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Taiwan Puppet Master Lee Dies

August 16, 1998

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) _ Lee Tien-lu, revered for breathing new life into Taiwan’s age-old puppet theater, has died at age 87.

Lee died Friday of heart and lung failure at his family home in Sanchih, on Taiwan’s northern tip, family members said.

Born during Japanese colonial rule, Lee chafed under the governor’s demands to inject pro-militarist propaganda into his shows and was forced to abandon performances during the war years.

He later attracted large audiences in the television age by mixing modern slang into the classical Taiwanese used in folk tales acted out by wooden-headed cloth puppets. He also added special effects and dramatic acrobatic stunts.

``Lee Tien-lu’s life is the modern history of puppet theater. He led, and the theater followed, bringing Taiwanese puppetry to the world’s attention,″ the United Daily News said.

Lee served as director of his I Wan Ran puppet troupe until his death, frequently performing abroad and appearing in Taiwanese variety shows and in TV advertisements. Lee was honored by Taiwan, France and the United States for his art.

With his two sons, he later established a pair of children’s troupes, the Wei Wan Ran and Chiao Wan Ran.

A physically slight man whose trademark was a French-style beret cap, Lee was the subject of director Hou Hsiao-hsien’s award-winning 1993 film, ``The Puppetmaster.″

Brought by early immigrants from China’s Fujian province, glove puppetry developed a distinct character on Taiwan and remains among the most popular of its folk arts.

Some 200 troupes stage public performances and a flashier version of the theater draws a large audience on cable television.

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