KUALA LUMPUR - Luke Skywalker may have travelled to a galaxy far, far away and Superman may come from Krypton. But the most remarkable journey of these contemporary heroes has taken them to Kampong Morak, a farming village in northernmost Kelantan, Peninsular Malaysia's most remote and conservative state.
In a small workshop by the tin-roofed house of Muhammad Dain Bin Othman, a small team of puppet-makers are pounding patterns into pieces of water buffalo hide. Pak Dain, or Uncle Dain as he is more commonly known, is one of Malaysia's last surviving dalang, translated as master puppeteer in the art of wayang kulit, or shadow play.
Alongside fearsome, stick figures of Rama, Sita and other characters of the ancient Ramayana epic, Pak Dain's team crafts stylized visions of modern-day heroes from Star Wars, and Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, even Bruce Lee and Santa Claus.
This so-called fusion wayang kulit -- the brainchild of Tintoy Chuo -- a professional "character designer" for high-tech games -- is aimed at reviving Malaysia's oldest form of storytelling for a new audience.
"Some academics came here to object to adapting the shadow play to Hollywood," said Dain. "But I asked all the skeptics to show me a better way to revive a dying art."
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