Chinese movie-goers have been debating a lot recently about whether they were shamed by the new hit U.S cartoon comedy "Kung Fu Panda" -- despite most viewers admitting they laughed throughout the film.
The center of the debate about the Dreamworks Animation release focused on who should be entitled to the right to promote the distinctly Chinese animal. "All elements in the movie are distinctive of Chinese but why was it presented by foreigners?" A netizen asked in an on-line posting.
One side of the debate was led by mainland pioneer artist Zhao Bandi who, despite admitting to have not seen the film, proposed a boycott.
He said the movie "had stolen China's national treasure and its martial art to make up an old-fashioned encouragement piece and make money in a country having been hit hard by a massive quake." They "glare like tigers eyeing (Chinese) people's wallet."
His supporters said the movie was a sheer cultural invasion.
Another netizen wrote on tom.com that the clumsy panda, though funny enough, was an insult to the bear's original image that should be handsome and sentimental.
"That Hollywood-ugly bear cannot well suit the name and status of the panda. Poor children! You are greatly amused by such a distorted image," he said.
Despite the controversy, "Kung Fu Panda," created by the bankable directing team of John Stevenson and Mark Osborne, was a box office hit in China. The movie premiered last Thursday in Beijing and was released nationwide the following day, except in the quake-hit southwestern Sichuan Province. The postponement there was aimed to "appease the survivors" of the May 12 quake that had killed nearly 70,000, officials said.
By Sunday, its box office had exceeded 38 million yuan (5.4 million U.S. dollars) domestically. Most parts of Sichuan were able to watch the film over the weekend.
Statistics show "Panda," featuring the voices of such actors as Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu and Hong Kong martial arts superstar Jackie Chan, among others, had surpassed the take of any other foreign release in China in the first half of the year, a new high for cartoon movies in the country.
Entertainment critic Tian Jinshuang said the movie had made many Chinese martial art movie directors feel ashamed. "Westerners fiercely slammed the face of the Chinese movie industry with its own Chinese culture."
But Tian disagreed with the boycott. "It's sheer nationalism to do that." He said the movie contained the abundant spirit of martial arts which was presented with innovation.
The superior master Wugui, a turtle, in the movie was like an eastern Buddhist, or Lao Tse, a philosopher in ancient China, said Tian. "The lack of confidence in China's movie industry gives rise to the boycott."
"I suggest those who boycott it watch the movie themselves before voicing an opinion. If the boycott is about 'Panda' producers making money in China, I suggest its investors donate the box office takings to China's quake zone."
The film about a panda in ancient China who becomes an unlikely martial-arts hero, vividly presented such cultural elements as kung fu, panda, noodles, the distinct landscape, shadowboxing, temple fairs, calligraphy and acupuncture, among others.
A posting on Zhejiang Online said, "In the current opening world, anything, no matter domestic or abroad, that could meet the cultural demands of the young, and could encourage or inspire them, should be introduced to the country."
It said it's unnecessary to boycott unless China has its own cartoon films that can greatly amuse the audience and promote the culture.
"Pandas belong to Sichuan, the Chinese nation as well as the whole world. Everyone is entitled to enjoy the fruit of the world heritage. We should focus more on how to protect and make reasonable the use of our panda, but not on who makes use of it," it said.
Chinese writer Han Han, who gained fame via his writing talent at a very young age as a member of the post-1980s' generation, said backward techniques were not an important reason on people didn't love to watch Chinese cartoon, but instead the lack of originality and creativity made them turn to Western-made cartoons.
"How to make cartoon figures more adorable, but not a teaching face behind which adults hide themselves," Han said, citing "Mulan," a 1998 animated Walt Disney feature. It was based on the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan, a girl who disguised herself as a man to fight on the battlefield in ancient China for her father and country.
"The U.S.-made 'Mulan,' which was completely a Chinese story, also reaped a windfall across the globe," he said.
Observers believe pandas, monkeys and dragons were all suitable for cartoon production and could be "Chinese cultural ambassadors" across the world.
"But why do Chinese artists not try such an art creation themselves?" wrote one on-line columnist. "It only exposes the (domestic) industry's limited vision and the shortage of creativity and a deep understanding of the culture."
(Xinhua News Agency June 26, 2008)