Vidding Kung Fu Panda in China

From time to time, I use this space to showcase the global dimensions of the kinds of participatory culture which so often concern us here. When I first started to write about fan culture, for example, the circuit along which fan produced works traveled did not extend much beyond the borders of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and perhaps Australia. American fans knew little about fan culture in other parts of the world and indeed, there was often speculation about why fandom was such a distinctly American phenomenon.

Now, fans online connect with others all over the world, often responding in real time to the same texts, conspiring to spread compelling media content from one culture to the other, and we are seeing a corresponding globalization of fan studies. Yet, some countries remain largely outside of field of view, because of language barriers, cultural differences, political policies, and alternative tech platforms.

Consequently, most of us know very little about how fan production practices have spread to China — which is too often described in terms of its piracy of American content and too little discussed in terms of its creative repurposing of that content to reflect their own cultural interests. So, I am really excited over these next two installments to share some glimpses into fan culture in China — specifically focusing on the vidding community there (but also discussing other forms of fan participation.)

These two posts were created by Lifang He, an Annenberg student who took my transmedia entertainment class in the fall and who is doing an independent study with me this term to expand her understanding of the concept of participatory culture. Here, she talks about how Kung Fu Panda got read in relation to the economic crisis in China, and next time, she will tackle the array of different fan responses to Avatar.

Kung Fu Panda vidding and Chinese fan culture

Lifang He

In this paper, I’m going to write about a Chinese vid based on a movie Kung Fu Panda as it is a great example of fan made extensions in China. I’ll introduce the background of the movie, discuss the relationship between the vid and the original movie, and also I’ll talk about fan’s role in the vidding and Chinese fan culture.

Kung Fu Panda is a 2008 animated comedy movie directed by John Stevenson and produced by DreamWorks Animation SKG, Inc. It tells a story of a clumsy panda bear Po, who unenthusiastically works as a waiter for his father’s noodle restaurant and eventually achieves his dream and becomes a master of martial arts.

According to Sina Entertainment (2008), this movie achieved significant monetary success after it was released on July 20, 2008 in China, which had hit approximately 14 million USD box office sales in the first ten days.

This Hollywood made Chinese movie is much better than other Chinese made Chinese movies, which proves American’s leading ability to create entertainment and market Chinese culture. The movie is filled with Chinese elements. The key character Panda is China’s national treasure and the other characters in the movie such as the monkey, snake, red crowned crane, tiger and mantis are the classic representatives of Chinese martial arts. Moreover, the Chinese imagery was used so well that Chinese audience felt very excited to discuss how great the movie is. As a famous Chinese film director Lu Chuan commented on his blog, ” the movie brought big laugh to Chinese people. It was a big surprise. Our familiar culture is no longer a burden for the creativity, instead it becomes an active and vivid entertainment” (Lu Chuan, 2008).

In response to the success of the movie, a lot of discussion was generated online between the audience and the animation filmmaker after its first release. Fans posted reviews on their blogs and discussed their favorite characters on Bulletin Board System (BBS). Also hey used Photoshop software to make posters with different themes such as Harry Potter, Lust, Caution, Pirates of the Caribbean, which attracted a lot of buzz. They also created music videos and wrote lyrics to compliment the movie, which were posted on social networking sites. After knowing that The Kaboom of Doom, a sequel of Kung Fu Panda, has been currently in pre-production and will be released in 2011 (Wiki, 2009), fans started to make their own versions of the movie.

Among all of these fan activities, producing vids and sharing with other fans on Chinese social networking sites is one of the most popular ways for them to express their love to the movie. They wrote scripts, re-edited video clips using the original footage and did the voice over to tell a new story. Unlike American viding culture that has a relatively long history, Chinese vidding only emerged a couple of years ago owing to the video sharing websites such as Youtube.com, Tudou.com. There’s no centralized grassroots community for vidding in China and Chinese vidding culture is very casual. An example to help exemplify how fans use this to publicize their opinions is a vid called Gu Piao Panda (Stock Panda), which is widely spread online and applauded by the fans.

Gu Piao Panda is a three-minute short film, which links Po to China’s unsound stock market and tells a parallel story about stock panda. The story starts from a scene that Po was a legend in the stock market, but it turns out that it is just a dream. In reality, he is a rookie stock investor and his money is all tied up in stock because of the global recession. Po is so sad that he goes back home to talk to his goose father and his father persuades him to withdraw money from the stock market because of the bearish market situation. Po has a strong belief that he will become a guru in the financial world someday and the only reason he hasn’t achieved that yet is because he hasn’t met his teacher. His father has no choice and encourages him to attend a stock master competition at somewhere in the mountain. Po tries so hard to get into the competition and there are three competitive groups — the happiness group with monkey in it, the fighting group with tiger in it and the desire group with red crowned crane in it. These three groups represent the three different types of stock operators. Then, Po attends the competition and finally his teacher finds him and teaches him how to become a successful fund manger. In the vid, the creator doesn’t show an ending in the video, and instead he poses a question that if Po will become a stock master finally.

