Po Power for Panda Film
Disney fashions a modern-day icon of girl power with its animated adaptation of the 2,000-year-old Chinese folktale Mulan in 1998, which awed the viewers from around the world.
A decade later, similarly stunning animation by DreamWorks explores the splendours of Chinese culture and landscape through martial arts cartoon Kung Fu Panda.
The film is a perfect combination of the two most famous Chinese elements--panda and kungfu.
With a colourful cast of animal warriors, the film is believed to be a great choice to launch a summer that will culminate in the spectacle of the Beijing Olympics.
The Hollywood film, set in mysterious China, was made by a mostly non-Asian creative team. With that in mind, there are many ways this film has the potential to go wrong.
But Kung Fu Panda comes as love letter, or tribute to Chinese kungfu and the country's profound culture, say first-time feature film directors John Stevenson and Mark Osborne.
"Po is not an American panda, or a Hollywood panda. Po is a panda belonging to the world," Stevenson says.
Transforming a panda into a kungfu fighter to save a threatened village in ancient times is essentially the entire movie.
The lazy and irreverent panda, Po (voiced by Jack Black), must somehow become a kungfu master in order to save the Valley of Peace from a villainous snow leopard, Tai Lung.
Set in the legendary world of ancient China, the story of Po--an unlikely hero--enters the rigid world of kungfu and turns it upside down. Po ultimately becomes a hero by learning that if he believes in himself, he can do anything.
Although the storyline screams traditional Hollywood--where the most unlikely character becomes the ultimate hero in order to save the world--the directors did incorporate Chinese philosophy in the film: the belief in oneself.
"'Be your own hero', which means don't look outside of yourself for the answer. Don't expect someone else to make things right. You are empowered to achieve anything you want, if you set your mind to it. Be the best that you can be," says Stevenson.
Prior to its release, the movie had been in the works for over 10 years.
"I love martial arts movies, particularly Wuxia martial arts films more than the contemporary Bruce Lee type of films because of the magical, mystical lands--and some of the heroism where people do great heroic deeds," says Stevenson. "So, we thought of the panda, the most symbolic character of China to be the main hero, when we were faced with the storyline."
Chinese marital arts stars Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Bruce Lee and even Stephen Chow, were all used as models for the action designers when they put together the kungfu action scenes. According to one director, a scene was derived from one of Jackie Chan's films. In another scene, Po's facial expressions resemble those of Stephen Chow.
"We have invited Jackie Chan to watch these scenes. When he laughs, we know we got it," says Stevenson.
Another interesting character in the film is Monkey, which is also inspired by Jackie Chan. The character is fast, unpredictable and funny.
"Usually I mix comic elements and kungfu together--like a monkey jumping up and down, playing lots of acrobatics," says Jackie Chan. "I used my kungfu skills when I did the voice part."
In keeping with the filmmakers' reverence for kungfu, they chose their own "Furious Five": Monkey, Mantis, Crane, Viper and Tigress, as animal incarnations of some actual martial art fighting styles.
"Typically, in the past, in a kungfu movie, you see a human imitating an animal doing those fighting styles, but this is the first time anyone's ever actually seen these animals executing the fighting styles from which they derive their names," says Stevenson.
In response to a question about whether the made-in-Hollywood panda Po would be welcomed by the Chinese viewers, Zhou Keqin, the former director of Shanghai Animation Film Studio, gave a positive comment.
"Panda is the Chinese national treasure, so we have a special affection for the lovely animal," Zhou says. "The image design from Hollywood is their understanding of panda, which is different from us in terms of sketching techniques and the panda's personality."
Like other Hollywood animations, Kung Fu Panda features the voices of A-list Hollywood stars Jack Black (Po), Dustin Hoffman (Master Shifu), Angelina Jolie (Tiger) as well as Chinese action star Jackie Chan (Monkey) and American-born-Chinese actress Lucy Liu (Snake Viper).
"It is certainly a good thing, and reflects attention from the world of an understanding Chinese culture," says Lu Shengzhang, dean of animation at the Communication University of China. "Because we Chinese have our understanding of the animal--it is really hard to predict how popular the film will be in China."
China Daily, ANN
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