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Awkwafina interview: ‘Growing up, Kung Fu Panda was a rare movie that got Chinese culture right’

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Awkwafina is not new to animated films. Also a rapper by profession, she’s lent her voice to a number of franchises, from The Angry Birds Movie, The SpongeBob Movie, Raya and the Last Dragon, The Little Mermaid to Migration. However, playing Zhen, a corsac fox, alongside Jack Black’s Po in Kung Fu Panda 4 hits at a deeper, more personal level for the actor. Also Read – Jack Black Kung Fu Panda 4 interview: ‘We’re definitely going to do 5,6,7,8, and 9 but who knows about 10’

Awkwafina interview: The actor plays a corsac fox named Zhen in Kung Fu Panda 4

Asian American upbringing

Born in New York to a Chinese-American father and a Korean-American mother, Awkwafina grew up quite far from her ancestral land of Asia. However, after her mother died when she was four, Awkwafina was raised by her paternal grandparents. Her grandmother, whom she was particularly close with, couldn’t speak English. So the actor learnt Mandarin in order to communicate with her. Also, interestingly, her great-grandfather moved to the US in 1940s and opened one of Queens’ first Chinese restaurants, Lum’s. Dumplings were as common and sacred in her family as they were for Mr. Ping in Kung Fu Panda.

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“Growing up as an Asian American watching Kung Fu Panda… I thought at that time, there weren’t really too many movies that showed older cultural traditions that I saw in my family. The love for dumplings, the filial piety that exists within it, the relationship with his (Po’s) dad… and even visually, it paints the Valley of Peace in a way that I’d imagine a village to be. So it was cool to have a movie that did honour cultural traditions in the right light,” says Awkwafina in an exclusive interview.

Working with Jack Black

Kung Fu Panda 4 isn’t the first time Awkwafina has collaborated with Jack Black. Previously, they shared the screen space in Jake Kasdan’s 2019 fantasy adventure Jumanji: The Next Level. “It’s the third time actually, because 10 years ago, he discovered my YouTube video and put me in his festival, which was the biggest festival I’d played at. It was so cool,” corrects Awkwafina.

After breaking through with her 2012 song My Vag on YouTube, she was even fired from a publishing job because of the lyrics. But she was elated when Jack DMed her after she was picked as part of the line-up at Festival Supreme 2014, hosted by him. “I freaked out! Jack always makes me feel welcome. He just has that about him. It’s just a pleasure to be working with him and be a part of the franchise that I’ve loved for so long,” Awkwafina adds.

Entering the fourth installment of the animated action comedy franchise as Zhen, she poses as the new partner-in-crime to Po. Her corsac fox is the Yin to Jack’s Yang.  “Jack obviously is a great scene partner, and playing on his energies is so much fun. Great writing, a great script, a great director, they’re all a part of building that camaraderie. I do actually very much enjoy being in the company of Jack. I think that helps,” she signs off.

Kung Fu Panda 4 will release in Indian cinemas on March 15 in English, Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu.

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