Thursday, July 16, 2020

Bailu Village Secrets Part 3 - Kong Mei: A Life | Guest Post by Dave Matthews (SalsaShark)

Bailu Village Secrets Part 3: Kong Mei

Hello again everyone! Welcome back for Part III of Bailu Village Secrets!  If you missed them, Parts I & II can be found here:
Throughout the last two posts I've been dropping what I hope were enticing hints about one of my absolute favorite characters in Shenmue III, Kong Mei. Now the time has finally arrived for a deep dive into a life that's taken many fascinating (and easily missable) turns!

A Kindly Shop Owner (or A Prickly Granny)


A view of Panda Market at night
A view of Panda Market at night
Panda Market becomes accessible fairly early in the story when Ryo is tasked with tracking down the stone mason, Ke Junhao, and it's about the closest thing to a bustling downtown as you'll find in Bailu. Depending on the time of day, Ryo can encounter different villagers going to and fro as they shop at the fruit stand, take in the savory aroma of steamed buns, and line up in front of the Bai Jiu Stand (seriously, Su Hong must be doing gangbusters).


Additionally, the market boasts a pawn shop, prize exchange, arcade, The Drunken Panda restaurant - to add a touch of night life - and, of course, Kong Mei's General Store.
Kong Mei Goods
Kong Mei Goods
Like most of the larger shops and restaurants in the village, Kong Mei's store is also her house where she lives with her grandson, Kong Zhuang. She's rough around the edges to be sure (be careful not to call her 'Granny'!), but has a playful, joking side (make sure you always tell her she's 'Gorgeous'!).

“Coming from you, young man, it makes me feel like a young lady again...”
“Coming from you, young man, it makes me feel like a young lady again...”
This makes her quite popular with the village children. Shenhua compares Kong Mei to Setsu Abe from the Abe Store in Sakuragaoka in Shenmue I when Ryo chooses to reflect about his childhood days buying candy with his friends.  Much like Abe-san, Kong Mei “has a dirty mouth, but the kids love her.” I imagine that those two things are somehow related...

Candy and snacks probably don't hurt either.
Candy and snacks probably don't hurt either.
The items on display are also of interest. Like at Tao Get, there is a large selection of alcoholic beverages ranging from beer to wine to liquor (no fifty-year lao jiu, sadly) that appears to be of a more high-end caliber than the fare found at the Bai Jiu stand outside. Unlike Uncle Tao, Kong Mei doesn't carry much in the way of medicinal remedies - at least not pickled beetles or snakes.  Nevertheless she carries a varied array items that villagers likely won't find anywhere else such as candy (Shenmue brand obviously), jewelry, textiles, and even some electronics! Yet arguably the most intriguing feature of Kong Mei's Store is hanging on the wall just inside.

The Movie Star (or Scarlet Plum Death Fist)


On the left-hand wall just as you enter the store is a poster for a kung fu movie. This poster can be found in a few other spots in the game with the Panda Arcade being the closest. Featured on the poster is a female martial artist in traditional martial arts gear – a purple top and white pants.  This martial artist also has her hair done up in two puffy side buns.

Hmmm....
Hmmm....
At first glance you might think that this looks just like Wei Zhen practicing over in Sunflower Grove, and it does. But you'd be wrong.

Ryo doesn't actually gain the ability to examine the store in detective mode until the point in the story in which he needs to track down some fifty-year lao jiu.  If Ryo examines the poster, then the player will be treated to this rather illuminating comment:

"This is a really old movie! Huh? Kong Mei?"
"This is a really old movie! Huh? Kong Mei?"
Well well! It looks like this tiny village has a celebrity!  For those wondering what the poster says, here is a rough translation (special thanks to Rydeen at the Shenmue Dojo forums for help on this!)
  • Top: “An Unprecedented Kung Fu Movie!
  • Left: “Starring Kong Mei”
  • Right: “Instant Death Scarlet(Crimson) Plum Fist”
    • The characters for 'scarlet plum' here can also be pronounced 'kong mei'
  • Bottom (Title in red): “Near Death (Deadly?) Games”
  • Bottom (white): “April 8th Shocking Release”
Those who have read Part II will recall that Kong Mei is ranked 4th Duan at Martial Hall - the highest rank any non-monk villager has attained aside from Grandmaster Feng and Master Sun. That the poster is actually of a young Kong Mei in her prime confirms she had serious skill - enough to be a legitimate action-movie star. How long ago was this movie made? The poster doesn't provide a year, and all we get from Ryo is that it is very old. That said, the Battle Rally DLC does include a year for Kong Mei's best times of 1928, and as risky as it might be to take the Battle Rally scores as canon (was Elder Yeh really that good?), 1928 would put Kong Mei in her late teens or early twenties, and that seems sensible.

Furthermore young Kong Mei's resemblance to Wei Zhen is likely not an accident. The game makes no explicit mention of this (as far as I know), but Wei Zhen almost certainly looks up to Kong Mei as a role model. It's entirely possible that as a young girl, seeing a woman from the same village reach such skill and fame at martial arts inspired Wei Zhen to take up learning them herself with Kong Mei's legacy as a guide - even to the point of imitation.

Summing up so far, in Kong Mei we have a strong-willed and highly-skilled Tai Chi practitioner with a storied history in Kung Fu cinema. Yet she now seems content to operate an unobtrusive store in the remote mountain village of her youth while raising a young boy. What changed? Could it simply be the combination of age and the oppressiveness of public stardom that inevitably befalls those in the limelight? Or is something else going on? Here's where things get really interesting.

