Editor’s Note: Please welcome our Asian Theme Park Correspondant, Sean Graham! Sean has a Master’s Degree in Anthropology and his specialty is in cultural differences between Eastern and Western tourists, particularly in a theme park environment. This article is the second in a series on E-DA, a fascinating theme park in Taiwan. Part one of the series can be found by clicking on this link.
Many foreigners who travel to theme parks in Asia usually remark at the lack of heart-pounding, white knuckle, pray-to-god thrill rides. A park may contain a few thrills, but the majority of these would be considered tame by the most avid adrenaline junkies. What makes the turnstile click in Asia are shows. As shows are so popular, Asian theme park audiences will queue up hours to avoid the dreaded, “Sorry, we’re full.” sign. E-DA has its fair share of live entertainment and several shows are worth examining in greater detail.
Located in the Trojan Castle, the Theatre of Illustration Animation is a projection show with two live actors. Audience members inside the theatre are divided into two sections sitting across from each other with the stage separating them. Upon sitting down, many believe they are staring across at a mirror only to discover their “mirror” counterpart is not moving with them. This creates some funny moments as audience members interact with each other across the void. It also lets everyone see there is nothing on or between them and the stage. The house goes dark and a scrim is lowered into place. When the lights come back up we see a live female actor dressed in a white kung-fu outfit meditating as falling leaves are projected on to the scrim creating a tranquil environment. However, as she leaves her meditative state and begins to practice tai-qi, images of light and color surround her, representing the energy she is manipulating. Suddenly, a man appears with glowing red armor, swords drawn and pulsating red energy around his body. It is clear these two are about to engage in an epic battle. They size each other up and begin an acrobatic battle sequence.
The girl blocks his attacks with her kung-fu techniques, blue and white colors swirling, mimicking her movements and clashing with the warrior’s red energy. They attack and withdraw, slowly making gains on their opponent. Then the two attackers disappear and their energies are the sole combatants, which transform into different animals and continue the fight.
Eventually the red warrior is beaten, bows to his opponent as if to say, “my weapons are no match for kung-fu arts,” and disappears. The woman returns to her meditation and the show is over. The audience satisfied, applauds, even though the show was only five minutes long.
However, by far E-DAs most popular show is the Water Tamer. The audience stands around a circular stage surrounded with mirrors on the exterior walls. As the lights come up, we see a woman sitting in the middle of the floor. She inquisitively looks around at her environment and puts her ear to the ground. After hearing the sound of rushing water, she places one hand on the floor and stands up. Water magically appears to grow from her hand and she begins to conduct the water causing it to rise, jump, dance and follow her every command.
As she becomes more attuned to her ability, the show becomes an aerobic dance performance highlighted by music and colored water. Occasionally the water is commanded to jump over the audience to hidden collectors in the walls. Suddenly the room goes pitch black as we hear the crack of thunder. Light returns in the form of a strobe and we see her command the water to magically stop in mid-air. The combination of light, sound and performance is echoed by the mirrored walls surrounding the audience making it feel as though you are among an army of dancing water artists in a show only lasting five minutes.
With five minute shows one would be surprised to learn they are not continuous, but instead have set times. The Theatre of Illustration Animation only performs four times a day, more on weekends, and dark every Tuesday. Due to its limited capacity and popularity, The Magic Tamer has ten performances a day and is dark on Thursdays. Perhaps most astonishing to a foreign visitor is that Taiwanese audiences will queue up an hour or so before a performance that lasts all of five minutes. Shows are the E-tickets of Asia.
Now you might be asking yourself, “if shows are so popular, they must have a parade.” You would be right! The parade is a huge highlight, bringing the park to a standstill as visitors cram onto the promenade, in every nook and cranny to get a glimpse at E-DA’s Giant Fantasy on Parade. Like so many theme parks around the world, E-DA has its own characters. These popular characters were made for the sole purpose of promoting the E-DA Theme Park. Their popularity is not only due to their intrinsic neoteny, but are bolstered by their appearance at E-DA Rhinos baseball games. That’s right, just like Disney in the 90s, the E Untied Group own their own baseball team, by far the most popular sport in Taiwan. The appearance of E-DA’s costumed characters at baseball games reach a very wide audience which help advertise the park and keep the characters fresh in the minds of consumers. They are not solely restricted to signing autographs and appearing in parades. Animated cartoons were even produced for the purpose of promoting them and are played in attraction queues.
However, unlike many parades in popular U.S. theme parks that have a clear storyline or progression, E-DA‘s is somewhat muddled. After stepping off, a woman in the Trojan Castle courtyard serves as emcee, energizing the crowd. She also briefly tells the crowd about the story of Da-E (the rhino) and his cohorts and their adventures against the evil Trojans,a unique spin on Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey. Our heros (Da-E and his entourage) have been trapped in the giant Trojan horse and a parade is held to set them free while at the same time attacking the Trojans. The army does not consist of your typical soldiers however, but a myriad of stilt walkers, puppeteer floats, Mardi Gras-esque floats and giant inflatable dolls.
As the parade meanders its way down the promenade, performers at the courtyard dance and entertain the gathered audience until the entire procession has arrived. The soundtrack is a mix tape of hit western pop-songs ripped right from the CD. Most astonishingly, Michael Jackson’s Black or White begins playing and a MJ impersonator suddenly appears and begins to dance to the King of Pop’s most iconic moves.
Now you might be thinking to yourself, how did a theme park in Taiwan obtain the rights to all this music, including Michael Jackson? The most probable answer is, they didn’t. In general, companies in Taiwan and China will often use intellectual property at will because the risk of legal action is miniscule. One only need to remember Beijing’s now infamous Bajiao Amusement Park (a.k.a. Beijing’s fake Disneyland) to know how true this is.
After MJ impersonator has his moment, the parade turns into a block party as performers invite the audience onto the promenade to partake in the excitement. This block party is led by the antagonist of the Troy story, the Trojan general. The processional concludes with a visit from what the MC calls “an angel” (perhaps Helen of Troy) who knows how to bring the party home. Confusing? You bet.
While shows are less of a priority for many theme park visitors in the States, in Asia they are a crucial part of a successful park. E-DA is not limited to just these entertainment offerings, but also provide walk around streetmosphere performers, meet and greets and even a children’s show.
Theme park designers and marketers in Asia do not advertise with buzz words like “Asia’s tallest” or “Asia’s fastest,” but instead emphasize show over thrill. This is not to say that Asian theme parks are not without interesting attractions and thrills. Come back next time as we explore E-DA’s other attractions: a 3-D ghost ship with a modern twist, some of their unique thrill rides and Soarin’… over Taiwan. Until then, I’d like to hear your comments. Have you ever visited a park in Asia? Have you seen a similar show to the ones I’ve described above?