Sino Smackdown!

wrestler-pic

The Rise Of Chinese Pro Wrestling

“You SUCK, you SUCK!” The sparse crowd of seventy that has ventured to a repurposed gay nightclub on this stifling May evening is beginning to find its voice.   Middle Kingdom Wrestling World Champion Dalton Bragg prowls the ring, glaring through black eyeliner at the Chinese men abusing him in English. A few paces behind, The Selfie King’s blood-splattered chest heaves as man-mountain Big Sam hauls him into the air and dumps him on to the canvas.

Wrestling is Shakespeare for the modern age”, yells Nikk Mitchell over the chants and sporadic crashes of body on mat. The managing partner of Middle Kingdom Wrestling (MKW), the collective that has provided four fighters for tonight’s show, has just returned to his ringside seat after an altercation with the referee. “Nowadays theatre is so highfalutin”, he shouts, “Back in the day, it was super lowbrow. People would throw fruit at the actors. Wrestling is one of the few art forms left in the world where audience participation is a major aspect. That’s what makes it so special.”

mk2-2073mk2-2086Dalton Bragg handcuffs Sam to the post, pins Selfie King and wins the Triple Threat match to retain the MKW World Championship.  Images courtesy of Eric Garrison.

Build It And They Will Come

To be clear, Mitchell is talking about storyline-driven, scripted, and choreographed pro-wrestling, the entertainment art form combining athleticism with performance that the ill informed deride as ‘fake’. Originated in the US in the mid-20th century, Japan leads the Asian scene, albeit in a more legitimate sport-like form, while Singapore, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong all boast leagues with some degree of popularity and pedigree.

Mainland China remains a sleeping giant, with a lineage going back only as far as 2004, the year that Guangdong wrestler, known as The Slam, left for Korea to hone his craft. On his return to Dongguan, he constructed a mobile professional ring and trained up a group of local Chinese talent that he would later formalize into Chinese Wrestling Entertainment. His traveling arena became the home of CWE’s semi-regular live shows and the shoot location for their online TV show.

mk2-2050Selfie King lays the smackdown on Big Sam.  Image courtesy of Eric Garrison

Chinese wrestling has endured stuttering beginnings, perhaps best exemplified by the events of October 2013, when Paul Wang, a wrestling super-fan with dreams of building a league to match America’s WWE, invited an assortment of local and international wrestlers to Chongqing for four live shows.  After promising big money investment and a glamorous future, Wang botched the operation, cancelled half the shows and disappeared, leaving the wrestlers to pay their own airfare home.

After multiple false starts and isolated shows, the past 18 months have seen a shift in gear. In early 2015, The Slam received a call from Adrian Gomez, an American expat launching a Chinese pro wrestling promotion and wanting to discuss a partnership. Gomez spent the proceeding months building a roster of talent to form the basis of Middle Kingdom Wrestling. MKW’s first show took place in Dongguan in July 2015, followed by a larger winter showcase featuring wrestlers from the US, UK, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Forming around the same time was China’s other main aspiring promotion, China Wrestling Federation (CWF), founded by Fei Wu Xing, the boss of China’s largest wrestling website ShuaiJiao.com.  CWF held its first show in Shanghai earlier this month featuring their own wrestlers and others hired from MKW.

     mk2-3017mk2-3019 mk2-3022 mk2-3046Japanese wrestlers Emi Sakura and Riho fight it out in CWF’s recent promotion in Shanghai.  Images courtesy of Eric Garrison

Wrestling With Chinese Characteristics

Despite commanding a massive online following, world leading US behemoth World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) had until recently been curiously inactive in China. That all changed this summer when the $650m corporation staged a major PR campaign in China, bringing over legends John Cena and Triple H, ostensibly to scout new Chinese talent, but mostly to generate buzz around a live event in Shanghai in September and to announce deals with online channel PPTV to screen its US shows in Mandarin.

WWE’s existing popularity provides a strong foundation upon which local pretenders can develop their own on and offline wrestling content. One of their many challenges will be attracting a local audience that has probably never attended a live show before and, once they are there, generating atmosphere among a small crowd that has never participated in the pantomime before.

1524820748Big Sam and Royal Stu.  Stu, the writer of Royal Ramble on wrestlezone.com, acted as Sam’s manager at the CWF Shanghai promotion.   Image courtesy of Big Sam

The key, says Gomez, is to develop characters to which fans can relate. “Emulating a WWE show for a Chinese audience will not make a successful promotion. Instead, his plan is to bring pro wrestling with “Chinese characteristics”. “China has 56 minority groups and iconic things that all make great gimmicks,” he says, “I watch Running Man and Baba Qu Na. Those elements can be incorporated into pro wrestling to catch a massive audience.”

