Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Protector in Pink


Johur Baru, Johor, Malaysia, November 1997

The man observed that the shopping centre was abuzz with excitement over the Saturday event that has drawn several children and their families from across the city and neighboring towns. And no wonder. The main stage in the promenade, normally reserved for local musical performances, was under attack by two alien mutant monsters from outer space – each almost a towering two metres tall! One appeared to be half-man, half turtle; the other half-man, half lobster. While both monsters looked utterly grotesque, the bright colors of their foam rubber bodies made them appear not too scary for the youngest of the younger crowd.

Fortunately, the monsters’ evil scheme to destroy the weekend afternoon commerce was about to be thwarted by flashes of red, blue, black, pink, and yellow that leapt, cartwheeled, and somersaulted onto the stage. The speeding arrivals surrounded the monsters, each pausing in a fighting stance so the cheering crowd of over two hundred onlookers can have a good look at the brightly colored spandex-and-lyrca outfits of the six fully masked super sentai heroes that most of the kids had instantly recognized as the Power Rangers.

However, the quintet was not the actual Power Rangers from the television programme or the fairly recent movie. In fact, those with a keen eye can see that the uniforms, while in the correct colors, were not quite the same as their on-screen counterparts. The diamond motif had been replaced with ovals, and the dinosaur patterns of the helmets appeared to be more bug-like. 

That was because the five heroes and two monsters on stage were not officially licensed Power Ranger or Zyuranger performers like the ones that toured in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore a few years ago. They were actually the Sentai Seven, a quasi-professional performing troupe comprised of seven very talented martial artists and acrobats from Singapore, Malaysia, and Australia who presented live Power-Ranger-like shows at local events throughout Southeast Asia – usually to draw in customers to drum up local business, which they no doubt were doing for the shops and eateries in that J.B. shopping centre that day.

(Now that I had made clear the fact of who these heroes are not, please note that, to allow for ease of writing, this post will continue to refer to these performers as “Rangers” since that was who they were supposed to represent. Please keep in mind that at this particular event, or at any other Sentai Seven show, they could not officially – nor legally – be referred to as such.)

This had actually been the first time the Sentai Seven (referred only as “your kids’ favorite heroes” during the show and in the event adverts) had performed in Malaysia in a number of years. The troupe was quite popular when the “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” programme had taken the country (as it did the world) by storm on Radio Television Malaysia (RTM) 2. That was before a few parents and government officials were concerned that the show would have a negative influence on children because the word “Morphin’” in the title sounded like “morphine”– and that would somehow encourage impressionable young minds to want to abuse drugs. So the programme was banned from Malaysia for a time, and the troupe decided to perform in other countries at that point.

That meant the children had to get their Super Sentai fix either by watching the Japanese programme, “Choushinsei Flashman,” dubbed in Malay on RTM1, or settling for the (thankfully) short-lived chintzy American knockoff television series, “Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters from Beverly Hills,” on Metrovision 8.

The ban did not last too long, however. Eventually, the movie based on the “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” series was allowed to be screened in local theatres with the shortened title, “Power Rangers: The Movie.” The television programme was soon allowed back on the air when it followed the same naming convention. And now that the show had returned, so too had the Sentai Seven.

The man was at the shopping center event, of course, enjoying an exclusive vantage point of the show. He was paying particular attention on the movements of the performer who portrayed the doppelgänger of the Yellow Ranger Trini – and with good reason.

(No, not that reason). 

Since the man worked for the advertising agency that served the property management company for the shopping centre, and was good friends with the centre’s event organizer, he was able to meet the troupe performers and watch them practice their routine (both in costume and in athletic sweatsuits) earlier that week. He remembered the horrible moment when he saw the sweet young woman who was the Yellow Ranger of the troupe accidentally fall against the edge of a raised platform during practice and tear her clavicle loose, just three days before the show.

The remaining “Sentai Six” were scrambling to figure out how to best restructure the choreography with one less performer, when the event organizer had a suggestion for a potential fill-in. A few calls were made, and the candidate was auditioning at the troupe’s practice area later that afternoon. The candidate had promising skills, but admitted to having not practiced in several months, and was thus “a bit rusty.” However, the candidate would work as a viable stand-in with only a few minor cuts to the choreography, limiting the new Yellow Ranger’s routine to martial arts only and no acrobatics beyond breakfalls. Further, the man, a Yondan in Aikido, was willing to work long hours with the troupe in order to train the candidate to be ready for the show in time.

In addition to lacking some acrobatic skill, the candidate was also not quite as… built as the original performer, but that was easily fixed with a bit of strategically placed padding.

On the shopping center stage, the entire Ranger team pretended to be knocked backward by a broad sweep of the Turtle-Man’s arm, eliciting first a collective gasp of shock from the kids in the crowd – and then a communal cheer as the Rangers all used rolling breakfalls to immediately right themselves back on their feet, ready to resume the fight.

The man silently winced as he noticed the Yellow Ranger tip slightly after standing from the ushiro ukemi. Despite his and the troupe’s best efforts during the long two days of the stand-in’s intensive training and practice, the padding still threw the new performer’s balance off a touch. This was soon further evidenced by the Yellow Ranger’s roundhouse kick, aimed to intentionally miss the side of the Turtle Man’s face, accidentally connecting with his right shoulder, actually knocking him to the padded stage floor.

The Yellow Ranger immediately pulled the opponent up to a standing position by the scruff of the foam rubber turtle shell. Before the audience could register what the man knew was a brief check that the fallen actor was unhurt, the yellow-clad performer mimed an overelaborate bowling throw as the Turtle Man somersaulted off-stage in simulated defeat.

