting on something flat and stable. She leaned back against the wall behind her and closed her eyes to enjoy the moment.

She must have dozed, because the next thing she was aware of was Dancing Cloud talking to her and shoving a steamed bun into her hands. As she accepted it, the other girl sat down beside her and began to eat. Meiyu watched as the desperately hungry girl, who wasn’t much older than herself, tried to find a way to eat the still too hot bun by blowing on it and taking small bites. It was all very childlike, and she began to feel that Dancing Cloud was actually a bit immature for her age, despite her stern manner.

Maybe, she thought, under other circumstances she and this girl might have been friends. They really weren’t so different, not at all. Well, except for this girl having the manners of a wolf cub.

Then the Lin girl, perhaps realizing that she was being watched, looked at her crossly and gestured toward Meiyu’s own bun.

“Eat.”

Meiyu nodded and began to nibble, then she said. “Can I ask you something?”

The Lin girl looked at her suspiciously, but didn’t say no, so Meiyu continued. “Your grandmother said she wanted to trade me to my father for a box. What kind of box?”

“It is important, that is all I know.” The girl said. “Grandmother says we need it to get justice for my grandfather.”

Meiyu leaned in. “Master Lin was murdered?”

Dancing Cloud gave a sad nod of her head.

“Who did it?”

“We do not know. We sent letters to the council, but they refused to help us. If we have the box, grandmother says they will listen.”

“Wuyun,” Meiyu pleased. “This is wrong. Kidnapping me isn’t going to help bring justice for your grandfather.”

“You are the one who is wrong, child.” Came a voice, and Meiyu turned to look up into the angry eyes of Madam Lin. “The only thing those ***** sons of the council care about is power, so we will take their precious box from them and use it to make them help us. My late husband’s spirit will not rest until the blood of his enemy is poured on his grave.”

A fire burned brightly in the old woman’s eyes, one that Meiyu had seen many times in her short life as a member of the Jianghu martial arts underworld. It was the flame of vengeance, and it made a person sacrifice anyone and anything in order to achieve their bloody dreams. Seeing it in Madam Lin, Meiyu realized at that moment that there would be no reasoning with this woman or her grandchildren.

Talking her way out of this situation would be useless.

She was going to have to find another way.

***

It was well into the morning when the boat they were waiting for finally came. Manned by thin, bronze skinned men wearing broad-rimmed straw hats, the flat bottomed riverboat coasted up to the dock. Almost as soon as it was tied up, the men were scampering to take down the single white sail and transfer the wide boat’s cargo to the merchant’s men. Busy as ants, the bags of grain and boxes of vegetables they carried were unloaded onto carts that were driven up, and then left once they were full.

Once that was done, the dark-skinned merchant she had seen Madam Lin talk to earlier motioned for them to approach, and Meiyu saw him take Madam Lin’s money. The horses were taken aboard first, carefully tied in the middle of the boat, and then Meiyu and the family boarded and were given seats near the front.

The boatmen eyed Meiyu curiously as she was led aboard, but were smart enough to keep their questions to themselves in light of her armed escorts. She was again placed on a bench with Dancing Cloud as her guard, and after the boatmen loaded some other smaller cargo the ship cast off, heading south along the busy canal.

Meiyu drifted back to sleep for a time, the rocking of the boat soothing her, and was only awakened when she became conscious of the singing. Craning her neck around, she saw it was the boatman at the rudder. He had a strong, hearty voice for so thin a man, and the song was a familiar tune in one of the Southern dialects that Meiyu had heard many times. It wasn’t long before the other boatmen joined in as well, and soon the whole ship was filled with harmony.

Dancing Cloud looked around at them in wonder.

“Do you want to know what they’re singing?” Meiyu asked.

The Northern girl nodded.

“It’s a homecoming song,” Meiyu said, and then began to translate. “A husband has traveled far to make money for his family and braved many storms and bandits. Now he’s coming home, and they’re listing off the things he’s bringing for his wife and children. The chorus is the list of things he’s bringing back for them. ‘A jade for my wife, pure as the sky. A dress for my daughter, to bring a tear to her eye. A peach for my mother, as round as can be. A pole for my son, to be strong like me.'”

Dancing Cloud listened for a time, then said. “The caravan men of the North sing something like that when we travel with them. But, the lyrics are different.”