Gomez doesn’t worry about competition – after all, many wrestlers are shared between promotions – but stresses his character-driven approach differentiates MKW from the rest, “[CWF] really prefer the Japanese style… It looks more like a traditional sport. [We] care more about telling stories.”

1572963715@chatroom_1463374904719_10MKW’s Selfie King with Nikk Mitchell (managing partner) overlooking the ring inside a converted Shanghai Stadium nightclub.  Images courtesy of Nikk Mitchell

A Yao Ming In The Ring

If domestic wrestling is to gain traction with the local audience, it will need its own superstars. Seeking to find a ‘Yao Ming in the ring’, Japanese federation IGF, run by WWE hall of famer Antonio Inoke, opened a dojo in Shanghai in 2013. IGF soon claimed it had found a future icon in the form of Wang Bin, a 20-year old gym coach from Anhui. Wang promptly left for Japan to receive a higher quality of training, just The Slam had done in Korea a decade earlier.

The move paid off. Wang recently became the first Chinese athlete to sign a development contract with the WWE and is currently training at the WWE’s Performance Center in Orlando, Florida, hoping to one day become the federation’s first fully-fledged Chinese star.

1572963715@chatroom_1463374633312_40

(l-r) Selfie King, Royal Stu, Emi Sakura, Dalton Bragg, Riho, Nikk Mitchell (MKW managing partner).   Images courtesy of Nikk Mitchell

Yet for all the marketing fanfare, WWE will struggle to find more Chinese wrestlers any time soon. Most estimates suggest there are currently only about 20 wrestlers in the entire country, and a shortage of training facilities or world-class coaches means little new talent is emerging.

The scarcity of resources is causing the quality of current shows to suffer.  MKW headliner Dalton Bragg explains, “If you see wrestlers who train three times a week and wrestle once a month, the matches are 100 times better than when they show up twice a year and haven’t trained at all.”

Chinese promoters are also having difficulty maintaining the presence needed to build a fan base. “The key to staying power is staying visible”, says Bragg, “Companies do a show and then drop off the face of the earth for 6 months. There’s no fan retention.”  Running regular shows is easier said than done though. Alongside the financial barriers, Gomez explains it is difficult to explain wrestling to the older generation and therefore difficult to find suitable venues.

The current crop of promoters faces a long and difficult road. CWF and MKW are seeking to keep up the momentum with live events in Shenzhen in September and Inner Mongolia in November respectively, while the WWE increased presence should help by inspiring more athletes, investors and entrepreneurs to get involved in the sport.

For now though, Chinese wrestling is fueled by the passion of its promoters. “The more matches we do, the more I come to love wrestling,” says MKW’s Nikk Mitchell, “I feel like I’m getting to the heart of what makes wrestling popular, and that’s so exciting.”

wrestlers3Chinese wrestlers & wrestlers in China: 9 key figures

Family Polaroid GIFspiration

1401471488yachtgif21

Artist and illustrator Cari Vander Yacht is slicing up your grandparents. Or at least their photos. Going one step beyond artists like Martin Parr who simply collect old family photo albums from attics and flea markets, the Amsterdam-based Vander Yacht is making her vintage finds into delightfully irreverent GIFs. Several of her best mini-animations seem to be from China in the 1980s, adding an extra layer of humor for those of us on this side of the Great Firewall. See a selection below, and more at her Tumblr.

A video montage collecting her GIF series:

Real GIF Reel from Cari on Vimeo.

1401471488yachtgif19

1401471488yachtgif20

1401471488yachtgif22

1401471488yachtgif24

P.I.G. Screening Series: Die Hard at the Grumpy Pig

GrumpyGrub2

On December 10, P.I.G. launches its Shanghai screening series with a special collaboration with our friends at The Grumpy Pig. And what better way to ring in the season than with a Hollywood holiday classic: “Die Hard” (1988). We’ll be screening the film and serving a special, Die Hard-themed menu – reserve now to make sure you don’t miss it!

The Grumpy Pig x P.I.G. China
“Movie & Grub”: Christmas Edition
Tuesday, December 10, 2013, 8pm @ The Grumpy Pig, Shanghai
Space Limited. Reservations: 6217-3355

GrumpyGrub1

Did you forget that “Die Hard” is an amazing Christmas movie? Watch the trailer again to refresh your memory…

November Roundup: News on Film, Digital and Beyond

C624N0013H-162923_copy1

(Real Chinese astronauts from Shenzhou-9 launch)
GRAVITY
(Sandra Bullock in current blockbuster “Gravity”)

Selected readings, links, and other buzzworthy items:

Gravity’s Big Impact: Gravity is breaking box office records in China, soaring past other current releases; while Gravity’s director Alfonso Cuaron wants China to take him to space, for real (reports Xinhua):
“I know that I will never do another space movie. It took too long. But I would go to space as soon as I was invited,” Cuaron told Xinhua in an exclusive interview given while he was in Beijing promoting “Gravity,” which debuted on the Chinese mainland on Tuesday. “So I’ll keep on pleading. Maybe then Chinese authorities will want to send me to space. I would be very happy to accept the invitation, very honored,” he said.

