Global Times 11-21-2013
Disarming 'Landmine 2.0'
The War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-45) is a popular theme in TV and film. While the audience laughs or cries for the brutal but sometimes absurd events that take place on the fictionalized battlefields, few in the younger generation take the war seriously enough to understand the impact it has had on the histories of both countries.
Director Wang Chong and his Beijing-based theater troupe Théatre du Rêve Expérimental centered their new project, The Warfare of Landmine 2.0, on this same topic. The innovative work of theater will make its world debut at the 2013 Festival/Tokyo on December 5. The first domestic performances are scheduled for December 20 and 21 in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, and then the play will travel to other cities next year.
Critiquing war games
Challenging the classics is important for Wang. Théatre du Rêve Expérimental's new work is inspired by the 1962 Chinese film The Warfare of Landmine, and is part of a series of "2.0" projects that were made to question the status quo.
"'2.0' refers to subversion," Wang told the Global Times. "While paying tribute to the original classic, I always want to present something that is not in the original, something that is from contemporary China and state-of-the-art theatricality."
The text of the hour-long play includes excerpts from the script of the 1962 film, poet Gu Cheng's book Yinger, Jiang Rong's Wolf Totem, Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Carl Jung's The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious and Hirohito's surrender speech.
"In theater, a new text does not guarantee originality. In fact, most new plays in China contain little originality," Wang said. "A new direction and a new way of thinking could be much more innovative and inspiring."
According to Wang, these texts explain what war is, what a weapon is, what triggers war and what the relationship between human beings and nations is.
"They are all parts of the mechanisms of war," Wang explained.
The way the troupe plays with multimedia elements is one of the most important aspects of the show. Wang said the group's initial plan was to produce a play that felt like a staged movie and borrowed video from the original film, similar to Wang's other productions.
However, the rehearsals led them in a different direction. The story has been turned into a collection of short fragments, introducing the history of weapons development and what role humans have played in this process.
Wang also shifts the emphasis away from video media and toward incorporating sound for dramatic impact.
Megaphones, which have a function that allows them to record 10 seconds of sound, are frequently employed in the show. Actors record different sounds into the megaphone in front of the audience as an introduction to their "performance language."
"It was a postmodern way of representation. … A prop can function as anything," said Wang, who also finds that this kind of megaphone is a common item in our daily lives and builds a connection for the audience between the peaceful present and war-torn past.
Still a touchy subject
For inspiration, the troupe drew from a variety of sources: the Ottawa Treaty (which bans land mines targeted at humans), historical records of the Sino-Vietnamese War in 1979, primary students' reviews of the film The Warfare of Landmine, Vom Kriege's On War.
Last June, Wang also traveled to Haiyang, Shandong Province, where wartime landmines were prevalent, to conduct research.
"I visited their landmine warfare museum," Wang recalled. "They also have a theme park and performances about landmine warfare."
The idea of presenting wars from a playful angle, often seen in video games, is also reflected in the show. Wang, however, takes this approach in order to critique the gaming attitude toward war.
"Given the current international political situation, the topic is worth discussing. War is not far from us and it is never in our control," he added.
The Japanese theater staging the debut performance is in Tokyo's Ikebukuro district, where right wing political activists often parade or lecture local Chinese residents.
The theater troupe's original plan to perform in the street was rejected and a Japanese actor that was working on the project left in the middle of rehearsals.
Wang and his actors shared their concerns about doing such a show in Japan and said they worry that some metaphors have the potential to be taken too literally.
As a result, the final version of the show takes out some more specific representations, making the play more universal.
"We do have a part where we read out eight Sino-Vietnamese War martyrs' inscriptions on their gravestone, though," Wang said. "They have given up their lives, but we do not talk about that war anymore. This is the biggest harm the war has done to us."