Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Pandas are hot.

I receive an e-mail each week from All Music Guide about new releases, and it appears that Hot Panda has a new LP out this week called Volcano ... Bloody Volcano. Who's Hot Panda, you ask? Who cares! AMG says they're a Canadian band, but all I care about is that pandas are hot hot hot right now! I'll spare you any "panda-monium" jokes, but— oh, who am I kidding, no I won't ... IT'S TOTAL PANDA-MONIUM RIGHT NOW!!!!!! (I need something, anything to take my mind off the economy.)

Kung Fu Panda grossed $215 million last summer, and a sequel is planned for 2011. But the animated film did cause some controversy in China last year. On July 8 a blogger named Mu wrote on, "Although the 'theft' of the Chinese symbol of the panda gives us pain, at least it makes the Chinese movie industry consider why we are always one step behind in globalizations [sic] war of creation." Creation. (Hunh!) Good God, y'all, what is it good for? Well, it's helped give evolution a run for its money in religious debates, but aside from that, absolutely nothing.

Last November the Associated Press reported that a Chinese college student jumped the fence of a panda's habitat in Qixing Park, a tourist attraction in the town of Guilin, "hoping to get a hug." The panda, Yang Yang, bit the 20-year-old student in the arms and legs. As the student later explained in the hospital, "Yang Yang was so cute and I just wanted to cuddle him. I didn't expect he would attack." The AP didn't say if the student was drunk when he went for the hug or if he was still drunk when he spoke to the press in the hospital, but I guarantee there are easier ways to impress your frat brothers, no matter what hemisphere you live in.

The AP report continues: "Last year, a panda at the Beijing Zoo attacked a teenager, ripping chunks out of his legs, when he jumped a barrier while the bear was being fed. The same panda was in the news in 2006 when he bit a drunken tourist who broke into his enclosure and tried to hug him while he was asleep. The tourist retaliated by biting the bear in the back."

That panda's name is Gu Gu, and according to an AP article from September of 2006, "Zhang Xinyan, from the central province of Henan, drank four jugs of beer at a restaurant near the zoo before visiting Gu Gu." When he touched the panda it bit him on the right leg, which made him angry, so he kicked the panda, which then bit his other leg. That's when Zhang put his teeth in Gu Gu's back. As he told the Beijing Morning Post, "Its skin was quite thick."

Zhang had seen pandas on TV before and noticed that "they seemed to get along well with people." This is true, but once the cameras are off they're like Christian Bale all of a sudden if you don't leave them alone. You can't buy into the lie these pandas perpetrate when they're acting. Besides, many people—and animals—don't like to be hugged by strangers. If your hug is refused, don't get angry about it. Just walk away. If that person or animal is famous, like Gu Gu, you can retaliate later on your blog by saying what a jerk the celebrity was.

"No one ever said they would bite people," Zhang told the Beijing Youth Daily. "I just wanted to touch it." But, he added, "I was so dizzy from the beer. I don't remember much." In Zhang's defense, I said the same thing after attending a midnight "brew 'n' view" screening of Kung Fu Panda last summer with my four-year-old niece. Or was it WALL-E? Like I said ... (Gu Gu struck again last month when a man jumped in his pen to retrieve his son's toy. Tools had to be used to remove Gu Gu's jaws from the man's legs. The lesson? The kid eventually would've stopped screaming about his toy. It was probably only worth a couple bucks, which won't cover the hospital bills for permanent ligament damage.)

In July we received a press release at my former job for Chicago author Jian Ping's Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. It says that one of the "compelling themes" of the book is "the triumph of breaking the chains of conformity and embracing free thought and independence." Yes! That's exactly what those panda huggers were doing! Of course they couldn't have broken those chains of conformity without the help of alcohol, so it's particularly interesting that Mulberry Child's author "works as National Director/Tsingtao Beer for the US importer of the brand. Her business dealings with the Tsingtao Brewery has taken her back and forth to China several times a year for twenty years, keeping her abreast with the development of China today and in close contact with her family members." It's also kept her in close contact with drinkers like Zhang and that college student, who clearly owe Jian Ping a debt of gratitude for their newfound free thinking, if not their scars.

