Hollywood's mix of kung fu and giant pandas is a hit in China

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The Independent Culture

Getting Kung Fu Panda to the silver screen in China took the patience of a martial arts master, but the animated Hollywood take on Shaolin high jinks has got everybody kung-fu fighting in the ancestral home of the giant panda.

Kung Fu Panda , which opned on 20 June, passed the 100-million-yuan (£7.4m) threshold in the box offices at Chinese cinemas this week, a major milestone for a Hollywood film that was always going to be controversial in the home of kung fu. By Wednesday, the amusing tale about an overweight panda-cum-noodle chef who aspires to be a kung fu master had taken in 110 million Chinese yuan (£8.1m).

Audiences in a Beijing cinema were particularly enthusiastic about the performances of the Chinese action star Jackie Chan and the American-born actress Lucy Liu but Jack Black, who voices the main character, Po, was also a big hit.

Grown-ups interviewed after the screening said they felt the film was a sensitive and amusing depiction of a Chinese story. The children, once they stopped high-kicking and neck-chopping each other, said they thought the kung fu was really cool.

Lu Chuan, a leading Chinese director, said in his blog that Kung Fu Panda was a challenge to the Chinese film industry to make a film as good. "From a production standpoint, the movie is nearly perfect. Its American creators showed a very sincere attitude about Chinese culture," he wrote.

The Chinese are hugely proud of kung fu and they also love their national symbol, the giant panda, so it is a tribute to the DreamWorks Animation movie that it managed to address these two big issues sensitively.

But for a while it looked like the film might not get a screening at all. The performance artist Zhao Bandi, best known for carrying around a toy panda and using panda images in his work, including clothes designs for panda prostitutes and panda concubines, called for a boycott of the film. He said it was in poor taste and disrespectful to victims of the 12 May earthquake in which 90,000 died or are missing.

Because of Zhao's complaints, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, the state body which tightly controls the entertainment business, decided to delay the film's release in the Sichuan earthquake zone, fearing it might offend victims. This prompted a huge online backlash. "Ridiculous! It is a very good film. Why do they not think about the reasons that Chinese people cannot produce such a film?" wrote one blogger.

An editorial in the Shanghai Evening Post asked: "Why the boycott? What's with the postponement? Is it about Zhao's own fragility, or does he genuinely believe that the quake-hit victims are too sensitive? The panda is cute, the kung fu is Chinese, the story is hilarious, and the theme is inspiring! Is this not what the people in the disaster area need most right now?"

Sure enough, audiences in the quake zone loved the movie.