‘Kung Fu Panda’ Sparks Culture Conflicts

Society & Culture — By on June 3, 2011 7:08 am

Kung Fu Panda Movie

Moviegoers encountered a variety of decorations during opening weekend in Beijing of 'Kung Fu Panda 2', including cardboard cutouts, panda plush dolls, and a theater employee dressed as Po, the main movie character. Photo by Alex Endress

By Alex Endress
For ChinaInFocus

Amid loud but limited public protests by several Chinese critics, families flocked to the Huaxing Ultimate Movie Experience Cineplex in Beijing on June 1, Children’s Day, to catch the newly released Kung Fu Panda 2.

Avant-guard Chinese artist Zhao Bandi and Peking University professor Kong Qingdong are campaigning against the film, calling on moviegoers to boycott the flick and for theaters to offer less show times for it. In a May 30 letter to the public posted on his blog, Zhao wrote:

Kung Fu Panda 2 is a movie using Chinese elements in the name of Chinese culture, but it teases the Chinese people.” Zhao, who uses pandas to inspire his work, added: “Their purpose is to make money and propagandize American culture, replacing Chinese culture.”

Zhao has been protesting since the first release of Kung Fu Panda in 2008. Despite his efforts, which also include placing advertisements in Chinese newspapers, the first movie earned $110 million RBM in China ($17 million).

In the recent installment’s first three days, Huaxing UME raked in 1.3 million RMB ($200,000) in box-office sales, according to Zhang Li, Commercial Manager for the theater. Zhang has not heard of the protests by Zhao and Kong, but believes the film is a hit among Chinese.

“The impression of Chinese culture by the movie is very accurate,” Zhang said. “Animals the director chose, such as tigers and peacocks, are symbols of China.” Zhang said she anticipates their will be a third Kung Fu Panda production following the success Kung Fu Panda 2.

“Fun is just fun,” said Zhou Ruihui, whose son admired a variety of panda décor, as they waited to see the latest Kung Fu Panda. “It shouldn’t be that complicated.”

Zhou admitted that the first movie, while interesting, was not traditionally accurate because it displayed a Western image of the Chinese.

“I think Chinese culture can be showed in multiple ways, not only traditional ways,” said Zhou. “It’s not offensive.”

In an attempt to create a more culturally accurate look for the new film, DreamWorks production designer Raymond Zibach took much of the story’s environment from photos around China, including the Forbidden City, Pingyao, Chengdu and Mt. Qingcheng. Animation from the film is also based on the movements of a live baby panda at a Chengdu breeding facility, as well as a kung fu master from Mt. Qingcheng.

Meanwhile, Kung Fu Panda critic Zhou posted his most recent advertisement in different Chinese newspapers such as Xin Jingbao. It features Zhou wearing a panda hat and holding a Po [the movie's main character] doll by the neck, encouraging viewers to join him in stopping the “American cultural invasion.”

While explicit, the image appears not to have changed many moviegoers’ minds, at least so far. Total revenue for the film in China is projected to reach 600 million RMB ($92 million).

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  1. Siyu Qian says:

    If Chinese movie directors make a film about panda, it may probably better express the meaning of panda as a cultural symbolic in China. To our disappoint, no one in China does so. Some Chinese people just wait until American movie makers use the idea of panda and then protest it. They still haven’t realize where is the point-if we don’t show our culture by ourselves, some one else will do. There is no reason to blame others and it won’t help either.

  2. I wonder what exactly is distasteful here? Is it the intrusive, heavy marketing of children which is so blatant in the US? After all, you wouldn’t get many parents to say they were all that crazy for Ronald McDonald.