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Avatar Calligrapher Professor S.L. Lee Shares A Statement 
29th-Jul-2009 03:19 pm
boulderangry
Racebending.com has received two statements from two staff members who worked on the original animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender. Here's the first of the two. Earlier this month, Professor S.L. Lee spoke out against racebending on San Francisco's 94.1 KPFA radio. Lee's statement today confirms fan speculation that Chinese calligraphy has been cut from The Last Airbender and will be replaced with a gibberish language.

I just received words from the movie producers. They are not going to use Chinese calligraphy at all, replacing it with unreadable symbols. I won't be participating in the movie.

It is not only a disappointment on the cast. They are removing all the successful elements of the original TV series. I think that would keep a lot of Asian audience away.

I am disappointed to learn that the Avatar movie has removed the successful cultural elements of the original Avatar TV series. Whether this is a right decision will be seen in the box office.
- Professor Siu-Leung Lee, cultural consultant, Avatar: The Last Airbender


Fans familiar with the series know that traditional Chinese calligraphy was an important part of not only the show's aesthetic, but also it's plot development and world building.

Lee also said:

"Chinese calligraphy is not only appreciated by Chinese, it is also a language understood by many East Asian countries. Quite a few of them are intensifying an effort to learn the language. Its aesthetics have influenced many western artists, including Picasso and Matisse."


East Asian Calligraphy is a significant component of the animated series's pan-Asian fantasy world. Because it was not made up squiggles, but an actual language that could be dissected at length, it brought a lot of verismilitude and believability to the world of the Four Nations. Given the ubiquity and spread of Hanzi in Ancient Asia, it made a lot of sense to make traditional Chinese the universal language of the Avatar world.

In addition to being in the series title/logo and the ending card of the last episode, "The End", Chinese calligraphy is also used liberally to depict aspects of the Avatar world. This includes writing signs, wanted posters, books, ancient artifacts, and other plot devices that call for the depiction of a writing system.



The art of Chinese calligraphy itself is given it's due in Season 3, when Master Piandao teaches Sokka that the dexterity involved in mastering calligraphy can be applied to other tasks, like swordfighting.

Piandao: When you write your name, you stamp the paper with your identity. You must learn to use your sword to stamp your identity on a battlefield. Remember, you cannot take back a stroke of the brush, or a stroke of the sword.


Replacing a real, eons-old written language with made up squiggles erases a lot of the franchise's identity. Using generic, fantasy-fare un-decipherables wipes out lot of the culture and authenticity from The Last Airbender--and that will be hard for them to take back.
Comments 
29th-Jul-2009 11:15 pm (UTC)
I'm getting horribly accustomed to hearing all of the hideous things going on in this movie, but this one just ... broke my fucking heart.

Unreadable symbols.

They can't take back the strokes of the brush, so they'll mutilate them and pretend they were the authors all along.
29th-Jul-2009 11:33 pm (UTC)
I still love you, Avatar, for teaching me how to say/write "abandon hope" in Chinese! <3

Cheapskate movie makers...
29th-Jul-2009 11:45 pm (UTC)
Cheap? Even if they didn't hire Prof. Lee, a lot of the material (like calligraphy on signs, scrolls, etc)from the animated series they still own and could easily reproduce for the film version.

If anything, it seems more time consuming to make up consistent unreadable gibberish than to use pre-established material. But maybe not.
29th-Jul-2009 11:42 pm (UTC)
Uhg, just makes me ill.
29th-Jul-2009 11:44 pm (UTC)
Wow. This is horrible!
29th-Jul-2009 11:46 pm (UTC)
I am disappointed to learn that the Avatar movie has removed the successful cultural elements of the original Avatar TV series. Whether this is a right decision will be seen in the box office. They could make a hundred million dollars at the box office, but it will never be the right one. This is unsurprising. Either they believe and Asian world won't see (which is just silly), or they're trying to cover up their Racism by white-washing the whole movie, not just the actors (equally silly, but for different reasons). *sigh*
30th-Jul-2009 01:42 am (UTC)
"or they're trying to cover up their Racism by white-washing the whole movie, not just the actors"

I would tend to agree, but they're doing a really half-assed job. Why go to the trouble of flying to Greenland (way out in the middle of nowheresville, population 60,000, 88% Inuit), if you're just after a snowy bit of scenery? There are cheaper ways to get snow. Narnia didn't fly to goddamn Greenland. Why import fully grown Asian trees? No one gives a flying crap about what the trees look like. And why Asian trees? Why not Cypress from Italy or Boab trees from Australia?

Why indeed unless they are acknowledging the cultural heritage of the show, and want to remain true to its spirit?

But then they take out the Chinese calligraphy, totally mess up the martial arts/bending, and, oh yeah, take out all the Asian and Inuit leads.

