Film Review: BORN IN CHINA (USA/China 2016) ***

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born_in_china.jpgDirector: Chuan Lu
Writers: David Fowler, Brian Leith
Stars: John Krasinski, Xun Zhou

Review by Gilbert Seah
The poster might be misleading that the new Disneynature film BORN IN CHINA is about pandas alone. The documentary is concentrated on 5 animals, all BORN IN CHINA, more precisely in the northern and central mountainous colder parts of China where there are no signs of civilization. It is a beautiful and rugged country. The 5 animals selected for show are cranes, the snow leopard, the golden snubbed nose monkeys, the antelope and of course the panda. The segments are intercut among each other.

Be forewarned, the pandas are the least interesting of the animals featured. Pandas are cute and endangered, and their cute antics are captured. Mother Ya Ya is training her daughter Mei Mei to climb trees. Once Mei Mei is able to climb a tree, she is able to escape from prey and become independent. Every time, the film returns to the panda, Mei Mei is falling down , rolling down a slope after which Ya Ya is hugging Mei Mei. It is actually quite boring stuff if you subtract their cuteness.

The film aims at cuteness for each animal. Narrated by John Krasinski in the English version, he mimics animal sounds and tries to act cute. If one likes that sort of thing, then fine, but it undermines the seriousness of these animals in the wilderness. These animals have to survive, escape prey, feed their young, mate and carry on the living process.

It comes as no surprise then that the most interesting episodes are the ones with the snow leopards. Mother (named Dawa – why must these animals be given ridiculers cutesy Chinese names?) must defend her territory and feed her cubs Her territory is threatened when another female snow leopard arrives with her three offspring. Dawa and her cubs are forced into hiding. Wen Dawa preys upon a yak calf, she almost gets food. The film is most interesting at this point as the audience cannot decide to root for Dawa or for the poor yak calf being caught and about to be rescued by her mother. One has to recall that Disney did kill off poor Bambi’s mother in BAMBI.

The cranes are given a token segment while the female antelopes are shown migrating to give birth and returning with their young. The golden snub nose monkeys are shown from the point of view of Tao Tao, an adolescent who cannot decide to hang around his family or other rebellious youngsters, nicknamed in the film as ‘the lost boys’. Of course, Tao Tao learns the importance of family at the end, After all Disneynature is aimed at a family audience.
The end credits showing the cameramen and director at work prove more interesting than the movie. As one man at the camera says, the weather changes dramatically. One moment is can be hailing and the next sunshine. The majesty of Central and Western China is also captured on film. The landscape steals the show from the animal antics.

The film shies away from any violence, typical for Disneynature films. There is nothing as disturbing here as say in one other Disneynature film, where hundreds of baby turtles trying to crawl to the sea after hatching, are devoured by preying birds. Nature is cruel and survival is tough. These elements are overlooked in this film and mostly substituted by play and silly cuteness except for only one instance.



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