July 13th, 2008

Ommm, Second Life, Howitzer

Culture Shock: Kung Fu Panda

Dreamworks is Really Tyrell Corporation: Kung Fu Panda More China Than China

Chinese animated films tend to be more educational in nature and heavy with significance, but short on entertaining detail, "Kung Fu Panda" viewers say. Local directors would not have had the imagination to make Po's father a duck. Nor would they dare to portray a panda -- a cultural icon in China -- as lazy and fat as Po when "Kung Fu Panda" begins.

Foreigners who make cultural missteps are often accused of hurting the feelings of the Chinese people.

"If you asked a Chinese to make this movie, the panda needs to be lovable but in a perfect sense," said Sun Lijun, a professor of animation at the Beijing Movie Institute, in the July 10 issue of Oriental Outlook magazine. "In the end, he would be so perfect he would be unlovable."

This intritgues me. I was wondering how the movie would play in China -- if it would be dismissed as just a big ball of stereotypes. The best-case response I foresaw was amused tolerance.

I did not expect waves of enthusiasm combined with a shocked awareness that barbarian outsiders had made a better movie about China than China could.

This is, incidentally, one of those movies that could only work because it's furry. Yes, the Cute Talking Animals genre has been overplayed in CGI -- but that doesn't mean it's anywhere near tapped.