It's like they want to do Avatar, but they keep getting scared by all the inscrutable foreign stuff. So we get this bastardized, bland, racist crap instead. Feh.
29th-Jul-2009 11:47 pm (UTC)
So now they've got the Asian architecture and the Asian garb, but to hell with the Asian language or the Asian people! Good fucking god.
30th-Jul-2009 12:53 am (UTC)
Oh, but it's not really Asian - any of it. It's just a fantasyland!

...I'm going to go cry now.
29th-Jul-2009 11:53 pm (UTC)
Image Hosted by ImageShack.us


Frank Marshall is an embarrassment.
30th-Jul-2009 12:25 am (UTC)
Replacing a real, eons-old written language with made up squiggles erases a lot of the franchise's identity. Using generic, fantasy-fare un-decipherables wipes out lot of the culture and authenticity from The Last Airbender--and that will be hard for them to take back.

What ticks me off about this? Peter Jackson used the languages seen in the LotR books in his film - both written and spoken. Tolkien provided so much detail, and did so much research on, the languages he created, and Jackson respected that.

So a fantasy language that one man created gets more respect then a REAL language, spoken by REAL people. >(
30th-Jul-2009 01:00 am (UTC)
"So a fantasy language that one man created gets more respect then a REAL language, spoken by REAL people."

LOL I was just thinking the same thing.
(no subject) - Anonymous - Expand
But... - Anonymous - Expand
30th-Jul-2009 12:30 am (UTC)
Just when I didn't think my opinion on this whole mess could get any worse.
30th-Jul-2009 12:51 am (UTC)
Well, to make a dramatic understatement, that's lame as hell.
31st-Jul-2009 02:06 am (UTC)
Not to jump on you, but actually lame is not such a good word to use, because it implies not being able to walk as a moral failing. Here's a list to a good set of alternatives!
30th-Jul-2009 01:05 am (UTC)
And I thought infinite FAIL was as far as one could go.

Too bad that different degrees of infinity exist. The new net infinite FAIL > the old net infinite FAIL.

And those would be crap costumes even if there wasn't a whole lot of racist FAIL involved.
30th-Jul-2009 02:02 am (UTC)
This is absolutely disgraceful.
30th-Jul-2009 02:06 am (UTC)
What. The fuck.

30th-Jul-2009 02:21 am (UTC)
So, is it still too early to start calling it AINO (Avatar In Name Only)? B/c this sure as heck is not the Avatar I watched. And if M Night is supposedly a fan of Avatar, then we were clearly watching two different shows that just happened to have characters of the same name.

Something to use in anticipation of the "well, it's also racist to have all these non-Chinese people write in Chinese" argument - Chinese culture has, for a long time, been the main culture in East Asia that in turn influenced the cultures of other East Asian countries, such as Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Japanese still retains a lot of Hanzi (that's what "Kanji" means), and Korea used Chinese characters up until the 14th century until they came up with their own writing.
30th-Jul-2009 04:47 am (UTC)
I don't think it's too early. There are a million, non race-bendery reasons why this is a crap adaptation, and with the massive weight of the racebending as the giant base of the glacial boulder that broke the camel's back, the whole thing is a flaming train wreck. Asides from the utter disgrace that this movie is, everyone is so SERIOUS BIZNESS in the pictures that it's like, really, MN, did you even get the point of the show? Or any of the points? Personally it seems like part of the lesson is that everyone needs to learn that dammit, sometimes you have to focus on the things that are NOT silly fun. But they (Aang especially) *learn it over the course of the show.*

And the bad costuming. I detest bad costuming. Katara and Sokka look like they fell out of a bad Edwardian novel about two upper-class english kids who get lost in the Icy Wasteland Of The North due to some bizarre occurrence, then meet the Noble Savage who helps them find their way back to Civilization, where they figure out the mystery of Who Murdered Their Father or whatever, because they are Such Clever Children.
Aang's looks like what you get off the rack in the fabric store because you've just realized it's October 30th and you don't have a costume. As someone who sews a lot it just looks bad. Like an Airbender costume, as opposed to Airbender clothing.

But I think this is preaching to the choir, as it were. And man, I am Germanic and Norse white all the way (I looked like the kid on the Swissmiss box when I was little, for crying out loud), but even to me Chinese calligraphy is symbolic of the epitome of human thought and culture. (Because as I understand it, it's a whole system of writing developed to be beautiful. I feel like that's the most highly developed form of literacy you could possibly aspire to.) It's totally relevant to a wide audience, asides from the fact that it is a HUGE part of the Avatar world...
30th-Jul-2009 02:33 am (UTC)
I'm so angry I'm crying.
30th-Jul-2009 02:57 am (UTC)
I was going to make this into another journal post later but just so I can say it now, even though I already knew of this news:

Thank you James Cameron! Thank you and bless your soul. I have no idea how well Avatar will do, but thank you for battling Paramount, M. Night and Nick for the use to that title. Because if the film was called Avatar: The Last Airbender, it would just make all of our news 10x worse. Kind of like how the monster in the 1996 Godzilla is just called 'Zilla or GINO (Godzilla In Name Only), you allowed us to call this film just "The Last Airbender" because you took the Avatar out of it so Paramount at least cannot tarnish the name.

