Reviews: Kung Fu Panda
It has been nearly six years since I originally saw Kung Fu Panda in theaters, so I will try to put into words all my feelings about it here. It was the year 2008 and Dreamworks had a reputation of being an onslaught of pop culture references, and nothing but comedies. They had some good ones, but the reputation lingered. So when this film's trailer came out, it was interesting because it was advertised as a comedy, but the setup looked unique. So I, a young boy, went to see it, hoping that it would be a good comedy. I was wrong, it was far more than that. The story was interesting, the characters well-developed, and the comedy was very funny WITHOUT resorting to toilet humor or pop culture. The setup is that a Panda (who quite typically eats enormous amounts) is chosen, seemingly by mistake, to be trained as the Dragon Warrior, a legendary fighter who is the only person who can defeat an evil former student. Just from that description you might be wondering what makes this film so special. Well, much like any other idea, it's the execution. Also, the sheer depth they give to these characters is amazing. The film is a marvel to look at, China looks beautiful, all the characters have excellent designs, and it makes very effective use of lighting to highlight the mood of scenes, next time you watch this film, take a look at how the light and color schemes correspond with the mood and the characters. The Characters are also very interesting, they aren't just relegated to one character trait or role. Po, the film's main protagonist is not simply a porky guy who is a Kung Fu fan. He grows as a person throughout his adventure, perhaps best exemplified in his line "I'm not hungry" at the end of a training session in which food was his starting motivation to train. Shifu the master is also given a great deal of depth, as he learns his own lessons about how to teach and how to, in a way, correctly parent and nurture someone. While I sometimes am leery of Asian Philosophy I'll admit that this movie has some very good life lessons. They are also never hammered into your face, they fit the context, this is after all a story of character growth. All in all, this movie was an excellent adventure, and an excellent comedy. I believe it marked a change in Dreamworks for the better and I hope it will continue far into the future.
Few realize that Kung Fu actually has nothing to do with fighting. Roughly translated, Kung Fu means "achievement through great effort". I originally avoided watching this movie, thinking this was some cheap capitalization of tired tropes, but I was persuaded to watch it after listening to praise by a respected individual of the martial arts film industry. It was very apparent very soon that Dreamworks has good Kung Fu in regards to the making of this movie. "There is no secret ingredient". Bruce Lee likened Kung Fu to water in that it is without dimension, soft, yet given enough time is able to erode boulders. One does not need to know everything to become a master, because there is no secret to becoming a master. One only needs an introduction, and all else will naturally follow like a river. Likewise there is no "Level zero". Po, the panda, being able to grasp these concepts makes him a true dragon warrior, even with limited formal training. Big Bad Tai Lung only ruins himself by revealing these spoilers early. One would assume that the whole plot device of using food to train Po would be one purely for comedic value, but this is in fact in line with how Kung Fu works. Bruce Lee also noted that water is infinitely flexible and adaptable; Po turns his liabilities—of weight and food—into his greatest assets. Tai Lung's brute force was unable to disarm Po, and punching him in the stomach only backfires. Po was then able to quickly dispatch Tai Lung by using the Tiger's aggressive behavior against himself, drowning him in his own frustration. My favorite dialogue came about at the conclusion of the final battle, where Po has the enemy by a finger, threatening to use shifu's mythical "wushu finger hold": Tai Lung:"You're bluffing! Shifu didn't teach you that!" Po: "Nope. I figured it out." I was punching the air with a resounding "YES!" when I heard that. I encourage all kung fu and movie lovers to watch this film. The visuals and anthropomorphism only serve to augment, rather than distract from this very well-crafted story. Dreamworks is quickly becoming a master at it's craft, and I humbly await a chance to see "How to Train Your Dragon", another of their pictures which I regret not seeing in theaters.
Nice visuals, poor plot
It is amazingly clear that love has been put in the art. The action is well-paced, the colours are nice and especially the opening sequence (in good old 2D) and the bad guy's prison breakout are eyecandy. I think this movie is worth a watch just to see how fast and dynamic the action scenes are and how much fun the animators have with composition. But there is a story. A story about a panda named Po who idolizes five legendary kung fu fighters and joins them because he is The Chosen One (sort of) and is to master the secret technique on the dragon scroll. I'm going to spoil some things that are only spoilers if you spent your childhood asleep, because by God is this movie predictable. He seems to be completely useless, but when his master finds out the way to train him is through his stomach it suddenly goes at top speed. Meanwhile the five great kung fu fighters have their asses handed to them by the antagonist. He gets three action sequences to show us how totally Badass he is, including beating the living daylight out of his teacher. Oh boy. I sure do hope that dragon scroll isn't a reflective surface with an "it was in you all along" message attached to it and that this eventually leads to the panda single-handly defeating the antagonist (smiling) even though he has barely had any training. Po is funny at times, but I got the feeling someone was walking around with a plot for a semi-serious movie in their head and was told it needed more whackiness. The relationship between Master Shifu and his protégée-turned-evil is the most interesting thing in the movie and Tigress', who was probably an interesting character in earlier versions, gets some hints of a history that get pushed aside to deliver An Aesop about how you just have to believe in yourself. But hey, whoever came up with the idea to make a panda (second only to sad puppies on nature's scale of woobieness) the loser protagonist was onto something, and at least we can expect more nice visuals from the sequel.