BEIJING (Reuters) - More than just a box-office hit in China, animated Hollywood comedy "Kung Fu Panda" has led Chinese artists to find fault with their own film industry and call for fewer government controls on culture.
The movie, which tells the story of a fat panda who dreams of martial arts glory, was faithful to Chinese culture and laced with good humor, but China itself may have been incapable of producing such a film, a Chinese filmmaker and opera director lamented.
"The film's protagonist is China's national treasure and all the elements are Chinese, but why didn't we make such a film?" Wu Jiang, president of the China National Peking Opera Company, was cited as saying by Xinhua news agency on Saturday.
Lu Chuan, a young film director, applauded "Kung Fu Panda" as a fresh and rich take on Chinese culture, mixing references to martial arts films with classic legends.
"I cannot help wondering when China will be able to produce a movie of this caliber," he wrote in the China Daily on Saturday.
Lu said the government was stifling the creativity of China's filmmakers, explaining how he had been asked to make an animated film for the Olympic Games, which will be hosted by Beijing in August, but decided to walk away from the project.
"I kept receiving directions and orders on how the movie should be like," he said. "The fun and joy from doing something interesting left us, together with our imagination and creativity."
An advisory body to the country's rubber-stamp parliament debated this week why a film like "Kung Fu Panda," produced by DreamWorks Animation, had not been made in China, Xinhua reported.
A standing committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Congress said that, though there was no secret ingredient to filmmaking success, the government ought to relax its oversight. Opening more space for Chinese artists would allow more innovation, ultimately giving China greater cultural influence abroad, they concluded.
Some Chinese critics had called for a boycott of "Kung Fu Panda" because Steven Spielberg, an executive at DreamWorks, quit his role as artistic adviser to the Beijing Olympics to protest China's links to the Sudanese government.
Zhao Bandi, a Chinese artist who features pandas in his work, also called for people to shun the film, saying that foreigners were profiteering from China's national symbol.
But Zhao has since come under fire from Chinese critics for misguided nationalism, while theatre operators have reported packed houses for "Kung Fu Panda."
The comedy had earned $16 million at the Chinese box office as of Wednesday, according to its distributors. Any film that grosses $15 million is considered a big hit in China.
Editing by Jeremy Laurence