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that 'Kung-Fu Panda'(2008) was so successful in China that it caused a national debate on whyWesterners made a better film about Chinese culture than the Chinese themselves
'Kung Fu Panda'Hits A Sore Spot in China
Why a Quintessentially Chinese Movie Was Made in Hollywood
BEIJING --The blockbuster success of an American animated movie that's set in ancient China,highlights Chinese culture, mythology and architecture and stars a kung fufighting panda has filmmakers and ordinary Chinese wondering: Why wasn't thishit made . . . in China?
"KungFu Panda" follows a slacker panda named Po, who works in his father'snoodle shop and eventually fulfills his dream of becoming a kung fu fighter,and features the voices of Hollywood stars Jack Black and Angelina Jolie. Sofar it's taken in $350 million at theaters worldwide.
Many hereblame a lack of imagination that comes as a result of tight government controlsover the film industry and hypersensitivity over how China is portrayed to theoutside world. With a month to go before Beijing invites the world's attentionby hosting the Olympic Games Aug. 8 to 24, the conversation is a timelyreflection on whether China can view itself as the rest of the world sees it.
"It's veryordinary stuff for us, the story of 'Kung Fu Panda.' It appears in everyclassic story," says Huang Rui Lian, a sports marketing manager who joinedthe throngs of Chinese who saw the film over the weekend. Huang says sheenjoyed the film but was trying to explain why Chinese directors might not seethe subject matter as unusual enough to merit such feature-length treatment norsuch a box-office reception.
"Chineseare giving up the traditional culture left to us by our ancestors, that's whyno one cares about what we have," says Wang Huamin, 26, a money manager."Directors don't cherish the culture, and audiences want to watch Westernthings, so people don't think there's a big market for films about Chineseculture. Our education system only focuses on students' ideology instead ofencouraging them to be creative. If we only watch ourselves from our position,we can't get the whole picture."
Wang says hedid not regret that Americans had come up with "Kung Fu Panda" first."Why shouldn't we allow foreigners to make these kinds of movies? Sooneror later, Chinese people will realize that the best things we have are thethings we already have."
"I waslooking for flaws, but it was very authentic," Huang says. "Kung FuPanda's" filmmakers consulted experts on Chinese culture to shape thecontent and look of the film, according to DreamWorks Animation.
"KungFu Panda" has earned $19.29 million in China between its June 21 openingand July 6, making it a box-office smash by Chinese standards.
Some viewershave said the only reason China hasn't come out with something similar is alack of money ("Kung Fu Panda" cost more than $130 million to make;Chinese-produced films tend to cost less than $1.5 million) oranimation-technology know-how.
But many areleaving comments on online bulletin boards, such as this remark by an anonymoususer on QQ.com, a popular online community: "If people are educated onlyto pass exams, then it's very hard to be imaginative. Nowadays, this is an era whenpeople are only stymied by a lack of imagination, not a lack of ability."
Wu Kaidi, acollege student who saw the film last weekend, says many Chinese are so busy worshipingWestern trends that they overlook their own culture. "Spectators alwayssee a chess game better than the players," Wu says. "So as Chinese,we can't always catch the characteristics of China. I agree that Chinese peopleshould try to observe themselves from outside in order to get the essence ofour culture."
Even anadvisory body to China's parliament debated why China hadn't been first withsuch a big hit using Chinese themes. "The film's protagonist is China'snational treasure and all the elements are Chinese, but why didn't we make sucha film?" the president of the National Peking Opera Company, Wu Jiang,told the official New China News Agency last Saturday.
Wu wasspeaking at a meeting of the standing committee of the Chinese People'sPolitical Consultative Committee, which in the end urged the government torelax its controls to further open China's cultural market.
"Icannot help wondering when China will be able to produce a movie of thiscaliber," award-winning film director Lu Chuan said in an essay in thestate-run China Daily newspaper last week. Lu is known for his 2004 film"Mountain Patrol," about efforts to save the Tibetan antelope fromextinction. He said he had been invited to make an animated film for theOlympics, but eventually quit because of too much government interference.
"I keptreceiving directions and orders on how the movie should be like," Lu saidin his essay. "The fun and joy from doing something interesting left us,together with our imagination and creativity."
In anotherstate-run news article, CPPCC member and TV producer Chen Jianguo said Chinashould pay more attention to "foreign psychology" and Western habitsof television-watching to better understand and break into Western mainstreammarkets.
Chineseanimated films tend to be more educational in nature and heavy withsignificance, but short on entertaining detail, "Kung Fu Panda"viewers say. Local directors would not have had the imagination to make Po'sfather a duck. Nor would they dare to portray a panda -- a cultural icon inChina -- as lazy and fat as Po when "Kung Fu Panda" begins.
Foreignerswho make cultural missteps are often accused of hurting the feelings of theChinese people.
"If youasked a Chinese to make this movie, the panda needs to be lovable but in aperfect sense," said Sun Lijun, a professor of animation at the BeijingMovie Institute, in the July 10 issue of Oriental Outlook magazine. "Inthe end, he would be so perfect he would be unlovable."