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Why Xian Lim directs a puppet show online?

Xian Lim

Definitely, Kim Chiu was out of the puppet show online her boyfriend Xian Lim had directed for the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP)’s “Sining Sigla” cyberspace project in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic when most of the Filipinos were prohibited to congregate in mass gatherings.

It’s not because Kim wasn’t allowed by her mother studio ABS-CBN to appear in shows outside its territory. It’s not also because Chiu had signed up a contract that exclusively stipulated her appearance with Xian only in ABS-CBN. It’s not even because it’s pandemic time and both Kim and Lim are barred from roaming around anywhere except in their respective homes.

It’s simply because the cast of Xian’s film is mostly puppets except for Ony Carcamo, a puppeteer and screenwriter of the movie.

In one of my printed stories I made a wild imagining that Kim as a main character in the project would mean a lot not only to the lovers but to their fans as well.

Hindi po (No),” Lim said politely giggling in our recent online talk.

Pero lagi naman po siyang nand’yan para suportahan ako (But she’s always around to lend support to me),” he added.

“MALA ‘Ibong Adarna’”, a new screen adaptation of the popular Philippine literary gem was meant to cast puppets. “’Yon talaga ang concept no’n (That is the concept of the project),” confirmed Ony.

“MALA” is an acronym that means “Movies Adapted from Literary Arts” or its denotative meaning in lower cases, “mala”—like, almost the same, as etc.

It was assigned to Xian because of the actor’s solid background on puppetry or ventriloquy or ventriloquism.

Nalaman ko na mahilig si Xian sa ventriloquism kaya siya ang inirekomenda ko sa CCP. Aprubado naman siya (I learned that Xian is inclined to ventriloquism so I recommended him to CCP. He was approved all at once),” recalled Carcamo.

Xian LIm with his creative team

Lim said he got to subscribe to ventriloquy three years ago.

Mahilig po kasi ako sa mga (I like) children’s play and ventriloquism is one of them,” quipped Xian.

He said that he was influenced by Dan Payes, a ventriloquist from Rancho Cucamonga in California. He was totally amazed by Payes puppetry. 

So Lim started to learn many things about ventriloquy from professional lectures online and other sources of information on how to better his craft.

In the Philippines, the actor was also educated by Juancho Lunaria, a famous Filipino ventriloquist who once showcased his talent and competed before in ABS-CBN’s “Pilipinas Got Talent (PGT).” As a matter of fact, when he joined the talent search he made Kris Aquino and Ai Ai de las Alas cry when he presented a dummy of the late King of Comedy Dolphy singing Florante de Leon’s signature song “Handog.”

In his venture in the art form, Xian also created his own puppet, Junjun. “Why Junjun?” I asked him.

Wala lang (Just nothing). Because the name is an ordinary expression among us, right?” he answered.

When the script of “MALA ‘Ibong Adarna’” landed on his lap, he was in awe. “It was a challenge. For the first time in my directing career, ngayon lang ako makakapagdirek ng (this would be the first that I would direct a) puppet show,” he recollected.

Xian Lim

First things first, though. “Initially, I refreshed myself of the ‘Ibong Adarna’ literary piece,” he said.

How could a US-bred guy be familiar with ‘Ibong Adarna” as a literature icon in the vernacular lit?

Napag-aralan ko naman po ang ‘Ibong Adarna’ bago ako nagpunta at nag-aral ng high school ko sa Amerika. Kasi, sa elementary school ko po rito sa Pilipinas, napag-aralan namin ‘yan (I studied ‘Ibong Adarna’ before I migrated and went to high school in the US. In my elementary school here in the Philippines, we studied that),” he said.

Meanwhile, Carcamo’s adaptation of the Filipino lit heritage to his screenplay was faithful to the narrative of the piece especially when the bird named Adarna excreted on the three princes.

Xian also made himself available by viewing the two film versions of the epic, namely Vicente Salumbides’ directorial project “Ibong Adarna” which featured Fred Cortez, Delia Razon, Mila del Sol etc. for LVN Pictures in 1941 and Pablo Santiago’s comic version billed “Ang Hiwaga ng Ibong Adarna” which starred Dolphy and Rosanna Ortiz for RTL Productions and Roda Film Productions in 1972.

Xian also managed to watch the past editions of “Sesame Street” and the local TV production of “Batibot” and other children’s shows with puppetry in them. 

The filminization, though, of the literary culture and tradition of “Ibong Adarna” during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic was a tough job altogether for Lim but he managed to pull it off successfully by toeing the line of the most creative and imaginative production.

Xian Lim with his creative team

Mahirap talaga. Kasi, paano mo maipapakita na umiiyak o lumuluha ang isang puppet? Ito ang talagang challenge para sa akin. (It was indeed difficult. For how can you present a puppet crying? This was really the challenge for me),” said Xian chuckling.

It was a meticulous preparation, the actor added. He gathered all the young but skillful and committed artists and filmmakers on animation, graphics and puppetry.

“It took us long deliberations on how to shoot each scene as per Sir Ony’s script. But I relied on the professionalism and capability my production staff so we had smooth-sailing shoots,” recalled Lim.

Being in a restrictive atmosphere of limited people in the shoot proper because of the quarantine provisions, Xian trimmed down the workforce to a minimum. “We also had to wear safety gears during the shoots,” he volunteered.

The whole production used the stage of the Main Theater of the CCP to shoot all the scenes. 

Xian employed two-camera set-up for the rigorous shots and angles of the puppets and Kulas, and his puppeteer, Kuya Ony who portrayed all the characters in the epic poem.  

“This puppet show online was meant to be for children for education during this pandemic time,” he said.

But grown-ups were also welcomed. 

From the start, CCP was confident with Xian so when his film was shown recently on CCP President and CCP Facebook pages, the state arts and culture agency was proud of his work.

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