There are many similarities between the original movie and fan made vid. First of all, both of the film and fan vid chose Po as a main character as he is a good character to conceive the new stories and has become a prototype based on which fans have developed distinct characters in various contexts. In Kung Fu Panda, Po is an every Panda who masters some area through his persistent effort. Gu Piao Panda is a rookie stock operator and finally achieves success as a stock master. In other vids such as Real Estate Price, the key character panda is portrayed as a junior real estate developer who finally becomes a hero to save the real estate from subprime lending crisis. Moreover, the storylines of the two movies are very similar. Specifically, Gu Piao Panda creates a story that Po is a rookie stock operator who wants to become a stock master. In Kung Fu Panda, Po is a worker at his father’s noodle restaurant who wants to become a kungfu fighter. Also, they both fight for an evil in the two videos. In Gu Piao Panda, he fights for the stagnant stock market. In Kung Fu Panda, he fights for Tai Lung. Furthermore, Po attends the competition to become a master in two movies either as a kung fu master or financial guru. In the original movie, he fights for a kung fu secret book. In the vid, he fights for two cars as the competition awards. When examining the video clips, it is apparent that fans use the same video clip to convey the same meaning in the different context. They just choose the video clips they like from the original movie to tell their stories. Other vids such as Real Estate Price, Kung Fu Competition, Certificates are all associated with the current social issues to tell different stories.

Real Estate Price

Kung Fu Competition

Certificates

This parody is so popular that fans keep spreading it online because there’s so much fun in the video. Some popular terms and events used in this vid are funny in the context of Chinese culture. For example, they use the word “Niu Bi” (newby) to describe how successful Po is in the stock market in his dreams. They also use the word “Tao” (trapped in the market) to explain that his money is all tied up to the stock account. Real figures are also incorporated to make the audiences feel more attached to the story. For instance, Po’s goose father persuades him to withdraw the money because the current stock index is above 2000 points – which is where the Chinese stock market was registering at that time when this vid was made. In addition, they use Dong Bei language, a northern Chinese dialect that often associated with Chinese cross talk to voice over the video. This brought more joy to the audiences, especially during the global depression era.

Gu Piao Panda and other vids are great examples showing that Chinese fans’ role has changed from audience to active producers. They are not just passively receiving the information, but becoming publishers. The Internet has become a platform for them to distribute their works. This emerges an Internet culture called kuso, which is very popular in China. Kuso, originated from a Japanese word, is a popular subculture in China that deconstructs serious themes to entertain people (Wiki, 2009). Some interesting quotes from ESWN Culture Blog that can explain the popularity of Chinese kuso culture are, “Kuso is people deconstruct burning satire.” “Kuso is an art criticism loved by people”. “Kuso is people’s ordinary, yet interesting, spiritual pursuit.” (Soong, Roland & Qing, Huang, 2006)

The most classic case of Chinese Kuso culture is a fan-made short movie called The Bloody Case That Started From A Steamed Bread based on a famous movie Wu Ji (The Promise) directed by Kaige Chen. A Chinese fan, Hu Ge, felt disappointed with Wu Ji and made his own spoof right after the movie was released. This fan-made movie joked about the film Wu Ji and dominant serious journalistic work, attracting huge fan following. From this fan made film, kuso has become more and more popular in China and represents a type of Chinese fan culture in the Internet.

There are two main reasons can account for the popularity of kuso culture in China. One important reason is that Chinese youth are suffering from social pressure and kuso provides a way for them to relieve themselves from the real pressure. They are a new generation who is tired of serious mainstream culture and kuso becomes a way for them to express themselves online. Moreover, kuso requires less technical skills and technology requirement and cheaper cost of movie production makes it possible for fans to make their own videos. Also the video sharing websites give the audiences a good platform to distribute and create a huge opportunity to show their own works.

Lifang He is from China, where she received her undergraduate degree in Journalism. After college, she was hired by two global advertising agencies Wieden & Kennedy and Euro RSCG Worldwide. At these agencies, she worked as a strategic planner for a variety of international brands including but not limited to Nike and Nokia and gained experience in consumer and market research and developing brand strategies. Since August of 2009, she has been pursuing her Master’s degree in Communication Management at USC Annenberg School for Communication. It was while attending a USC class taught by Henry Jenkins that her academic interest turned toward transmedia planning and studying fan culture. Her specific areas of interest in these fields revolve around digital culture, brand communities, and how brands relate to and engage fans.

References:

Chuan, Lu (2008). Kung Fu Panda and Hollywood Movie. Retrieved Dec.10, 2009

Kung Fu Panda Ticket sales(2008). Sina entertainment. Retrieved Dec.10, 2009

Kung Fu Panda. Wikipedia. Retrieved Dec.10, 2009

Kuso Culture. Baidu. Retrieved Dec.10, 2009.

Maureen Fan (2008). Kung Fu Panda Hits A Sore Spot in China: Why a Quintessentially Chinese Movie Was Made in Hollywood. Washington Post Foreign Service. Retrieved Dec.10, 2009.

Qi, Cai & Ying, Xie (2009). The Internet kuso culture in China. CulChina.Net. Retrieved Dec.10, 2009.

Qing, Huang (2006). Parody can help people ease work pressure. ESWN Culture Blog. Retrieved Dec.10, 2009

Soong, Roland (n.d.). The Bloody Case That Started From A Steamed Bun. ESWN Culture Blog. Retrieved Dec.10, 2009.

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Comments

  1. Hi Henry: I’m a Chinese doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia U. I’m so excited to see this entry about the “participatory culture” happening among vidders in China. Tudou actually has a few rivals, e.g., youku, ku6, video.sina.com.cn, 56, joy.cn, video.qq.com,etc. I recently also viewed a series of amazing cartoon clips created by individual Chinese amateur animators. I’d love to write about my thoughts on that after my dissertation proposal ;) Will keep you posted. Again, thanks for this great entry.