China’s Micro-Movie Zeitgeist: BBC piece on how micro-movies evade Chinese censorship; even Chinese airlines are using micro-movies in in-flight entertainment systems.

Hollywood x China: “Hollywood and China: in Figures” by Jonathan Landreth offers a useful look at the relationship by the numbers; LAT piece “Hollywood meets a sleeping powerhouse” is a good basic primer on current dynamics; NPR showcases “Hollywood’s New Strategy: Supporting Chinese-Made Blockbusters” and the flipside where “China Pits Hollywood Blockbusters Against Each Other
“; The Hollywood Reporter examines the Chinese presence at AFM earlier this month; The Guardian on what it gleaned from US/China Film Summit at AFM; Variety on how marketing platform FansTang Plans to Deliver Hollywood Content in China;

Festival Circuit: The Guangzhou Documentary Film Festival kicks off; as well as one part of the beleaguered China Independent Film Festival in Nanjing; the ASEAN Festival launches in Singapore; Asia-Pacific Film Festival runs in Macau mid-December; Beijing recently hosted the Chinese Folk Women Festival; Shanghai’s expat-geared “Meiwenti Film Contest” still seeking short film submissions until November 30 for its Dec 14 event; and an interesting UK academic research group exploring the phenomenon of film festivals in China.

Other: A report on Ang Lee at the Art of Transnational Cinema event at Harvard University; and the frankly disgusting teaser poster for upcoming TIny Times 3 (reported to start production soon in Rome).

Super Cool Party: Interview with Designer Francis Lam (aka db-db)

DbDbKing500

SuperCool1

Last week saw the launch of “Super Cool Party”, a new iOS app from Francis Lam (aka db-db), which has quickly taken over the Instagram and WeChat moments feeds of Shanghai creatives. It’s a “super pixelicious fashion simulation game” with db-db’s trademark style seen in Tofu Go and Nudemen – a combination of funky 8bit graphics, catchy tunes, and cheeky gameplay (which here involves “undressing” characters to unlock their clothing for fun mix-and-match). In the future, it may feature packs of branded fashion content and beyond. Francis’ expansive practice also encompasses his long-time work as Creative Technologist at Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai, and founder of hand-crafted wooden furniture brand OWW. To kick off POV’s new interview series with diverse creatives, Francis graciously agreed to answer our questions.

POV INTERVIEW: FRANCIS LAM, AKA DB-DB

Q: In a nutshell, how would you describe “Super Cool Party”? What’s its connection to shopping and fashion?

A: It’s a fashion-themed 8-bit casual game + social camera app. But what I also want to experiment is to create a new platform for advertising and mobile gaming. In-game advertising has always been a big turn-off for gamers, I really want to build something that can make both marketers and gamers happy.

Q: What inspired the game, especially its visual style, music, and beach setting/”party” concept?

A: Happy, fun and 8bit are always the main themes and styles of my work. It also vaguely linked to my Nudemen Series by the way.


User images from Instagram – add your own with the #supercoolparty and #supercoolstyle tags!

Q: This is your first app since Tofu Go – what have you learned since then, and what different techniques of design, programming, marketing, and distribution were you looking to try in Super Cool Party?

A: I think all my other mobile apps and games are experiments or extensions of my other work. Most of them were finished in a weekend or so. Super Cool Party is a more well-thought and produced project which leverages different digital and social channels. It’s also the first product launched by my new entity db+DB.

dcf880d2569111e3a9810ebdd4ba5cf5_6
Instagram from @bbfish

Q: Since you left Wieden+Kennedy to work on independent projects, you mentioned that you’re pursuing an interesting workflow of experimenting with various new projects on quick-iteration time-schedule. Can you describe this new project structure you’re exploring?

A: Sure. db+DB is a small team aiming for making tiny digitally-driven products in fast iterations. We have three criteria for our products: 1. It has to be launched in less than 2-3 months. 2. It has to be commercially viable. 3. It has to have a big idea which potentially change the world and make our lives better – maybe for just a little bit.

Q: What do you think is the future of mobile advertising, and how do you think games are important in this space? Many people have talked about the death of Weibo and the rise of Weixin as a space for brands – how are you hoping that an app/game like Super Cool Party can pioneer new directions on those platforms?