A Legacy Lost (or The Simmering Dream)


Remember back in Part I where we examined the ema (wishing plaques) in Man Yuan Temple. One of the ema I highlighted at the time was Kong Mei's and I alluded to the fact that there might be more to it than meets the eye.

“I pray my grandson grows up strong and takes over the school.” - Kong Mei
“I pray my grandson grows up strong and takes over the school.” - Kong Mei
“I pray my grandson grows up strong and takes over the school.” The school now certainly refers to a Tai Chi school. That a grandmother would have expectations for her grandson to follow in her footsteps is hardly unusual. In Kong Mei's case, however, the legacy in question runs much deeper.

The first clue about this legacy is hiding in plain sight:
Kong Mei Goods
Kong Mei Goods
How curious that the character for 'Kong' used in the sign is not the same character as used on her nameplate in Martial Hall or in the old poster (the character is actually the same as the character for scarlet or crimson in 'Instant Death Scarlet Plum Fist')! What could be the reason behind the difference?

Ryo's first encounter with the thug leader, Yanlang, does not go well, to put it mildly. Waking up in Shenhua's house after being out cold for two days, Ryo decides that he needs to consult a martial arts expert who can teach him a way to counter Yanlang's impressive size and confusing movements. He then sets out to inquire in the village. Incidentally this is one of my favorite sections of the game. I can imagine that many players will immediately think of going to ask Grandmaster Feng and head straight over to Ternary Spring. I recommend against doing this and instead taking time to talk to all of the villagers.

It turns out that the news of Ryo's storming of the Hermit's nest has spread like wildfire throughout the village, and everyone has a unique opinion, ranging from disapproval in Ryo's taking Shenhua into such a dangerous situation alone to straight admiration. It is in this moment that the general attitude of the village towards Ryo grows from one of  wary curiosity to genuine acceptance. I think it's a pretty fantastic way to connect with the villagers. (I also recommend talking to everyone again after finally defeating Yanlang but before talking to Elder Yeh. A bit counter-intuitive, I know, but worth it.)

Anyway if you talk to Kong Mei at this point (if someone has recommended speaking to Feng already you will have the option to ask about him or talk about what happened at Hermit's Nest, pick the Hermit's Nest option) she will tell the following story:

"After my husband was assassinated, I inherited the legacy of Kong Tai Chi."
"After my husband was assassinated, I inherited the legacy of Kong Tai Chi."

"The reason why a different 'Kong' is on the sign is because I wanted to hide the true Kong name".
"The reason why a different 'Kong' is on the sign is because I wanted to hide the true Kong name".

"Until I pass on the secret of Kong Tai Chi to my grandkid, I can't come out in the open."
"Until I pass on the secret of Kong Tai Chi to my grandkid, I can't come out in the open."

"If only my husband had listened to Feng's warnings, things might have turned out different..."
"If only my husband had listened to Feng's warnings, things might have turned out different..."

Video clip of the conversation:

So now we have a former action-movie star who was forced into hiding after the assassination of her husband - himself a master in his own family style of Tai Chi - and is actively trying to groom her grandson to continue the family legacy and finally come out of hiding. Wow.

Of course now there are a number of tantalizing new questions. First I was curious about Kong Tai Chi. Is it a real style? As far as I've been able to determine this is most likely a fictionalized offshoot of the Chen Style that is practiced in Bailu (itself a real style known more for its martial aspect where other styles tend to be more exercise- and health-focused).

Who killed Kong Mei's husband and why? Could it have been the Chi You Men? What advice of Grandmaster Feng's did he ignore that lead to his untimely demise? What of their children? They are never mentioned. Were they killed as well?  There are no concrete answers to these questions as Kong Mei remains pretty tight-lipped on the details. It's clear, however, that whoever the killers are, the danger is not over yet. Kong Mei seems to be placing all of her hope in her young grandson, Kong Zhuang, to ultimately defeat this enemy. It's a hell of a burden to place on anyone let alone an easygoing little kid.

“I wish grammy wasn't so nagging.” - Kong Zhuang
“I wish grammy wasn't so nagging.” - Kong Zhuang
It's also clear to me that this story is meant as a warning - a parable on the perils of hubris and rushing half baked into danger alone.  Ryo would do well to learn this lesson.

Thanks for reading Bailu Village Secrets! There are so many more interesting character stories beyond what I've covered in these three posts. Some I've touched on a little and others I haven't mentioned at all.  I hope you all enjoyed reading and that some of you will be inspired to run through Shenmue III again - particularly if you just hit the main story beats the first time out. Thanks again to Switch for letting me post on Phantom River Stone. It's been an absolute blast writing these.

~Dave


About the Author

Dave Matthews aka SalsaShark has been an avid Shenmue fan since he first bought the game on Dreamcast (incidentally the first console he ever bought with his own money) back in 2000. 

To this day he's still working out the right words to describe just how much the series has impacted his life and philosophy for the past two decades. A long time lurker on the Shenmue Dojo forums, he has recently started actually posting, so feel free drop in and say hi!  He currently lives in Chicago, IL USA with his girlfriend and two friendly cats.
Many thanks to Dave for this series which reveals some fascinating secrets of life in Bailu Village! It has really opened my eyes to the depth of characterization and backstory in Shenmue III which is easily missed during casual gameplay. -Switch
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1 comment:

  1. That’s some redicilous attention to detail and back story! Thanks so much for sharing! The poster was very well investigated!!!

    ReplyDelete