Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Kimchee with your fries?

Took the kids to see Kung Fu Panda yesterday. As expected, the graphics are gorgeous, the dialogue witty, and the characters endearing. I love underdog stories and this underdog in particular is easy to identify with. I mean, who hasn't felt overweight, outclassed, and doomed to failure? We're all pudgy pandas who dream of Kung Fu greatness.

Another reason I love Kung Fu movies is that the stories are familiar. There's always an ancient character who is full of Deep Wisdom. The main character always feels out of place. Later he finds out why: he is really the grandson of Somebody Important (although they're not all named Luke) and is destined for The Great Thing. Then there is the relationship between a ShiFu (master) and the student. Most of the movie is spent chronicling how the talented but undisciplined/inexperienced young person comes to respect the master, overcomes great odds by learning the Great Truth, and Fulfills his Destiny.

In Kung Fu Panda, the Great Truth is "you can do anything if you believe in it." The juxtaposition of this very American idea with a classic Kung Fu movie jolted me. It's like going to a symphony concert in Carnegie Hall to find mahjong tables set up in the lobby. Or biting into a sushi roll and finding Texas style BBQ sauce in the middle.

This made me think about themes in fiction and how many of them are truly universal. Having lived in three countries, I am conscious of the differences, not only in vocabulary, but also the more subtle cultural undertones of the different groups. My book takes place in Malaysia, I use American terminology, but I hope the themes in the book, about friendship and loyalty, about goals and passion in life, can reach across cultural boundaries. I hope my juxtaposition of cultural flavors will be enjoyable instead of unpalatable.


Cheryl Reif said...

Ah, but now you've left my mouth watering for kimchee....Cheryl

Cheryl Reif said...

Re-reading your post, I realized that my comment isn't very relevant. I was just so overwhelmed by memories of kimchee (made by a family friend when I was a kid--hard to replicate elsewhere). But you've raised a really interesting point. Kung-Fu Panda has a completely different underlying myth, it seems, than Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon . I didn't notice until you pointed it out, because I'm so steeped in western thinking. I think that it's rare that a children's book challenges the notions of western culture.

Yat-Yee said...

Don't worry about relevance. I know how the memory of a favorite food can make me forget everything! It's interesting you mentioned Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, because it is a much more thoughtful and lyrical film and the plot and characters are so much more sophisticated. Definitely not your predictable Kung Fu movie.