The deep structure of kung fu panda-monium

An expert in modern Chinese literature takes on the cultural significance of Dreamworks' martial arts cartoon

Published July 17, 2008 10:45PM (EDT)

After some initial hesitancy on the part of aggrieved nationalists, Chinese audiences have welcomed "Kung Fu Panda" with enthusiasm. This pleases How the World Works, since our own reaction to the Dreamworks movie was that it was a mash note to Chinese culture, rather than a rip-off.

But for a truly virtuoso deconstruction of the film in the context of the larger universe of kung fu movie tradition, readers must hie themselves immediately to Haiyan Lee's "Kung Fu Panda: Go Home!," published today at the excellent China Beat blog.

An assistant professor at the University of Colorado who specializes in modern Chinese literature, Lee demonstrates an impressive level of kung-fu-osity, along with setting forth a compelling argument as to how "Kung Fu Panda" radically threatens some ancient themes of the kung fu flick genre.

Any essay that namechecks "The Hulk," "The Lord of the Rings," YouTube, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and casually drops the word "panda-monium" is obviously worth reading, but Lee's thesis isn't easily summarized. So I'll just give you the last line:

In this sense, Kung Fu Panda is a disarmingly cute and merry face of the global modernity that has made it impossible for anyone to lay claim to beloved cultural symbols as inviolable national patrimony.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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