A Seamless Union Between the Joker and the Comedy King from Northeastern China
If someone is to rescue the desperate and depressed Joker, users of Chinese short video platform Bilibili seem to have found a creative solution. Zhao Benshan, a famous local comedian from Northeast China sometimes referred to as the “Oriental Charlie Chaplin” is the perfect guy to cheer up the Joker and cure his depression.
Viewed 3.4 million times, the video, titled “See how Zhao Benshan helps the Joker regain his confidence and renew his life”, mashes up scenes from Zhao Benshan’s movie clips and comic performances with some of the most depressing Joker moments.
The uploader dubs Joaquin Phoenix, the actor who plays the Joker, with lines from one of Zhao Benshan’s rural-themed TV series. “I don’t want to live anymore. I want to kill myself.”
“How come you talk like a loser? What, you wanna kill yourself? Look at you, so beaten-up and disheveled. Where’s the old hairstyle? You need to pull yourself together. Be a man.” Zhao said in the TV series. In the original setting, he was a peasant coming to the city to look for a job, and in this scene, he was trying to urge his son-in-law to pull himself together despite a tormenting marriage.
When the gloomy tone of the Venice Film Festival winning film was merged with traditional Chinese comedy it created hilarious results. Most importantly, the Joker and Zhao Benshan actually have a lot in common. Both started out as comedians, with the common goal of providing comedy. Both came from humble backgrounds. In the film and DC comic, the Joker grew up in a troubled household in Gotham. Zhao Benshan lost his mother at an early age, abandoned his studies and became an apprentice of a blind Errenzhuan performer (a song-and-dance performer popular in the northeast of China). The Joker became the number one supervillain in the whole DC universe, and Zhao Benshan was the king of Chinese comedy, owning a media empire. His media company was valued at 3 billion yuan in 2012.
In the remix, Joker’s iconic scene of dancing down the Bronx staircase was juxtaposed with Yangge (literally: ‘Rice Sprout Song’), a form of Chinese folk dance popular in northern China.
“The red, yellow, and green costume the Joker wears is actually very stylish, but in the cold and cruel capitalist society of Gotham, he became a freak, a weirdo. In the socialist soil of northeast China, the costume is dazzling. Red represents prosperity, joy and happiness, while yellow represents harvest and wealth. Green, on the other hand, symbolizes diligence, thriftiness, health and environmental protection. Although the Joker is inside the evil city of Gotham, he sacrifices himself to the proletariat against the evil capitalist, which conveys a positive idea,” someone humorously commented under the video.
In fact, the scene is reminiscent of Zhao Benshan’s comedy performance during the evening gala of the 2003 Chinese Spring Festival. He played a mental health doctor, trying to talk a patient out of mental illness after winning a huge lottery sum. His humorous portrayal of a mental doctor has become an all-time classic among Chinese spring festival evening galas.
Apart from this, some even mash up the Joker’s scenes in the movie with the popular Chinese rap song Wild Wolf Disco. The catchy disco song originally depicts a person’s magical encounter in a local nightclub, against the backdrop of a declining northeastern economy in Changchun, Liaoning province. The song is old-school, trendy and down-to-earth, somehow creating an atmosphere of magical realism. “No weird feeling at all. Don’t fool me with the original version,” a viewer commented, joking about the absurdity of combining this soundtrack with the dark Joker movie.
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Cultural collisions have always been something Gen Z has taken particular interest in. The insane mixture of different cultural elements brings the creativity of this internet era into full play. Among the most popular mashups, there’s the one combining Scarlett Johnson’s Marvel scenes with traditional Chinese costume TV dramas. The most recent example of combining different media and “breaking dimensions” would be the debut of China’s CCTV sharing content on Bilibili‘s platform.
The so-called dimensional wall is actually a concept originating in Japan, referring to the wall between the two-dimensional world of animation and the three-dimensional real world. Later, the concept was widened to also include the boundaries between different audiences and between different cohorts. “Breaking the dimensional wall” shows the willingness of new generations to break down cultural prejudice and hostility, and to bridge the gap under different cultural contexts.
According to Bilibili‘s official data, with monthly active users of over 128 million, Bilibili is the most popular app among Gen Z (those born from 1990 to 2009) in China, ranking ahead of TikTok, Youdao Dictionary and Kwai. Among them, 78% are aged between 18 to 35. According to data from iResearch, Gen Z’s contribution to online entertainment consumption is expected to reach 62.1% of total consumption by 2020. With the rise of online subcultures, Bilibili has evolved into one of the entertainment necessities for Chinese youngsters with diversified interests, whether it’s Japanese animation, American TV series, or online talk shows.