A look back at Paws Of Fury: The Legend Of Hank


A look back at Paws Of Fury: The Legend Of Hank

Michael Cera as Hank and Samuel L. Jackson as Jimbo in Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank.

Michael Cera as Hank and Samuel L. Jackson as Jimbo in Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank.
photo: Paramount Pictures

Published in 1974 – and intended as a racial satire –Flaming Saddles got away with some things that are problematic by today’s standards. Paws of Rage: The Legend of Hank reinvented Flaming Saddles as a samurai picture with animated talking animals. But the creatives at the eight (count them) different production companies involved have all apparently been living under a rock for the past half-century. Unless, of course, they’re delusional enough to think that the premise is somehow less damaging if they replace all the characters with talking animals – which wouldn’t be at all surprising given the intellectual laziness and artistic bankruptcy of every other choice in this film.

That’s not an extrapolation :Ooriginally titled Flaming SamuraiThe film is based on the screenplay by Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor and Alan Uger. The update moves the story from the American frontier to a feudal Japan populated by cats. These cats get around on horses because the filmmakers obviously didn’t think that through. The black sheriff in the original is now a beagle named Hank (Michael Cera), who we find in a flashback to the set Westside Story score aspires to become a samurai because other dogs bully him at home. But dogs are not welcome in Japan and he ends up on death row. Ika Chu (voiced by Ricky Gervais), conspiring to take control of Kakamucho Village, sends Hank there to take the position of town samurai, knowing full well that he will be driven out by the villagers. Instead, the disgraced samurai Jimbo (Samuel L. Jackson) essentially reprized his role from The protégé) trains Hank to be the savior Kakamucho so desperately needs.

Even in an animated film, someone like Hank, oppressed in an exotic land, is exactly the kind of toxic online straw man that’s morally reprehensible for a studio to make a movie out of in 2022. But by showing no trace of affinity or reverence for Asian culture, martial arts, or any of their narrative touchpoints, paws of rage is also an example of the worst form of cultural appropriation. There is no mention of a consultant in the credits, nor is there any indication that such research went into the script or animation. Of the approximately 300 cast and crew members listed in the film’s IMDb listing, you can count their Japanese names on one hand. Screenwriters Ed Stone and Nate Hopper don’t name the fictional town Kakamucho because it means anything in Japanese, but because you get something by replacing the Ks with Cs.

Aside from “contract” and “beauty salon”, which are correctly rendered in kanji, most of the words that appear in the animation are either nonsensical doodles that pass for calligraphy, or English words in the wonton script that precede Taken over decades by restaurant food containers and martial arts school signs. Basically, the animators are so lazy that they can’t bother using Google Translate. As for the beauty salon, the signage is (perhaps obviously) historically incorrect, but seems largely due to the filmmakers confusing the Japanese with Asians of other ethnicities who stereotypically run these businesses.

Meanwhile, Stone and Hopper reach for the lowest hanging fruit possible as cultural signifiers. You can imagine they were incredibly pleased with themselves for working origami into the script, but there’s also a fat cat that may or may not surprise you, her name is Sumo (Djimon Hounsou). Ika Chu, underscoring the fact that the writers also seem to know nothing about Pokémon, has a British accent for no other reason than being voiced by Gervais. Then there’s the Shogun, named after Toshiro Mifune, Akira Kurosawa’s frequent protagonist, who has to wallow in his grave. To make matters worse, Mifune is voiced by Mel Brooks replacing the red face he was in Flaming Saddles with yellowface in it. And then South Korean rapper Psy’s “Gangnam Style” is heard on the soundtrack in another act of the film’s lazy melting-pot approach to exploring Asian culture.

Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank | Official Trailer (2022 Movie) – Paramount Pictures

Ruthless cultural insensitivity aside, Stone and Hopper’s writing just isn’t smart or funny. Poop and fart jokes are at the core of their repertoire, and if you’re curious about how dependent the film is on this material, Paramount is literally handing out whoope cushions to promote the film.

From the eight companies involved and some 300 cast and crew members, it’s clear that not enough red flags have been raised — if any — about the thoughtlessness of this production and its performances. Regardless of whether its predecessor conforms (in whole or in part) to today’s standards of sensitivity, Flaming Saddles not only hired Richard Pryor as screenwriter, but at least strove to comment on the bigotry he portrays. paws of rage softens this film’s commentary and turns its R-rated aspirations into a reminder of exactly why more people of color need to be involved in creative decision-making—on all projects, but especially on ones like this one.

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