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September 16, 2011

Kung Fu Panda 2: review

When I first saw Kung Fu Panda 2, I was under the impression that it was banned in China. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Po battle the evil peacock, but the “news” affected what I saw on screen.

If you’ve been following show business “news”, you know that China has been accused of banning American films.

When Steven Speilburg pulled out of being adviser to the Beijing Olympics, a handful of angry Chinese activists called for Kung Fu Panda to be banned. They complained that the film insulted the Panda, which is supposedly China’s national symbol.

You didn’t know that Speilburg directed or produced Kung Fu Panda? No, I didn’t see his name anywhere in the credits either. But he is associated with Dreamworks, its parent company. It seems the protesters were right about something.

It turns out, the protesters may have been film students. More people were annoyed that they had to wait so long to see the film than anything else. They looked forward to seeing the family friendly cartoon with a Chinese Panda for a hero. The first Kung Fu Panda was an uncensored hit, and Po the panda was adored by people throughout the world.

Well, when Kung Fu Panda II came out, the Chinese response to the first movie came with it. A few activists had a reply, and they made Legend of a Rabbit. In Legend of a Rabbit (also Kung Fu Rabbit), the floppy haired hero fights an evil “false” Panda (that resembles Po.) However, this film, which seemed like a protest against the Dreamworks franchise, didn’t seem to do anywhere near as well in China as Kung Fu Panda 2.

About the same time Kung Fu Panda II was released in rural Wales, China was said to be banning American films. Transformers III was said to be banned. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the movie brought in “a record breaking” 597 million Yuan. Not bad for a banned film!

But when I saw Kung Fu Panda 2, I’d just heard the rumour about Transformers being banned, and I didn’t have time to discover that it was merely hyperbole caused by a delay in getting an exhibition permit. So, perhaps I didn’t see the film correctly.

“Twitch film” claims that the real censorship in China is against bad science. Transformers III, with its fictional history of the space race, is apparently thought by some bureaucrats to be revisionist. (People might think it’s a documentary.) Chinese films with science fiction storylines are being discouraged, but foreign films apparently aren’t. Again, all this may be another rumor, but it’s interesting.

So, here I am, watching Kung Fu Panda, half wondering why this film is being banned in China while some Chinese people were probably watching it legally the same time.

In this state of disinformation, the evil peacock came to symbolize Mao, leader of the communist party during the Chinese civil war. Not satisfied with his town, he tries to take over all of China.

The attempt of Po to achieve inner peace had a spiritual dimension, and communists are meant to hate religion, right? Was he defending Tibet, perhaps a personification of the Dalai Llama? Or did Po represent China’s pre-communist past, a time when capitalist – or even feudalist – tradition dominated the Middle Kingdom?

Even with this preoccupation, I still enjoyed the film thoroughly. I felt for Po as confronted his father that he knew that he was adopted. I earnestly followed his quest to find his real parents, and the way it hurt his adopted father was touching too. I felt for the Panda, torn between wanting to find the truth and the loyalty he owed to the man who raised him. The resolution to these problems, and others, is touching and funny at the same time.

As in the original Kung Fu Panda, the magnanimous Panda even gives the bad guy one last chance.  Po represents the dying tradition of the selfless super hero, who doesn’t want to hurt the bad guy, but only fights because innocence must be protected and justice must be served.

No vindictiveness is in Po’s soul.  He’s the “good Joe” of the old Hollywood tradition, the character that the typical American man wants to relate to and the everyday American boy wants to be when he grows up.

It has been said that the good Joe is a hero only Americans understand, but he obviously does well in China too.