The first kung fu film widely seen in American theaters was a feature-length Japanese anime work titled Alakazam the Great (aka Saiyu-ki). Released in 1961, it was based on Wu Cheng-en’s 1580s kung fu novel Journey to the West, which highlighted the Monkey King as he used martial arts to protect a traveling Buddhist monk.
The latest example of an animal using Chinese-style martial arts to protect others is the Netflix original series The Adventures of Puss in Boots. It’s based on a French fairy tale written by Charles Perrault almost 100 years after the Monkey King. The hero is not a monkey but a sword-wielding, swashbuckling cat.
Produced by DreamWorks Animation Television, Puss in Boots revolves around the compact character that was introduced in 2004’s Shrek 2 (voiced by Antonio Banderas). The feisty feline has been cat-apulted into Netflix land, where he protects the fabled treasure and townspeople of the mythical settlement of San Lorenzo from thieves, vagabonds and ninja pigs.
Shrek (2001) was the first animated film to tap into the Hong Kong-stylized action genre by using the kinds of sight gags and fight scenes made popular in “fant-Asia” flicks and The Matrix (1999). DreamWorks continued to borrow Chinese film flash while making its Kung Fu Panda movies. The process entailed having cartoon fight choreographer Rodolphe Guenoden watch 1980s and ’90s period-piece Hong Kong movies so martial artists could perform real kung fu for the animators.
Although Puss in Boots is comedy-driven, it’s also focused on physical action, says executive producer Doug Langdale, who also wrote for the series Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness. “Technology has improved so much in such a short time that we’re able to do some truly amazing things in television animation.
“Puss is in physical danger and fights a lot more than in the movies, so we like to amp up the adventure, and we play him more as a master swordsman with lots of swordplay [and] extra punching, kicking and action.”
As a protagonist, Puss is similar to the lone swordsman and knight-errant heroes in Chinese wuxia films. He selflessly protects the weak from evildoers, but he does it with a code of ethics. In particular, Puss righteously defends the honor of ladies, remains loyal to his friends and sacrifices personal gain to save downtrodden orphans — all with humor, swagger and, ideally, a bowl of milk afterward.
Without ever taking a life, Puss tries to win over the ne’er-do-wells and put them on the straight and narrow. Of course, not all the baddies in Puss in Boots are willing to change; in fact, some vow that they’ll be back. This leads to recurring miscreants who resurface with more anger in their hearts and more mischief on their minds.
Despite the never-ending nature of the challenge, Puss proves he’s always up to the task. After all, a cat’s gotta do what a cat’s gotta do. So with his sharp wit and sharper epee, the fencing feline foils every scoundrel who’s foolish enough to cross paths with him.
(Illustrations © 2015 DreamWorks Animation, All Rights Reserved)
Source: Black Belt Magazine