On the movie and why the casting is the least of the problems:
SUM UP One to Six
Shyamalan has been widely and rightfully criticized for whitewashing the ATLA main cast. Sadly said whitewashing is only the tiny tiny tip on a huge iceberg of racism hidden in the depth of a bad movie.
I can take only so much of that movie without wanting to throw something at our TV, so I will do this in bits and pieces.
Let’s start with the opening sequence. Notice something? All the Chinese characters from the animated series have been replaced with gibberish. Deliberately replaced with gibberish. There was no need to change them, especially since the rest of the opening was kept exactly the same.
This would be offensive in and off itself, but in the grander scheme of what Shyamalan did to the ATLA universe, it is the first step in his grand effort to remove anything Chinese from ATLA and replace it with India (in case of the Fire Nation, which he clearly seems to fanboy) or, when not possible to replace, portray as squalor and poverty and full of dumb people.
I said earlier that Shyamalan replaced the Fire Nation with India. Let’s take a close look at the Fire Nation soldiers/people we see. Notice something? Yeah, the Chinese aspect from the animated series has been completely replaced, down to the clothes and hairstyles.
Now take a look at the second picture, movie Earth Kingdom. Notice how run down, undeveloped and poor the place looks? How the people are dirty and dressed in unflattering raggy clothes? How the earthbenders are rounded up in a camp and need Aang to point out to them that earth is earth and then, when they fight back, it is pathetic? How utterly OOC the place is to anything we see in the series, how unfavorable the portrayal is?
Oh, and that’s Kyoshi Island …
See Shyamalan. See the movie dragon. See Shyamalan remove anything Chinese from the Fire Nation.
Fang is not modeled on a fantasy dragon. ATLA is not King Arthur. FFS.
Let’s compare the movie Agni Kai with the animated version.
The animated version is much more in detail, showing Zuko’s age, how terrified he is and how he is kowtowing and crying for mercy in front of an audience of hundreds of people and the menacing figure of his father.Then we see a grinning Zhao, a smirking Azula and Uncle closing his eyes.
The movie version barely spends any time on the Agni Kai at all. All we see are three scenes: A clothed Zuko standing there looking confused, Ozai and his guard walking towards him and then a direct shot to Azula’s and Uncle’s reaction.
No crying, no kowtowing, no menacing faceless Fire Lord and Azula looks like she’s not getting it and looks like there’s going to be free ice cream.
The question I asked myself here is: Why the changes? Why be less menacing than a cartoon? What is the purpose in keeping what Ozai did vague and non threatening?
It makes more sense if you look at it from a Fire Nation/Ozai fanboy apologist perspective. Take a look at the movie. The Fire Nation is portrayed as technologically advanced and civilized and not just that, Shyamalan has more than once superimposed it with India (see the casting of all the Fire Nation, not just the main cast). He most certainly did not do that because he thinks they are the villains, quite the contrary, he seems to fanboy them a lot.
Which explains why he took pains to make them seem less evil, especially Ozai and Ozai actions in the Agni Kai. Notice how much less severe Zuko’s scar is? And by less severe I mean barely noticeable.
While I think that most adaptations would be better if the director/writer did know and love the material, Shyamalan went too far and retold the story how he thought it should have been i.e. with an Indian Fire Nation and Ozai as the misunderstood villain who’s not so bad after all. That no one but him wanted to see that, who cares…
The Throne Room, Rome and the lack of a Caldera
Also: Further proof that Shyamalan decided to remove most Chinese aspects from the Fire Nation and replace them with his idea of cool to make the Fire Nation into his idea of awesome.
Shyamalan’s version of Ozai aparently has a Caesar complex. Gone is the Han topknot and the fire crown, replaced with a Roman style haircut. Gone are his hanfu robes, replaced with an armor and a cape that make him look like a classical depiction of Julius Caesar.
His palace, too, suddenly looks more European/Roman than Chinese.
Also note the absence of the caldera and how the architecture in the background looks… Indian.
Dear Shyamalan, we get it. You love conquering empires and hate China.