A New way of Thinking Kungfu Panda : Orientalism


It is quite amazing when you think of how technology has changed everything. Even though I’ve never met Jia Li in real life, during the few hours that we spent over Skype has been fun and interesting. When I first had a conversation with her it was a mixed feeling. While I like to talk about my interests, Jia Li was kind of quiet for the first thirty minutes. However after that, we became more comfortable and began to talk about what kind of movies that we liked. Turned out that we both loved animations. Once we found out how much we loved watching cartoons and playing games we began to talk about our favorite films.


After talking about Disney and Pixar movies which she didn’t have that much experience, we managed to talk about a very well known animation, Kung Fu Panda. I always wondered how Chinese felt about the movie and began to ask her questions of how she felt about it. And that is how we got to choose our movie and eventually our main topic. The other movie she wanted me to see was Kuiba which is a Chinese animation. Although she warned me that it wasn’t the best, I was kind of excited since I never watched a Chinese cartoon. To be honest I was kind of disappointed. The film felt more like a Japanese Manga instead of a distinct Chinese film. After talking about just some elements we decided to focus more on Kungfu Panda rather than Kuiba.


Remember Me?



Kuiba : First Chinese Animation



Jia LI and I spent most of the time on discussing the characters and what parts could have been done better. Starting off by basic questions such as whether she liked it or not, later expanded to Kungfu movies and themes that we have learned in class as well which was interesting to hear.



i) Oh Po…

I think the biggest difference of how we thought about Po was whether he was worhty as a hero in the first place? Jia Li was not happy about the way that the Panda was depicted in the movie. While she did agree that the Panda was a symbol of China which I thought was the whole point of the movie, she didn’t seem to like how he winds up as the hero. Compared to other Kungfu movie protagonists, Po does not have special powers in the first place. Many heroes are often born that way or have a special medicine injected into them and thus rises to the status of hero. But in this movie, Po is trained to become a hero. She told me that this was one aspect that certain Chinese did not agree or seem to like. That is why she calls this movie an American movie just using certain Chinese aspects. Po is a character with a Chinese appearance but with a American heart was her explanation of the character. Also because of Po depicted as a lazy, fat and weird eyed(?) character, she also prefers an animal that has strength which would be the tiger. A powerful tiger would have been more worthy of a legendary hero.

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ii) Shifu

We also had differences in the depiction of  Shifu, the master of Kungfu. I thought that this was kind of where the American influence comes in. Watching Shifu have a braided beard and always somewhat less relaxed seem like he wasn’t the all great master that is naturally shown in Kung fu movies. Of course this can be due to the character of the turtle Ugway but still, even after the turtle passes away, he is always less confident. Compared to the main villain and Po although he is not as great in Kungfu strenght, his wisdom does seem to guide Po into the level of warrior. We both agreed that Shifu is a depiction of master, he also does seem to have a influence of master although not the traditional master that we observe in Kungfu movies.

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Kungfu Elements

Inner Peace(although this is depicted in the second movie) and other ways of Kungfu is pretty accurate when looking into how Shifu trains Po. However we can also see how it is transformed into a middle ground between America style and the traditional style. The famous dumpling training scene is one form of Kungfu training that is never seen in other traditional movies. Also Shifu’s speeches resembles and represents most of the traditional ways of Kungfu. Finally, looking into the characters of the furious five they all have different Kungfu styles that are actually well known in China. The style of the mantis, tiger, crane, viper, moneky are all real life kungfu styles, so it was interesting for the both of us to observe the different styles of Kungfu,

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Preying Mantis Form


Jia Li and I both talked about how this goes with Edward Said’s “Orientalism”. I had a different approach to Kungfu Panda. While I did agree that the film did introduce some kind of Orientalism I thought this was a much better movie than the Memories of Geisha. While Geishas were only the ‘side dish’ in the actual ‘main dish’ of an American romance movie, Kungfu Panda was the opposite. Kungfu was accurate and although the training scenes were a bit comical which was the purpose of the movie, it was joyful and easy to understand. Like I said earlier Jia Li didn’t like Po due to his laziness and unworthy of being a hero. I guess here is where we stood on different stances. Heroes should always have a distinct characteristic that is honorable which Po was a bit lesser than that. The concept of “hard work can always bring good results” does not apply to Chinese in traditional Kung fu movies.

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Cross- Cultural  Experience

Through films, more people can be introduced to new cultures. For me, although I came from an Asian country I didn’t know the values of China and never thought about Kungfu Panda in this way. Heroes had to be perfect which Po was not. And the American moral of ‘if you try hard, you can be a hero’ does not apply to this was found in my conversation with Jia Li. I think this is the beauty that films can give you. Coming from two different nations, we both loved the film and I thought this project was a success in these regards. Still regardless of whether there were orientalism in this movie or not, we both came to a conclusion that this was a huge success in the opening of new modern China. At the time, the Beijing Olympics had just started and instantly making China a much more fun and open nation compared to the old communist days(although it still is) of China. More people liked it and people became interested in what China’s culture was. More tourists came and it was huge success for both countries.This was the start of people trying to do more  cultural understanding of China and I am quite sure more people will began to question their ways of thinking Asia and China. Although there is some faults here and there I don’t think that this was a big problem throughout the movie. The start of a new era began with Kungfu Panda and surely more is to come.


More Pandas?