Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
A movie starring Jackie Chan, which tries to marry the India-originated yoga with Chinese kung fu, made its debut in China’s cinemas on January 28, during the Spring Festival. The movie, Kung Fu Yoga, tells a story of a renowned Chinese archaeologist who is trying to locate a lost treasure in India. It features thrilling martial arts sequences and grand-scale exotic sceneries of the China-India border.
At the first glance, the movie, the second product of a co-production treaty signed during Chinese President Xi Jinping‘s state visit to India in 2014, apparently wants to boost China-India collaboration in the film industry and to further promote bilateral exchanges.
Nonetheless, while the action-comedy tops the domestic box-office, it has been panned by Indian critics. The controversy is centered on the so-called political propaganda in which an Indian character says the Indo-Chinese cross-cultural cooperation will assist the China-led One Belt and One Road initiative, a grand infrastructure development strategy launched by Xi in 2013.
Yet, on China’s social networks, netizens found such candid promotion of this diplomatic initiative tolerable, given that many commercial films convey such messages. What caught their eyes is the rare sight of Chinese and Indian actors working together, particularly on the plaza dancing with Indian dance moves at the end of the film, a commonly seen exercise routine in city squares across China.
To be honest, Kung Fu Yoga is not a perfect crossover film. With lots of kung fu and very little yoga, one may wonder if the film is too skewed toward Chinese tastes. Some reviewers in India even criticized the movie of stereotyping India by showcasing it as a dangerous country and left many other aspects of the culture unexplored.
This truly describes the current status of the China-India relationship, in which the perception gap between the two countries cannot be easily bridged. While the Chinese see India through a cooperative lens, the Indians have remained on high alert of its neighbor.
For instance, in China’s academic circle, many Chinese experts on India have grumbled about the sluggish application process for research visas granted by the Indian government. This holds back potential exchange opportunities between peoples from the two countries.
The mistrust between ordinary citizens may be the largest impediment to China-India relations at the state level. It explains the different attitudes of Chinese and Indian audience toward the promotion of Chinese government projects in the movie. The lukewarm response from India’s public to China’s Belt and Road initiative is a result of India’s fear that China’s strategic and economic influence in South Asia and beyond may diminish India’s clout in the region.
Just like culture, sports and economics, the film industry is not separate from politics. What is shown on the screen reflects what is happening in reality. As Indian audiences whimper about China-funded projects and the movie’s insufficient demonstration of the whole of India show, China and India are almost untapped markets for the film industry of the respective countries and there is a lot to explore.
One positive element of Kung Fu Yoga is that it may arouse the interest of Chinese adventurers to visit India, like how the 2013 Chinese film Lost in Thailand brought millions of Chinese tourists to the Southeast Asian country after its release.
When understanding and trust can be established between Chinese and Indian peoples, kung fu and yoga can masterfully strike a balance in the next joint film production.