Hindu Vivek Kendra
«« Back
China's toon trouble

China's toon trouble

Author: Mark Magnier
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: August 3, 2008
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/story/343800.html

Introduction: The panda is a national symbol of China but Kung Fu Panda could never be made there

If there was ever a subject tailor-made for China's film industry, it would seem to be Kung Fu Panda. The panda is a national symbol, kung fu was developed here, China is all the rage globally and animation is a state priority. Then along comes Hollywood and turns the story of a panda who dreams of becoming a kung fu master into a global blockbuster-and the most successful animated film in Chinese history. Sure, DreamWorks animation added its own touches-the panda's father is a goose and there's a bra made of noodle bowls-but the film has prompted soul-searching here. Why couldn't we do this?

Competing against Hollywood is never easy. But filmmakers in China shoulder some heavy baggage. Consider the protagonist, Po. The idea of making a film in which the hero, a Chinese national symbol, is a bit of a slouch just doesn't wash. Chinese film heroes are generally long on perfection and short on foibles. And they don't have Po's willpower problem, eating disorders or tendency to run from danger.

"Given the political overlay," said Stan Rosen, director of the East Asian Studies Center at the University of Southern California, "if you start off with a fat, lazy panda, a national symbol, someone is bound to come along and say, 'we can't give an image to the world that China is fat and lazy.'"

Then there's basic biology. How could a panda have green eyes and a goose for a father? "Our education system doesn't give rein to imagination," said Zhou Liming, a film critic. "It usually tries to curb it."

Also on the no-no list is raciness-for instance, Po's joking use of noodle bowls to simulate breasts. Another creative gap centres on the film's portrayal of teachers. The idea that Po would lift a hand to his kung fu teacher, a raccoon named Shifu, is beyond the pale in Confucian China.

"If Kung Fu Panda were produced in China, audiences would be sniping at the director for not setting a good example," said Cao Sidong, a movie critic and promoter. Some experts blame China's lack of animation success on small film budgets, less advanced technology and the widespread availability of pirated DVDs.

Others express frustration with censorship rules. In 2006, film director Lu Chuan agreed to produce 100 five-minute cartoons for the 2008 Beijing Olympics built around the five fuwa, or friendly children, mascots-one of which is a panda. One script called for a fuwa to act badly, realise his mistake and be redeemed. When Lu submitted it to censors and the Beijing Olympic Committee, however, it was rejected as too negative, he said, as were virtually all of the other 99 mini-plots. "Every character had to be perfect," Lu said. "It was impossible to create anything. I didn't want to waste two years on this propaganda, so I quit."

The industry's lacklustre results come despite Beijing's support for the animation industry. This year, the government has doled out more than $28 million in animation subsidies and preferential financing. It has banned foreign cartoons during prime-time hours.

At the Beijing Crystal Film & Animation company, 270 programmers manipulate digital martial arts masters and busty maidens. Producer Li Zhenhua's cursor deftly jumps between split screens as he creates ancient warriors. The company churns out 1,500 minutes' worth of feature films and video games annually. But none of its projects has anything close to Kung Fu Panda's four-year development period, $130-million budget or blockbuster success.

"Kung Fu Panda was a terrific movie," Li said, "We need to learn from Hollywood."

Back                          Top

«« Back
  Search Articles
  Special Annoucements