Thursday, July 19, 2007

Pankun & James and the Culture of Cute

Watch any commercial for any bank in, and you’ll probably see smiling tellers helping clients realize their dreams of building a new house, saving money for their childrens college tuition, etc. The same applies, generally, for European bank ads. Sure, from time to time, you’ll see some attempt at humor in a banking commercial, but they more or less stick with the “this could be you smiling in our bank” paradigm.

What you won’t see is Puki, the dancing pig, epitome of the 好可愛 [so cute/lovable] culture here in Taiwan, as well as Asia in general. I just can’t fathom how anyone can take a bank seriously, when its commercials consist of a badly-animated pig singing a miserable, though irritatingly catchy,* jingle that doesn’t seem to have much to do with banking. Apparently, they do though, because I see people ― seemingly self-respecting men and women, even, in business suits ― carrying a briefcase in one hand and, in the other, a pink box with Puki on it that I assume is filled with goodies they received when opening a new account at this bank.

The only video I can find as proof is one I’ve never seen here. It’s kind of eerie actually, for an English speaker watching it. At the beginning you see someone put money in the pig (Puki) then he starts dancing, and the only English words you see are “Happy” “Happy” “Money” and “Happy.” It seems like an anti-capitalists worst nightmare ― mooooneey, haaapppyy, mooonnneeyyy, hhhaaapppy…

This only scratches the adorable, pink surface of this disgusting Asian tendancy. I’ve already expressed my hatred for the boinks, bonks, laugh tracks, and “Oh my God!”s on Taiwanese television. The culture of cute permeates almost every aspect of life in Taiwan. You can hardly buy anything here without them trying to shove some Dolaemo, Hello Kitty, or any of the other cutesy-pootsy cartoons’ magnets, stickers, bookmarks, etc. as a free gift for having spent more than NT$30. Then there are the places where it isn’t forced upon you, where Taiwanese kids fork out the bucks to get 好可愛 pictures, complete with digital graphics and what not. They get this done in what are essentially giant buildings (see photo above) full of nothing but photo-booths. It’s a genius idea for whoever created it, because all you do is buy twenty or thirty photo-booths, put them somewhere, color everything you can pink, and let the software do its job. I wish I could have thought of it.

There is one personal exception, I must note, to all of this. It’s a Japanese ― Japan is, after all, the Cute-opolis, progenitor of all that is cute ― television show called Pankun and James. As much as I disdain everything all of this superficial cutitude that surrounds me, this show manages to cuddle its way past all of my natural defenses and warm a certain cold dark place in this crotchety, old man of twenty four years. The show is just a chimp and a bulldog who are assigned certain tasks to complete with each episode. I’ve seen them work in hotels, go to the vet, spend a day at the amusement park, etc.

Hilarity ensues.

I’m sure there’s some reason why I ― a well educated, sensible young man ― shouldn’t be duped by such blatant cute-paganda, but I can’t help it. I’m amazed at how much this chimp can do, and having a bulldog as a silent sidekick is just great. Look for yourself.

Here, the chimp (I don't know if it's Pankun or James) re-enacts a scene from the ring. He messes it up the first time but can't contain his joy the second time when he nails it.

Here's the two in a PE class with little kids.

Here's a good one (part two) of them planting rice.

* Right, try to tell me you haven’t had that gut-wrenching realization that you’ve just started humming “Puki, Puki, Puki, kowai…”


  1. Dude the chimp doing sit ups is pure comic gold.

  2. If you think that's funny, you have to see the show. It's hilarious.