Chinese get first look at panda film

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Hoping a cuddly black-and-white national treasure again will produce Chinese boxoffice gold, Disney has released "Trail of the Panda" here.

Friday's opening came ahead of the first anniversary of the deadly earthquake that uprooted the endangered species' home. It follows last summer's record- breaking run for DreamWorks Animation's "Kung Fu Panda," which earned more than $14.7 million in the territory.

Disney's second Chinese- language film, "Trail" unspools on 900 of the country's roughly 4,000 screens via Huaxia Film Distribution.

Made for $5 million by Beijing-based Ying Dong Media, the film about an orphan who saves a twin panda cub separated from its mother nearly was ruined last year. As shooting wound down in the Wolong Giant Panda Nature Reserve in southwest China's Sichuan province, an 8.0 quake struck May 12, killing more than 70,000 people in the area.

"We were toward the tail end of the shoot, with maybe five days to go, when the earth began to shake and just didn't stop," said Ying Dong CEO Jennifer Liu, a former Disney employee who wrote and produced "Trail."

Twenty-eight members of the film's crew abandoned B-roll film and equipment and hiked through the mountains for three days before they were rescued by the Chinese military.

The six pandas used to play the film's star, Pang Pang ("Chubby" in Chinese), survived, but the panda that portrayed the mother of the twin cubs was killed.

Inspired by a true story, the Yu Zhong-helmed film was in development for three years and co-written and produced by Jean Chalopin, creator of "Inspector Gadget." The "Trail" crew lived with the pandas and their caretakers for four months under strict supervision. The penalty in China for panda poaching is public execution. (partialdiff)
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