A film starring a panda cub opened Friday in Chinese cinemas, drawing audiences partly because of an eerie coincidence: it was being filmed in a panda preserve near the epicenter of the massive quake in Sichuan Province last May 12,when the disaster struck.
"Trail of the Panda" tells how the cuddly cub, Pang Pang, was separated from his mother in a nature reserve in Sichuan and saved by a boy, Xiao Lu, played by Daichi Harashima, a Chinese-Japanese child actor.
The movie was conceived as a tale of human-panda interactions.
It tells how Xiao Lu lives in loneliness after losing his parents in a fire, until Pang Pang plunges into his life. Fleeing a researcher, the bear becomes separated from its mother and twin brother. Struggling to survive on his own, the animal is rescued by Xiao Lu.
They become inseparable, until one day Xiao Lu realizes that the best thing he can do for Pang Pang is help the baby bear find his mother.
In real life, a 10-year-old female panda, playing Pang Pang's mother, died in the quake, leaving three orphans. Another cub is still missing.
A production of Ying Dong Media, a Chinese film company, the 90-minute film opened on about 1,000 screens in major cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing and Wuhan, said Wang Huifang, a marketing manager of Huaxia Film Distribution Co. Ltd., the domestic distributor for the film.
The film went into production in February 2008. The 28 crew members, including director Yu Zhong, were trapped in the mountains for four days after the earthquake shook Sichuan and neighboring provinces. They had been shooting the movie at the China Giant Panda Protection and Research Center in the Wolong nature reserve, not far from the epicenter Wenchuan.
The magnitude 8.0 quake left more than 80,000 people dead or missing, 370,000 injured and at least 15 million displaced.
A total of 14 panda cubs and two adult bears joined the filming, with half a dozen 6-month-old cubs taking turns to play Pang Pang.
Real pandas appear in most of the scenes, but computer technology was used in some scenes, such as one where a cub falls off a cliff.
Most of the 140-odd captive pandas in the reserve were later moved to another breeding base in Sichuan and some zoos elsewhere. Construction of a new panda protection center in Wolong will start before August.
"We hope that the film sends a message to audiences everywhere that there are still people who live there, and there are still pandas living there," said Jennifer Liu, producer and writer of "Trail of the Panda".