(Side note: I would've called her "Ms. Ping" just then, but is she "Ms. Jian" if she lives in the U.S. now? I've never been sure about the proper use of Chinese surnames, and the press release for Mulberry Child is no help: it calls her "Jian Ping" over and over again. I wish people would call me "Robert Cass" whenever they address me, the way athletes like Rickey Henderson have addressed themselves in third person whenever they're being interviewed.)

(Side note #2: The name of this blog, Mulberry Panda 96, has nothing to do with China. It's a combination of three things that hold sentimental value for me, but Kung Fu Panda did come out on June 6, or 6/6, last year, and if you turn a 6 counterclockwise it becomes a 9. If you want to give me credit for saying China is repeatedly turning back the clock on progress, go right ahead, but I have noticed that a 9 and a 6 side by side look like yin and yang going their own way instead of chasing each other's tails.)

After the Olympics ended in August, Time magazine's Simon Elegant (now there's a name that should be repeated in full whenever he's addressed) wrote about Chinese society being at a potential turning point, noting that during the Olympics a Chinese biweekly magazine named Southern Window had this headline on its August 11 cover: "Rule of Law Starts with Limitation of Power." Simon Elegant (see?) commented that in China a headline like that is "almost revolutionary."

The same IMDB news item from July that mentioned the "war on creation" comment on reported that a cultural-affairs committee in China's parliament had concluded "the government ought to relax its oversight" on film production in the country; only then can films like Kung Fu Panda be made there. Maybe, but how many feature-length animated films has China produced? Hasn't it accomplished much more in the realm of human rights violations? (I kid, I kid. Put the bamboo down.)

I'd be happy if they simply allowed filmmakers like Wong Kar-wai to create whatever they please, because Wong's Chungking Express (1994), which was made in Hong Kong just a few years before the UK gave control of the territory back to China, is one of my favorite films. I saw it for the first time in the spring of '97, a year after its initial American release (thanks to the efforts of Quentin Tarantino, a fan of Wong's movies) but only a few months before the July 1 handover of Hong Kong to China. It's one of the best romances I've seen, even though it doesn't feature any pandas, animated or otherwise, or panda biters, drunk or otherwise.


  1. Hi, I couldn't resist a quick comment here, but not on pandas, sorry. I loved Chungking Express and it's great seeing another person's endorsement of it. I was late to Wong Kar-wai. My introduction to his films was In the Mood for Love, which is still my favorite of what I've seen of his films (alas, only 3). I have been considering getting the blu-ray version of Chungking, but the economy, of course, has kept me from picking up too many DVDs these days, of any sort. How did you feel about the use of California Dreamin'? Just curious. I have to admit that it started to annoy me a bit toward the end, even though it was a nice detail in the 2nd story -- I feel disloyal admitting that, in fact, because I enjoyed the film so much!
    Thanks for the post.

  2. I haven't seen "Chungking Express" since 1999, when I taped it off the Movie Channel, so I can't say anything intelligent about it now, but it really is one of the best movies I saw in college. I was caught completely off guard; I didn't know what to expect going in, but I came out of the theater thrilled by what I'd seen. I loved how it wasn't split into equal halves -- the first cop's story only lasts about 30 minutes, doesn't it?

    I saw "In the Mood for Love" when it came to Atlanta in 2001, but I'd have to see it again -- there were a few years in my mid-20s when I could hardly remember anything I saw. I haven't seen anything else directed by Wong since then, which is a shame. (Have you seen "My Blueberry Nights"? The reviews were mixed.)

