Could a cute children's movie about an adorable furry animal ignite change in a country noted for its official cultural restraints? Kung Fu Panda has enjoyed robust returns at the Chinese box office, which prompted a top cultural advisor to bemoan: "Why didn't we make such a film?"
As reported by Variety, Wu Jiang, a key member of the CPPCC Standing Committee, noted: "The film's protagonist is China's national treasure and all the elements are Chinese." The committee recommended that the government "relax its control in order to accelerate the reform and opening up of the cultural market and to enhance China's cultural influence in the world."
Though China produces hundreds of movies every year, most have been described as "stodgy propaganda pics" -- check out a recent post by Grady Hendrix at Kaiju Shakedown to see a few examples -- and only a select few achieve visibility at international festivals. Director Lu Chuan (Kekexili: Mountain Patrol and the upcoming Nanking Nanking) says the problem lies with the government itself, which stifles the creativity of Chinese filmmakers. He wrote in China Daily that he tried to make an animated film for next month's Olympics in Beijing but finally gave up: "I kept receiving directions and orders on how the movie should be like. The fun and joy from doing something interesting left us, together with our imagination and creativity."
Will the Chinese government be making any changes soon? Don't count on it. Sun Zhonghuan, another member of the CPPCC Standing Committee, says that Hollywoood studios have another big advantage: Kung Fu Panda's $130 million budget is nearly 100 times the cost for an average Chinese film. "We might have the ideas," he said, "but we lack the structure to realize them."