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Real pandas star in feature film

A new film tells the story of a lost panda cub and an orphan boy who tries to take him home. Another feature celebrates unsung heroes of the Sichuan earthquake. Xu Wei reports.

We've seen a lot of panda documentaries and panda cartoons, but seldom a feature film starring a real-life panda.

The star of "Trail of the Panda," however, is a real panda cub - six cubs, in fact, each with a different personality suited to turns of the plot. Mischievous, curious, timid, aggressive, afraid, laid-back.

The film now showing nationwide is the tale of a 10-year-old orphan boy, Xiao Lu, who finds a lost panda cub that he calls Pang Pang.

Together they go on an adventure to return the cub to its mother in the forest. They brave bad weather, threats from hunters and animals, landslides and mishaps.

Chinese-Japanese boy star Daichi Harashima, known for his role in the romantic drama "Lost in Time," plays Xiao Lu whose parents died in a fire.

The film takes place in Sichuan Province and most scenes were shot before the devastating May 12 earthquake at Balang Mountain, Siguniang Mountain and Wolong Giant Panda Nature Reserve.

"Our film commemorates the one-year anniversary of the quake," says director Yu Zhong. "Just a couple of days after filming, the earthquake struck. We were moved by the bravery and optimism of the people."

The earthquake destroyed some of the splendid scenery where the film was shot and claimed the life of the panda that "plays" the mother panda.

All the panda stars, including 14 cubs and two adults, live in Wolong reserve, China's well-known panda research and preservation center. Protagonist panda Pang Pang was played by six, six-month-old cubs that look alike but have different personalities - some outgoing, some shy and quiet.

Collaborating with wild animal actors, however cute and amiable, was no easy task. The crew was only permitted to film one panda for a maximum of 90 minutes a day, so they wouldn't become tired or stressed out. They needed their routine.

Yu and his team often spent hours for the pandas to be in the right mood for filming.

To the envy of many panda fans, Harashima gets a kiss from his panda friend in one scene. In fact, the crew spread honey on Harashima's cheek to seal the kiss.

Since it opened last Friday, the film has charmed family audiences. Shanghai United Cinema Lines, the city's largest cinema chain, reported more than 500,000 yuan (US$74,000) at the box office so far.

"The movie is a gift for everyone who has a fascination for the wonderful pandas," says Wu Hehu, deputy director of the cinema chain. "It provides insight into emotional world of pandas and shows the beauty of nature and the importance of environmental preservation."

Another film, "The Uplift of Life," is based on the true stores of unsung heroes who gave their lives to save others in the Sichuan earthquake. It is shown in United Cinema Lines theaters, including Yonghua Cinema and Studio City.

All proceeds go to the Shanghai Red Cross for earthquake relief and reconstruction.

Young actress Li Ruojia plays a schoolteacher who is trapped along with her students beneath rubble. For days she sings to them to keep up their will to live. All were rescued, but the teacher died in an aftershock.

Producer and scriptwriter Chen Huajie has said the disaster cannot weaken the Chinese people, but instead has awakened the spirit of unity and love.


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