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Longest-Running Taiwanese TV Show’s Puppets Get the NFT Treatment

In a bid to sustain interest in its long-running TV programme “Pili” and create a new revenue stream for the company, a Taiwanese media company is turning the show’s central element—its puppets—into non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Pili International Multimedia Ltd is working with the marketing tech company VeVe to sell NFTs of its puppet characters. So far, interest has been strong, with an initial NFT offering raising over a million U.S. dollars.

pili wuxia puppet characters
Characters from "Pili" created by the Pili Puppet Theatre (Credit: laika ac/Wikimedia Commons)

According to Reuters, Pili International Multimedia has sold 30,000 sets of NFTs featuring these four characters since early February 2022. The report also says that the sale has managed to earn US$1.2 million with each NFT set costing US$40. However, no details have been given on how the revenues are being shared. Pili and its partner VeVe plan to turn another 50 of the show’s hundreds of puppets into NFTs in the future, guaranteeing another revenue stream for the company. More importantly, they hope that it will attract younger audiences drawn to the action-packed show and take a time-honoured Chinese storytelling genre into the digital age.

The TV programme “Pili,” which has been on air since 1985, is an example of the Chinese fictional wuxia genre that is most well known through films and television shows. The genre uses martial arts as a key storytelling element. Wuxia films and television programmes have been popular throughout the Chinese diaspora and embraced by other Asian audiences. Among the notable figures in the world of wuxia films, for instance, are actors Donnie Yen, Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh and fight choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping.

Western audiences have also been drawn to wuxia, with prominent fans including American filmmaker Quentin Tarantino. The success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) in the U.S. helped introduce wuxia to a wider audience there even if it enjoyed a cult following many years before that. In fact, one reason that VeVe Brand Manager Raymond Chou, quoted in the Reuters report, is confident in Pili’s foray into the NFT world is that “Westerners actually really like our martial arts heroes and kung fu”.

war of dragons pili fantasy character
A character from the War of Dragons: Pili Fantasy series (Credit: Pili Multimedia Entertainment Ltd/Netflix)

What makes “Pili” unique among wuxia shows is who, or rather, what stars in it. The Pili Puppet Theatre Company, which created the show, is one of Taiwan’s most famous practitioners of what is known as “Hand Puppet Shows” or “Palm Shows.” These shows can be traced back to the Chinese mainland, where they became popular during the late Ming and early Qing dynasties. As migration from Fujian province to Taiwan grew in the 1800s, puppet storytelling arrived on the island as well. This form of storytelling uses elaborately dressed and stylised wooden puppets and (usually) a single multiple-voice actor to tell its tales.

Pili International Multimedia, which is the show’s producer, is run by the Huang family. The family is intent on keeping the hand puppet show tradition alive while integrating it with computer-generated special effects for the screen. Chris Huang is the current Chief Executive Officer and chief scriptwriter for the show. Along with his brother Vincent (the lead voice actor), he forms the fourth generation of the family’s involvement in that art. Chris’ knowledge of various traditional Chinese literary texts from different schools of thought informs the show, and Pili’s foray into NFTs brings these traditional stories and characters to a new tech-savvy audience.

  • The producers of the long-running Taiwanese puppet-driven TV show “Pili” are collaborating with a marketing tech company to transform its characters into NFTs.

  • An initial NFT offering featuring four of the show’s characters sold 30,000 sets since its launch in February 2022.

  • The company and its partner hope that interest by younger audiences and Western fans of the wuxia genre will drive demand, thus generating steady revenue to ensure the survival of the hand puppet show tradition.

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