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'Kung Fu Panda' Hits A Sore Spot in China

Even an advisory body to China's parliament debated why China hadn't been first with such a big hit using Chinese themes. "The film's protagonist is China's national treasure and all the elements are Chinese, but why didn't we make such a film?" the president of the National Peking Opera Company, Wu Jiang, told the official New China News Agency last Saturday.

Wu was speaking at a meeting of the standing committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Committee, which in the end urged the government to relax its controls to further open China's cultural market.

"I cannot help wondering when China will be able to produce a movie of this caliber," award-winning film director Lu Chuan said in an essay in the state-run China Daily newspaper last week. Lu is known for his 2004 film "Mountain Patrol," about efforts to save the Tibetan antelope from extinction. He said he had been invited to make an animated film for the Olympics, but eventually quit because of too much government interference.

"I kept receiving directions and orders on how the movie should be like," Lu said in his essay. "The fun and joy from doing something interesting left us, together with our imagination and creativity."

In another state-run news article, CPPCC member and TV producer Chen Jianguo said China should pay more attention to "foreign psychology" and Western habits of television-watching to better understand and break into Western mainstream markets.

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."

News researcher Zhang Jie contributed to this report.

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