    Did you know that there was supposed to be a third cop's love story in "Chungking"? Read this: I really want to see "Fallen Angels" now, but because of that ol' recession you mentioned, I've put my Netflix account on hold until I can find a new job.

    I've never liked "California Dreamin'," but it's played so much in "Chungking" that it became hypnotic; whenever I hear it now, I associate it with the movie. I really wish I had a copy of Faye Wong's Cantonese version of the Cranberries' "Dreams." I almost bought the "Chungking" soundtrack in the summer of '97 at a Tower Records in London, but since everything cost double over there compared to America, I decided against it.

    Thanks for writing! I forgive you for not indulging in panda-monium.

  3. Forgot about that version of Dreams. How could I have forgotten about that?

    No, I had no idea. Thanks for including the link. I have wanted to see his earlier films, but now I have an extra incentive to do so.

    No, unfortunately, the only 3 I've seen are Chungking, In the Mood for Love, and 2046.

    I was put off from seeing My Blueberry Nights exactly because the reviews were mixed. And it seemed weird, just to me, to see Norah Jones in a Wong Kar-wai flick. I had a mental block about that one.

    And do NOT ask me about 2046, because I have no idea really what that one was all about. I'd have to fake it. :-) I did sorta like it ... sections of it ... the performances ... the imagination of it ... and the bittersweet love story ... but it was a challenge. I guess I hoped for it to be more in the spirit of In the Mood for Love. If I'd had a different expectation going into it, I might have gotten more out of it. I'll need to revisit it one day. But I would recommend it anyway, just for anyone who likes his films. It's worth having your head substance-free-messed-with for a couple hours.

    I'm sorry to hear about your job situation. I hope something pans out soon.

    Let me see. Umm. Nope, really can't find a way to segue into pandas. So thanks for letting me off the hook, Robert!

  4. The way you explained "2046" is sort of how I felt about "In the Mood for Love" -- I was confused by it at the time, but like I said, I also don't remember much of what I saw. The pace was slower than I expected. "Ashes of Time Redux" came to Chicago in November; apparently Wong revised it, much like Coppola's "Apocalypse Now Redux," but Roger Ebert's review said, "I'm not going to try to explain the plot."

  5. Ah, yes, I saw something about an upcoming DVD release of "Ashes of Time Redux."

    You're right, "In the Mood" was slow. And definitely confusing, especially during all that role playing. I was lucky, though, because I watched the Criterion DVD (it was a treat birthday present to myself, years ago), so I could rewind it at times and replay scenes that threw me. I loved his use of color and music. Do you recall the Nat King Cole soundtrack? And he sure makes the noodle shops look tasty, doesn't he? We have noodle shops around NYC of course, but it's just not the same.

    You're lucky to have seen it on the big screen.

    What's he working on now, do you know? Guess I could look it up, but I'm too lazy. :-)

    See ya.

  6. No, I don't remember the Nat King Cole soundtrack. I remember ... Tony Leung? Wasn't the second cop from "Chungking Express" in it? Maybe I'm wrong. Was it a period piece? I can't even remember that much about it.

    IMDB says Wong is working on "The Lady from Shanghai," a remake of the Orson Welles-Rita Hayworth movie. I don't know if it'll be an English-language remake, though.

  7. Yup, exactly, Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung in 1960s Hong Kong. I'm not sure about the second cop. See that, you do remember!

    That's intriguing, but hard to imagine, too. I associate that film so strongly with Welles.

  8. Leung was the second cop in "Chungking," I believe. That's what I meant. Let's see -- IMDB says the first cop was ... Takeshi Kaneshiro, who played "Cop 223." And Leung was "Cop 663." Faye Wong played Faye, and Brigitte Lin was the woman in the blonde wig who Cop 223 was in love with.

    Does "The Lady from Shanghai" have a hall-of-mirrors sequence in it? Maybe I saw the entire thing during my freshman year of college, but that's the only scene I remember.

    Oh, and thanks for the job-hunt encouragement. I appreciate it.