We are eternally indebted to you Cameron. =D
30th-Jul-2009 03:04 am (UTC)
Amen to that.
30th-Jul-2009 03:12 am (UTC) - My head hurts...
Anonymous
... I need to lie down... the fail... it's too much...

:groans in pain and frustration:


You KNOW when this is all over, people are gonna get canned. Usually happens whenever a movie does poorly at the box office.

...M. Night's career may be good and over after this open's. I can't think of any studio that will place a movie project in his hands ever again and put their own rep on the line after this tanks.
30th-Jul-2009 03:24 am (UTC) - Re: My head hurts...
You KNOW when this is all over, people are gonna get canned.

We would be so lucky.
30th-Jul-2009 03:50 am (UTC)
This... I really can't fathom why they would do this. It's not like they'd necessarily need to put a lot of research into the Chinese, since it's all right there in the show. Really, there's no point to this except to remove obvious cultural references, and perhaps thumb their noses at all the hard work that Professor Lee and Mike and Bryan put into the original show.

Ugh... is the second statement as bad?
30th-Jul-2009 04:45 am (UTC)
It's also to cover up the whitewashing, probably. Making it look less Asian and more generic makes it look less like yellowface or cultural appropriation. Instead of cultural appropriation it's "blowing off the culture" which is not necessarily better.
30th-Jul-2009 03:59 am (UTC)
IT'S 4KIDS!!! IT'S 4KIDS, OMG!!!!

*HORROR*
30th-Jul-2009 05:24 am (UTC)
LMAO. That is golden! A+ Would lol again. xD

I so needed that laugh. *goes back to crying*
30th-Jul-2009 05:30 am (UTC)
I- I genuinely think I am about to be sick. One of the few positive memories from ASN was the thread that went through and translated every scrap of Chinese calligraphy that was seen in the series (including the date for the Eclipse that happened to correspond with a real world eclipse! No lie!). I loved seen the various translations, even if some of it was somewhat obvious from the context of the show. Now.. even that bit of enjoyment is gone.

Goddammit, I'm going to bed. I know my wishful thinking side of my head thinks this is a nightmare, but my realistic side acknowledges it to be 100% fact. *cries*
30th-Jul-2009 05:46 am (UTC)
Were you part of the folks who did this?

http://avatar.wikia.com/wiki/Writing_in_the_World_of_Avatar
30th-Jul-2009 06:01 am (UTC)
This is just fucking terrible. T.T
30th-Jul-2009 06:14 am (UTC)
*sigh* Well, that's at least one more word on this rolling, ever-growing shit!snowball that I can put in the "official" rather than "rumored" column.

Cue the fans of the TV series chiming in that the gibberish writing "looks great" and is "just like the original!" -_-
30th-Jul-2009 09:09 pm (UTC)
Cue the fans of the TV series chiming in that the gibberish writing "looks great" and is "just like the original!" -_-

*STABS SELF IN EYEBALLS* I mean, I am getting used to trying to predict what the pro-casters say about all the FAILchoices made in the movie, but. GOD. This prediction makes me seriously sick because it will SO come true. AUGH.
30th-Jul-2009 07:21 am (UTC)
Another important object from the Avatar series where Chinese writing was used to good effect...Zuko's knife.



Zuko: I want you to have this. Read the inscription.
Lee: "Made in Earth Kingdom"?
Zuko: The other one.
Lee: Never give up without a fight.

Probably a good idea to keep this in mind while we keep protesting on?
30th-Jul-2009 07:23 am (UTC)
(okay, the translation the show uses isn't perfect, but you get the idea.)
(no subject) - Anonymous - Expand
30th-Jul-2009 08:16 am (UTC)
Ughhhhhhhh.

Seriously, who makes these decisions? I feel like Paramount's sole requirement for hiring must be, like, "Candidate has a pulse."
30th-Jul-2009 08:24 am (UTC)
Add:
1. Write down list of details of the original series.
2. Roll a d20
3. If a natural 20, detail makes the savings throw. Else, detail is ditched. If a 1, we do the exact opposite of the original.
30th-Jul-2009 02:07 pm (UTC)
What the fucking fuck.

I'm reposting this.

*flails*
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