Panda film is a national insult, say Chinese

Few could have predicted that a big, burly cartoon panda called Po, who is versed in the finer arts of kung fu, could have brought anything but joy to the ancestral homeland of the creatures.

But just a month after China welcomed the blockbuster animation Kung Fu Panda into its cinema halls, the creators of the fictional character are being sued for their apparently "insulting" depiction of China's national symbol.

Zhao Bandi, a Chinese performance artist who is best known for using panda images in his art, including clothes designs, is suing Dreamworks, which launched the animation with the help of its star voice – belonging to Angelina Jolie – at the Cannes Film Festival this year.

The Beijing court drama, which began this week, includes a call for a full apology from the Hollywood studio for its apparent slur on the panda. Mr Zhao, who carries a stuffed panda in public and whose art revolves around motifs of the animal, has expressed his outrage at the fact that Po's father is a duck in the film. This, he interprets as offensive characterisation which amounts to an insult to the Chinese. Moreover, the panda's eyes are green, which, Zhao points out, represents an evil colour.

"Designing the panda with green eyes is a conspiracy," he said. "A panda with green eyes has the feeling of evil. I have studied oil painting, and we would never use green eyes to describe a kind-hearted figure. So I ask them to open their creative meeting records of this film and explain why the green eyes? Next, why is the panda's father is a duck? Many foreigners think the giant panda is not just China's symbol, but also the Chinese people's symbol. Drawing the father of the giant panda as a duck is an insult to the Chinese people. In a few years' time, I'm worried some young Chinese people will think their ancestor is Donald Duck."

Last month, Mr Zhao called for a boycott of the film because he feared it would upset victims of the Sichuan earthquake. His campaign prompted the state broadcasting and entertainment regulator to delay the film's release in the Sichuan earthquake zone, but there was a widespread online demand for the film to be released.

Mr Zhao said he was not seeking financial remuneration and merely wanted an apology from the film-makers. He said Beijing Chaoyang District People's Court had accepted his lawsuit. In his blog, he said the court's decision to proceed with his case showed it could not be interpreted as a publicity stunt.

The tale about the overweight panda-cum-noodle chef who aspires to be a kung fu master has broken box-office records in China since it opened on 20 June.

The Chinese are known to be immensely proud of their martial arts and kung fu heritage as well as the national giant panda symbol. Ironically, DreamWorks Animation had been praised for addressing these issues sensitively in Kung Fu Panda.

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