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He-Man joins fight to save Malay shadow puppets

Western and Japanese characters take traditional art form into 21st century and beyond

Rivals Skeletor, left, and He-Man from the "Masters of the Universe" comic-book and animation series are reimagined as wayang kulit traditional Malay shadow puppet characters by the Fusion Wayang Kulit puppeteer group. (Courtesy of Fusion Wayang Kulit)

KUALA LUMPUR -- Bent over strips of water buffalo hide, a team of puppet-makers is laboriously producing lively stick figures. Placed between a spotlight and a translucent white canvas that reflects colors, the puppets bring shadows to theatrical life in the form of wayang kulit, the traditional shadow puppet play of Kelantan, a northeast Malaysian state mainly populated by Malay Muslims.

Traditionally, wayang kulit performances feature characters from the Hindu "Ramayana," one of two epics in the ancient Sanskrit language, which date to the period between the 7th and 4th centuries B.C. But in an effort to revive this waning art, the puppet-makers have given the classics a popular twist, introducing characters from popular science-fiction sagas and comic books.   

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