Paws of Fury Turns a Mel Brooks’ Blueprint Into a Clearinghouse for Asian Clichés
Released in 1974 with racial satire in mind, the film Blazing Saddles has been criticized for its treatment of race and racism. In Paws Of Fury: The Legend Of Hank, Blazing Saddles is remade as a samurai movie with animated talking animals.
But the people who make things at the eight (count ’em) different production companies involved seem to have spent the last 50 years living under a rock.
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Given the intellectual sloth and aesthetic bankruptcy of every other option in this film, it would not be shocking if the writers actually believed that replacing all the characters with talking animals would make the idea less offensive.
Paws of Fury Turns a Mel Brooks’ Blueprint Into a Clearinghouse
That’s hardly a stretch of the imagination: Written by Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor, and Alan Uger, the film was originally titled Blazing Samurai. The story is now set in feudal Japan and features cats instead of pioneers. Since the filmmakers obviously didn’t give this any consideration, the cats in this film travel around by riding horses.
The black sheriff character in the original is now a beagle named Hank (Michael Cera), who we find out in a flashback set to the West Side Story music aspires to be a samurai since other animals abuse him back home. However, canines are not tolerated in Japan, and he ultimately faces execution. Ricky Gervais’s Ika Chu schemes to take over the village of Kakamucho, so he sends Hank there to pose as the town samurai and is kicked out.
If a studio in 2022 decides to make a movie based on the online toxic strawman that someone like Hank is being mistreated in some faraway nation, it will be ethically awful. However, the worst form of cultural appropriation is exemplified by Paws of Fury because it shows no sign of respect or appreciation for Asian culture, martial arts, or any of its narrative touchpoints.
There is no evidence that any form of consulting or study was done for either the script or the animation, and there is no consultant listed in the credits.
Among the nearly 300 cast and staff members listed in the film’s IMDb entry, you can count the Japanese names on the one hand. Kakamucho is not a real place in Japan, but screenwriters Ed Stone and Nate Hopper named it that way because they thought it would be funny to see what would happen if they switched the Ks and Cs.
Except for “contract” and “beauty salon,” which are written correctly in kanji, most of the words in the animation are either meaningless scribbles that try to look like calligraphy or English words written in the wonton font that restaurants and martial arts schools started using decades ago. Simply said, the animators are so otiose that they don’t even bother with Google Translate.
Likewise, Stone and Hopper reach for the lowest hanging fruits conceivable as cultural signifiers. Adding origami to the script must have made them quite proud, and there’s also a fat cat whose name you might be startled to learn is Sumo (Djimon Hounsou). Ika Chu, which highlights the fact that the writers also seem to know nothing about Pokémon, has a British accent for no reason other than being voiced by Gervais. Toshiro Mifune, who starred in many films by Akira Kurosawa, was honored with the role of the shogun.
The situation is not helped by the fact that Mel Brooks, who voiced Mifune in Blazing Saddles, switches to yellowface here. And then, South Korean artist Psy’s “Gangnam Style” comes on the soundtrack in another act of the film’s lazy, melting-pot approach to researching Asian culture.
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