“There are many different versions of this song too, it changes depending on the singer and what they can come up with. Each singer will take his turn singing the chorus and add his own words to suit his song.”

As they listened, one of the men at the prow sang his version of the chorus, changing it to say what he’d be bringing back for each of his three sons while the others listened and laughed at his bawdy humor.

The verse done, the rest of the crew joined in the Chorus again, and this time Meiyu joined them. Her high soprano rose up to counterpoint their baritones in a way that made everyone sit up and listen.

When it came around to her turn for a verse, her voice raised into a beautiful tremolo, the words woven with imagery steeped in an archaic dialect from her ancestors.

The boatmen hummed quietly to her melody, smiling languidly as if this were a daily occurrence, and carried on with poling the barge. They were happy to have new voice in their old song, and listened with great intent. Despite themselves, the Lin family had to admire this beautiful melody echoing like a flock of songbirds hidden the surrounding trees.

Finally, her verse done, her voice drifted off and the crew once again picked up the rhythmic bass tones of the chorus.

“You sing very well.” Said an appreciative Dancing Cloud and Meiyu nodded her thanks. The Mao girl felt more relaxed now, much of her stress having been drained away by the effort of singing. She couldn’t help but smile that she’d finally put her hated singing coach’s long efforts to use.

The cicadas ringing in the distance, the afternoon wore on.

 

—————————————

Continued tomorrow!

Or, if you want to read the whole book you can find it for Kindle right now for 99 cents for this month only! A deal so good even a cheapskate like Gou wouldn’t pass it up!

Alternatively, if you’re interested in a free Review Copy, then email me at rob_paterson@hotmail.com and I’d be happy to give you one in the format of your choice in trade for a review if you like it.

Little Gou and the Crocodile Princess New Release Sale!

Crocodile Princess  Front-med

Little Gou’s first novel-length adventure is now available on Kindle for just 99 cents for the month of September. Grab it now while you can!

The story:

“Every last member of the Mao family will die by the Hour of the Rat a fortnight from now.” 

With these words begins a race against time, as the roguish martial artist called Little Gou hunts across the back roads and waterways of Old China to find a young bride-to-be who has become a pawn of the mysterious Lady Moonlight. He must outwit friends and foes alike, all of whom are dancing to the Lady’s song, and unravel a scheme that could see thousands dead or enslaved and the Middle Kingdom aflame with rebellion if he fails. But, worst of all, he has to face the woman who abandoned him in the name of family duty- the love he can never be with, or forget. 

Influenced by Legendary Wuxia novel writers Gu Long and Jin Yong; and in the spirit of movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Little Gou and the Crocodile Princess is a martial arts action & adventure thriller set in the Jianghu martial underworld of Old China. Through a combination of wits, swordplay and kung fu, the martial artist Little Gou, and his companion the warrior nun Sister Cat, must uncover the truth behind a deadly plot to bring the martial underworld to its knees, or die trying.

 

Kung Fu Cooking Girls

Your dose of Kung Fu action, served with a side order of fun! This short animated film was made to order for a dull Monday morning! Enjoy!

Free eBook: Suffer the Poisoner

 

“There’s poison in your soup.”

With these words, Little Gou is thrust into another adventure as he finds himself struggling to get the woman who poisoned him past an army of soldiers hunting her. Even if they can get past the army, their greatest challenge lies ahead- facing an ancient secret society who will stop at nothing to keep their existence hidden.

 

I’ve just released my newest Little Gou adventure, and I’m offering it for free for the next two weeks! Until July 2nd, if you go to Smashwords and enter the coupon code EG77P you can get it in the format of your choice absolutely free! All I ask is that if you enjoy it you leave a rating on Amazon, Smashwords or Goodreads to help me promote the story.

Live Action Ranma 1/2 Special will Air in December!

Akane Tendo

Apparently someone had decided to do a Live-Action Ranma 1/2 show in Japan, probably out of a mix of nostalgia and lack of ideas. I used to be a big Ranma 1/2 fan once upon a time, until it turned into an endless boring repetition of the same jokes and ideas, but it does have a great cast and fun core premise, so I look forward to seeing what they do with this. The actors look great for their roles, and I will definitely give this a look!

More information can be found here and more cast pictures here.

 

Boy-Type Ranma

Girl-Type Ranma

 

Mr. Tendo!