Knowing that I would being undertaking the kung fu marathon for a month I planned accordingly to include some more unusual films, and since I try to cover all aspects of cinema I knew that including an animated film was a necessity. However, I also knew that I did not really want to watch Kung Fu Panda. I am sure it is a fine film, but not one that I was particularly in a mood to engage with. Fortunately, my dear friend over at the newly emerging Bull Moose Bravo blog, reminded me that Kung Fu Panda had a mockbuster equivalent known as Chop Kick Panda. Given my penchant for the absurd I knew it was something that I would have to include in the marathon. The mockbuster, is, of course, a film released by companies like Asylum to bank on the success of another big budget picture, a popular example being the release of Atlantic Rim to coincide with Pacific Rim. These films are always low-budget, usually poorly produced and intended almost entirely to prey upon unsuspecting parents who are seeking to rent/buy a DVD for their children. Admittedly, I could just as easily make a mistake between Transformers and Transmorphers if they were standing next to one another on a shelf. The ethics in such releases are problematic, but it is also somewhat brilliant conceptually, because it is releasing to profit, without the illusion of anything else, and anything that can foreseeably stick it to the Hollywood big wigs, even if in the market of 99 cents rentals is great in my book. The crazy thing about Chop Kick Panda though is that, for only being forty minutes of super minimal animation (not even bothering to use 3D), it manages to be a somewhat watchable work, with a decent enough message for the youth audience it is assumedly directed towards. I am not suggesting that it is anything profound or even cinematically valuable, but merely arguing that it could have been so much less and still served the purposes of a mockbuster. I hesitate to use the word earnest to describe such a work, but it is impossible not to see moments when the voice actors and sound editor are clearly having fun and enjoying the work. To be fair, for a lot of the people involved it was likely their entry level job in the world of filmmaking and given the lax nature of the productions they were afforded considerably free reign, resulting in some moments of sound filmmaking, in the most unlikely of settings.
Chop Kick Panda is more than a turning a new leaf narrative, which is what I assume its influence Kung Fu Panda centers upon. Sure the main character Zibo is a lovable loser to varying degrees in his hopes of being so "legendary that his legend is legendary," but he respects his job and obeys the rules of the dojo he works within. Indeed, in this film it is entirely the acts of ill-willed bad guys who make Zibo even seem remotely lacking. Indeed, Zibo's dream of becoming a kung fu master are neither unhealthy nor hindering those around making for a narrative of finding one's self that is positive. This is, however, not the big surprise of the film, because Zibo is not a lone wolf character who is coming to his own in a individualistic sense. In fact, Zibo has a son who looks up to him with adoration, finding his job as a janitor in a dojo to be not only respectable, but a point of pride amongst his somewhat more skeptical friends. Chop Kick Panda is quite positive about the relationship it portrays, even going into detail about the loss of Zibo's wife and how it has led to the particular bonding between him and his son. This sort of narrative is considerably rare within the children's film, particularly those that are animated. It seems to be yet another benefit of this unusual form of alternative cinema, in its decidedly detached concern for producers intents. In so much, as something like Chop Kick Panda exists solely to play against another release, it manages to put some considerable concern into what it is promoting narratively. Aside from embracing non-traditional images of family, the film also uses language in a clever manner, which, probably by accident, manages to serve an educational role to the children who are listening. Again the film does have a decidedly simple element about it, but this does not mean it is unwatchable. I through unconventional means have come to find this mockbuster and I do not want to jump to conclusions until I have seen a few more in this "genre," but it seems that his might be just as revolutionary a style of alternative cinema as the orphan film or web-series. Chop Kick Panda does not have to meet expectations, and in this it is also allowed to reconsider them. I, much to my surprise, would defend this film adamantly.
Chop Kick Panda is available on DVD or streaming on Amazon Prime. I would suggest giving it a look, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised at its genuine sentiment.