Aside from that small hiccup, which was very likely perceived by the crowd as a normal part of the act, the performance went swimmingly. In fact, the final act of all five Rangers vanquishing the threat of the Lobster-man, which climaxed with the monster disappearing from the stage (a magician technique using flash powder, a smoke machine, and the aforementioned raised platform with a built-in trap door), was well-received by the applauding audience.


Shortly after the performance, there was a “meet and greet” session that was originally supposed to have the kids line up to shake the hands of each of the “Rangers” in succession as they moved across the stage, but it quickly reverted to a disorderly mob of kids and adults flocking around the troupe to shake hands and take pictures of the team of masked heroes. 

One person among the crowd behind the heroes had a different reason for being on the stage.

As soon as the man realized what was happening, the rest of the crowd was suddenly made aware via the sound of a loud male scream. They all then saw the Pink Ranger twisting the right hand of a surprised 30-something-year-old Indian male, as she forced him backward through the quickly parting crowd, and roughly shoved him against a nearby pillar at the back of the stage. The Yellow Ranger followed closely behind.

The greasy-haired, lightly mustached male was clearly three times the weight of the Pink Ranger, and even though that extra mass can be considered more flab than muscle, he could have easily knocked down the Pink Ranger with a little leverage. The only thing that was preventing the male from doing so was the pain of his hand bones, which the man could see were straining toward the point of dislocation in the Pink Ranger’s gloved grasp.

The Malay security guard assigned to accompany the troupe quickly approached the two Rangers and inquired what was going on. Before they could respond, a young boy at the front of the crowd pointed to the Yellow Ranger and said in Malay, “He grabbed her backside. He grabbed her backside."

The yellow-clad stand-in did not understand Malay, but soon nodded in agreement when the guard asked in English to confirm what the Indian man did.

Two additional shopping centre security guards, altered by the Indian’s scream, soon arrived and escorted the molester off the premises, but not until they had first spent several minutes attempting to convince the two Rangers that the incident was most likely “a simple misunderstanding.” When that did not work, the guards assured the Rangers that they will bar him from the property and that there was no need to waste time filing a police report. 

The man gave a scornful look to both the departing pervert and his security guard escorts. He knew from experience that filing a police report would indeed be a waste of time…


Later, the man joined the troupe in a reserved private area behind the shopping center offices that included changing rooms.

The Yellow Ranger turned to the pink counterpart and whispered, “Thank you again for dealing with that… molester…”

The Pink Ranger removed her helmet, and the attractive, mid-30s Singaporean-Chinese performer underneath gave her yellow counterpart a wide smile. ”No problem,” she said, arching an eyebrow. “After all, we girls have to stick together, right?”

The Yellow Ranger stiffened slightly at the question before removing the helmet of the uniform, revealing the perspiring face of Xum Yukinori.

“Indeed,” the man in the padded yellow uniform smiled back. He handed the pink heroine a towel and a bottle of water from the stock provided for the troupe on a small side table. He hesitantly asked, “Does that… sort of thing… happen to you often?”

The Pink Ranger performer pushed back the bangs of her short-cropped dark hair so she could dab her sweaty forehead lightly with the towel. “More often than you’d think,” she said with a bit of sadness, draping the towel over her shoulder. She then cracked another smile as she cracked open the water bottle. “The price for having a great backside, I suppose. But that doesn’t mean we have to agree to pay.”

The man nodded. He was still very disappointed that the molester was essentially led out with only a warning from the guards. But he did have some satisfaction that his pink-clad protector had brought that pervert’s sneaky actions out into the open. Perhaps the public humiliation, from both being discovered and the physical retaliation, will make that person reconsider ever trying to touch a woman improperly again.

Perhaps.

The rest of the troupe had already gone into the male dressing room. The man decided to wait a few moments before following suit. All of the male performers had at one time or another made cat-calls at the man in jest when he first put on the chest padding and the yellow uniform. And now through the dressing room door he can hear them all having a good laugh about him being so “sexy” that some casual pervert actually groped him.

The Pink Ranger could hear them too. “They are such boys…” she remarked.

A realization struck the man. He gestured toward the gents’ changing room. “Um, they don’t treat you like…”

The Singaporean woman shook her head. “Oh, no. The may be boys, but they are good boys. They just like to make fun at you putting on boobs.” She paused, and her playful voice now had a serious tone. “But they are all very glad that you did so to fill in for Phaik-Seng… as am I. So thank you, Xum.”

“It was my pleasure. I hope Phaik-Seng has a successful recovery.”

The woman in pink nodded, then turned toward the female dressing room. “You can change in here, if you wish,” she offered. “After I am done, of course.”

“Thank you, but the gents’ will be fine,” the man replied. “I’ve faced worse than ‘those boys’…”

The woman turned to face the man. “I know,” she said flatly. “I saw those marks on you during practice.”

There was a long pause, and the man hoped the performer in pink would not ask about the circumstances behind the few but noticeable scars on his body, which his loose practice shirt apparently did not conceal. Fortunately, his silent wish was granted.

The woman finally spoke. “Well, you watch your backside, Xum. You will not always have someone else watching it for you.” She then disappeared behind the female dressing room door.


It would be hours after the man had changed and said a final goodbye to the Sentai Seven, while enjoying an after-supper Kopi O Peng at a hawker stall near his hotel, that he would realize there may had been a deeper meaning to the Pink Ranger’s words. He briefly wondered if the reason she caught the molester’s action was because she was already looking at his backside... 

And then, just as quickly, the man pushed that ridiculous thought out of his head.

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