Kansas City’s “first superhero” is set to debut on the big screen for a live audience Saturday evening at the Gem Theater — the first installment of a planned “Return of the Shihan” TV series from local filmmaker Victor Wilson, Jr.
Wilson — better known to many by his alter ego “Pudgy PoKCettz” — created the comedy series, unifying his longtime love for superhero movies, martial arts, and writing, he said.
“I’ve always been into imagination, creativity, and arts, and I’ve always surrounded myself with like-minded people who love the arts,” Wilson said. “When we come together, beautiful things can be created.”
“I just started writing, and next thing you know, a little thought turned into a big thought, and it just kept growing, like a snowball picking up speed and becoming an avalanche,” he added.
“Return of the Shihan” features a classic hero-villain dynamic, but centers the action in a more traditional setting — in this case, the neighborhoods of Kansas City.
Click here for tickets to the live screening, and watch a trailer for “Return of the Shihan” below. Note: The trailer contains depictions of violence and language some readers may find offensive.
Though the hero uses his superpowers to thwart his nemesis, Wilson said, the real power is found by choosing unity over division; a message he hopes sticks with everyone who watches the film.
“I know it’s cliche, but the children are the future, so we have to be really careful of what we show them,” Wilson said. “A person can come from this area and still make it out, but we don’t want the youth to have to fight those same battles. They have their own battles to fight, so let’s make it as easy for them as we can.”
Leave something (without leaving)
The mindset of laying a foundation for future generations to build upon is central to Wilson’s work, he said, referencing the mantra of his production company Pudgy Entertainment: “Say less, do more.”
“We want to build our own Hollywood, our own Marvel, our own DC. … We have everything that we need right here, right now, in Kansas City,” he said.
“That’s what Pudgy ENT. is all about: helping each other get to where we want to get to and then not leaving, but leaving it right here so that the youth and the people coming up behind us won’t have to build their own bridges,” Wilson continued. “They can walk over some of the bridges that we helped create.”
Cultivating that creative ecosystem in Kansas City — which Wilson described as having talent that is “second to none” — will allow for future generations of artists and creators to see that they can stay at home and be successful doing what they love, he said.
“For so long, people felt that they needed to leave and go to the bigger cities,” he said. “When they do that, you’re taking the oil that’s underneath the ground — the gold that’s underneath the ground — and moving it somewhere else. So now, the youth, when they’re growing up and see us doing it, then they’re going to be able to do it even better than what we did.”
Fueled by their hunger
Shawn Edwards, a film critic and executive producer, is set to host Saturday’s debut showing of “Return of the Shihan,” which begins at 6 p.m. at the Gem Theater in the 18th and Vine District.
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Edwards sees Wilson as one of many young Black filmmakers changing the landscape in Kansas City, he said, comparing the movement to the early days of Spike Lee and Robert Townsend.
“They’re creating their own pathway, in terms of filmmaking, all on their own,” Edwards said. “These guys don’t have a lot of money. These guys don’t have support. They’re outside of what we consider KC’s typical filmmaking community purview. They’re out here just taking film to the next level, presenting a new perspective and tossing out new ideas.”
Those fresh perspectives have Edwards excited about the future of filmmaking in Kansas City, he added.
“These guys are younger; they’re hungry; they’re aggressive; they’re creative as hell; and they’re unafraid,” Edwards said. “They’re willing to do whatever it takes to get their stories told. … It’s cool, because when you’re that hungry, you produce some incredible stuff.”
“They’re leveling the playing field, and I love that,” Edwards continued.
Edwards sees “Return of the Shihan” as having influence from Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino, as well as musical artists such as the Wu-Tang Clan.
For his part, Wilson cited Langston Hughes as his biggest source of personal artistic inspiration, and said he draws on Kobe Bryant’s “Mamba Mentality” in his approach to work and life.
“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Wilson said. “There will always be things that happen to throw you off your scheduled program, but you have to keep going.”
Because of that, he views Saturday’s debut as just that — a beginning of bigger things yet to come.
“There’s really no ending to this,” he said. “If you look at the Pudgy ENT. logo, you’ll see the Fibonacci sequence, because it continues. That’s where we are right now. … We want to keep that open.”