The Man Who Laughs: Chai From “Shenmue”

I think it’s safe to assume we’ve all had a boogeyman that haunted us as kids. Whether human or inanimate objects, there’s always something that made everyone, even the toughest bullies on the playground, scared to death. You probably had a creepy toy a relative bought you. You knew an angry homeless man outside the Shop Rite. Lost sleep over a scary monster in a movie. Your mom watched Rosie O’Donnell.

For me, my boogeyman came in the form of thousands of polygons created in Japan and sent over to give me nightmares because Japan is just that cruel. I bought Shenmue on the Sega Dreamcast when I was 8, influenced by my sister’s boyfriend at the time. I didn’t appreciate the real scope of the game until my later years: ’twas a work of cinematic and storytelling perfection as told in an untapped medium. It was a classic Japanese revenge tale set in the 20th century (1986). A young man, Ryo Hazuki, hunts down the triad kingpin Lan Di that murdered his father in cold blood. And I was on that journey with Ryo. Hell, I was Ryo. Lan Di killed my father. He will be prepared to die.

AND THEN I GOT INTERRUPTED BY THIS CREEPY MOTHERFUCKER.

AAAAAAAHH!!!

Chai was a low-ranking member of a gang you cross paths within the story of the game. He has his own motivations and they crossed with Ryo’s self-imposed mission. Ryo didn’t know he’d get into this situation, but it was something he started and he was determined to finish it, no matter who stood in his way.

Chai is well known amongst fans as, well, creepy. He is like the unholy product of Gollum, Freddy Kruger, and (an evil) Sun Wukong. Try not to think who would conceive the baby. He snarled, yelled, spoke in vague terms, ate your God damn ticket to Hong Kong, and laughed in your face.

I stopped playing the game about a month or two after I got it because Ryo Hazuki, aka FUCKING ME, would encounter Chai at an increasingly alarming rate as his role got bigger in the story, and that was something that I as an 8-year-old could not stand doing. Whenever he was onscreen his chilling theme would play. The music opened with an out-of-tune recorder (I think it’s a recorder) and it made me piss my pants every time.

My mom being the good mother she is told me to stop playing for awhile after I encountered this particular part of the game and wouldn’t stop crying. It was that serious. (Note: The scenario had two endings. You could win or lose, and since my hands were too busy handling my face and my tears, I obviously lost. The video below features the winning scenario.)

Shenmue is, in my opinion, still one of the greatest games of all time. Its ambition was hindered by its technological limits, and Yu Suzuki’s creation went under appreciated by the mass market. It was praised by those who played it, but virtually unknown to anyone else who didn’t. So when I tell people that I was scared of Chai, I had to answer several more questions.

“Who is Chai?”

“Where is he from?”

“Sha-moo?”

“What’s a Dreamcast?”

I eventually became irritated that no one I knew could share in my fear. Normally that would scare people even more. I could have been a guy that sees the ghost no one else does–WHAT IS THAT OVER THERE?!!?!?!–and is the only one left fighting his own fight. But instead, I just got pissed and realized being scared wasn’t worth it.

I wouldn’t finish the game until I was 13. One afternoon, long after I stopped being scared of a video game character, I dusted off my Dreamcast and plugged it in. I started a new game from scratch and played. Soon enough, encountering Chai wasn’t a problem.

Which was a good thing because he was the FINAL BOSS.

Finishing something you started is always a good feeling. It’s especially good after a long hiatus. To have finally conquered my fear, I felt like I grew more as a person. I was 13 at the time, and I felt something bigger that I achieved that weekend. I had finally brushed off my childhood fear. Granted, I still retained much of what I loved as a kid, mainly the positives, but all the other ugliness I finally felt like I could deal with them.

One of the themes that I interpreted of Shenmue was growing up. Ryo, at 17, sought revenge against Lan Di, a very adult and somewhat archaic thing for a 17-year-old to be thinking about with his life ahead of him. Subconsciously, I too was on my revenge, my own journey. I decided to end what I didn’t know I had begun.

The defeat of Chai by my hands and the conquering of Shenmue was, to me, more than just finishing a game; I was finishing my childhood. I closed the door and sealed the lock on what I thought was unfinished business. I conquered what scared me, I ended what I thought could not be finished. Just two years before I finished Shenmue, I began to watch pro wrestling, something I often attribute to my growing up, or at the very least the beginning of wanting to be more “adult.” My showdown with Chai was the culmination of childhood and the dawn of adolescence.

I conquered the man who laughed. And I haven’t looked back since.

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2 comments

  1. Ian Kershaw · · Reply

    I felt exactly the same! I used to have nightmares about this crazy bastard for years ;( I couldn’t fight Chai unless someone was in the room with me lol! I’m a bit late but I thought I would comment, good read man.

    1. Haha, I knew I couldn’t have been the only one! Looking back my fear was kind of silly, and admittedly Chai is a great-looking villain. If he didn’t intimidate or strike fear in anyone, he’d be a pathetic antagonist.

      It’s never too late, sir! Thanks for reading!

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