‘Kwansformer’: More Than Meets the Eye?06/09/2010
Chinese knockoffs of western products are commonplace — Hi-Phones and iPeds, anyone? Created by Bi Heng, a student at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA), this magnificent statue combines the western Transformers franchise with traditional elements of Chinese culture in two tons of patriotic expression. (Bi Heng)
But a 32-feet tall “Kwansformer” wielding a giant Green Dragon Crescent Blade doesn’t fit into the knockoff category.
Created by Bi Heng, a student at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA), this magnificent statue combines the western Transformers franchise with traditional elements of Chinese culture — in two tons of patriotic expression.
“My piece reflects China’s current situation,” Bi, 26, told ABC News. “We have 5,000 years of culture — we shouldn’t be ashamed of our rich history.”
Bi used parts from a Chinese Jiefang CA-10 military vehicle to build his statue of legendary Chinese general Guan Yu (also spelled Kwan Yu) for a school project. “Jiefang” is also the name of Heng’s Kwansformer, which means “revolution.”
“In 5,000 years of history, Guan Yu was the first character to come to mind,” Bi said. “His legendary red face, green armor and large knife… I didn’t plan to build him, but the idea came to me, so I thought why question it?”
According to legend, Guan Yu played a pivotal role in the civil war that led to the collapse of the Han Dynasty (AD 25-220) — immortalized in the Chinese literary classic, “Romance of the Three Kingdoms.”
“If I built a dragon statue, it wouldn’t have the same effect,” Bi said.
The Jiefang truck also has a profound cultural significance. As the first automobile in China, Bi said it represents Chinese strength.
Kwansformer’s Cultural Roots
“It’s a car for work, which embodies the old revolutionary attitude,” Bi told ABC News. “I thought it was appropriate.”
Bi believes that modern Chinese society should be more open-minded and “learn from the outside,” while still holding on to traditional social tenets of hard work and diligence.
“While some of our thinking may become more liberal, there are some good values – professionalism, dedication, commitment – that we cannot abandon in the process of liberalization,” he said.
His choice to use Transformers to embody his political message was deliberate. Chinese goods are associated with cheapness, Bi said, while German goods are known to be first-class.
“I want (my audience) to understand my ambitions and to know that I’m not just a Transformers junkie,” he said. “This piece has deeper cultural relevance.”
According to Bi, Chinese people should expand their skills and not simply copy other ideas.
“To me, building a Chinese general as a Transformer is an expression of what the Chinese are capable of, delivered in a medium that appeals to the western world.”
In addition to expressing a message to the Chinese, Bi’s Kwansformer also represents a step further in his personal goals.
“I wanted to express my own views,” Bi said. “So I used the strong presence of my piece to give myself a voice. In this generation, you shouldn’t be afraid of not speaking; what you should be afraid of is not getting a chance to speak.”
Bi originally conceived the idea in 2006, but it wasn’t until after the release of Transformers in 2007 that he began sketching and planning the statue. Bi spent three years conceptualizing, designing and gathering the necessary materials for his project. Construction began in late February 2010, with the final product completed June 1, 2010.
Transform and Roll Out
“The first day of construction, I went to buy steel tubes… I couldn’t even move them,” Bi said. “I remember thinking at that point, this is just the beginning. Where do I go from here?”
Some $41,000 later, the truck’s transformation into Guan Yu was completed in time for CAFA’s graduation exposition. During the last three weeks of construction, Bi said he did not sleep more than three hours per night and worked around the clock to assemble his piece in time to graduate. Bi also hired his classmate, Han Han, to create a 3-D video of the fictional transformation process.
While the sculpting major’s passion lies in art, he also wants to commercialize his creations — building action figures of his Kwansformer is first on the list. Upcoming projects include the Chinese Monkey King (to be made from a taxi), and an Olympic torch.
“I’d like to make a movie someday,” he said. “My script is already written, there are some people interested, but it’s still a long way off. I’m going to start with a short film.”
Bi is interested in both arts and commerce, and used a metaphor to explain the reason for overlap.
“Art is sugar and commerce is water,” he said. “But only when sugar is mixed with water, does it become sweet.”