A: I think games are one of the biggest digital communities yet to have a working advertising ecosystem. Super Cool Party is an experimental project to try answer the issue.

Q: What inspires you the most right now?

A: Currently, definitely my newborn daughter.

Download Super Cool Party here and check it out!

“On Fear” Zine and GIFs by Inkee Wang

tumblr_mldj7lWyOY1s3b6d0o1_500

Inkee Wang (Wang Yingqi) is currently a student at London’s Royal College of Art, and has been attracting attention for her delightfully skewed illustrations for some time. Now they leap off the page/screen in her project “On Fear”, which takes the form of a specialized Tumblr, a series of animated GIFs, and a limited-edition zine. The experimental visual essay explores the nature of fear that all humans share – and even digs deep into history for parallels to our modern condition.

See more at the project site, and some of our favorite selections below. GIFs of the day(/week/month)!

tumblr_ml7p22D9J51s3b6d0o1_500

tumblr_mldhfcWL631s3b6d0o1_400

s-copy_1500

tumblr_mjf3smxAK21s3b6d0o1_500

tumblr_mjf32hUTbg1s3b6d0o1_500

tumblr_mjes6kgGDp1s3b6d0o1_500

64a33c4fgw1e3yqci8ji6j20dw2kogwk

Meet Mr. Cao, Skateboarding Hutong Bathroom Attendant

MrCaoSkate

A very cool short video from our friends at Tranquil Tuesdays (artisanal tea brand based in Beijing):

Skateboarding Hutong Bathroom Attendant Mr. Cao

Working in Beijing’s historical hutong neighborhoods, life is never dull in Tranquil Tuesdays’ office and showroom on Fangjia Hutong. These past two weeks in the heat of the Beijing summer, we thought we saw an improbable mirage: a skateboarding hutong bathroom attendant skating by our doors. After days of stunned excitement watching Mr. Cao whiz by Tranquil Tuesdays hutong office and showroom in Beijing, we finally caught up with him (I literally ran out of our office to catch him before he crossed the street) to express our admiration and ask him if we could film him skating down our hutong: Fangjia Hutong. Mr. Cao is from Hebei province and lives on Fangjia Hutong. He skateboards to work at a public bathroom 3 km away, and says he has been skateboarding for a few months.

Via Tranquil Tuesdays Blog

So Fresh and So Clean: Beautiful Vintage Soap Packaging from China

Feast your eyes on this collection of vintage soap packaging from China – assembled by the retro aficionado U-Book on Douban. U-Book also has some amazing galleries of mid-century Chinese clothing catalogues and a particularly lovely vintage Seagull camera.

As some have remarked on Weibo, they look good enough to eat!
(“很小的时候,总会觉得香皂是蛋糕那样能吃的东西,,看这个设计和颜色,,太有爱了”)

View the full set here.
(Via one of our favorite artists Yan Cong)

Films to See: China Heavyweight

tumblr_m7sm6sJz7p1rr8fil

Great profile on the acclaimed documentary film China Heavyweight, check out the beautiful cinematography/stills from Sun Shaoguang!

Via Canada’s documentary blog, also called POV! – Point of View Magazine
[Photo: Sun Shaoguang, from China Heavyweight, dir. Yung Chang (2012)]

As Time Goes By in Shanghai – New Documentary

POV_AsTime

Premiering this week at “Hot Docs” is “As Time Goes By in Shanghai”, a new documentary on Shanghai’s own Peace Hotel band – the oldest jazz band in the world. Directed by Uli Gaulke, the film looks like a charming portrait of some old guys who still have a trick or two up their sleeves.

From the film’s description:
The oldest band of the world has been playing every evening at the Peace Hotel in Shanghai for more than thirty years. Most members of the band, all Jazz musicians of the first rank, are older than 80 years.

AS TIME GOES BY IN SHANGHAI accompanies the oldest band in the world on their greatest adventure yet: their appearance at the North Sea Jazz Festival Rotterdam, the most important festival of its kind.

In the final weeks before their appearance, this musical film will immerse itself in a world of unparalleled change. Jazz stands for improvisation, individualism, freedom and creativity. Against the backdrop of great jazz hymns, the film will chart the fascinating life stories of these seven exceptional musicians: from the Japanese occupation to the Cultural Revolution right up to today’s turbo planned economy. With humour, wisdom and a tale or two being spun on the way, the men in black suits will lead us on a tour of their everyday lives in one of the world’s most modern cities and show us how good old jazz has given them the strength to weather the storms of time.

Check out the trailer on Youtube or below, and a Tumblr with great behind-the-scenes photos.