Sunday Kaleidoscope

Black, White and Chinese

By Eric Jou (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-06-19 07:48
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 Black, White and Chinese

High-kicking Dragon Warrior Po is back to battle the evil Lord Shen in Kung Fu Panda 2. Provided to China Daily

Black, White and Chinese

Po crashed onto the big screen in 2008 and mesmerized audiences with a world of chivalry, honor and gravity-defying kicks. And he's back, Eric Jou reports.

When I first heard about Kung Fu Panda in New York, I was thinking it was just another cheap ploy out to make money off Chinese culture, but I was wrong. Fast forward three years and having seen Kung Fu Panda multiple times, I find myself wanting to watch its sequel Kung Fu Panda 2 again even though I've already seen it twice.

To Dreamworks Animation's credit, the filmmakers have hit on something right with Kung Fu Panda. In the sequel, they have again knocked it out of the park, so much so that the movie was bearable even with the sound of children crying throughout two thirds of the film.

Not to spoil it for readers who have yet to dive into the Kung Fu Panda universe, but in the first film, the theme was self-discovery. Po the Giant Panda, voiced by Jack Black, aspires to be a kungfu master, and in the course of the plot, learns and becomes a warrior of legend.

The sequel takes this concept of self-discovery and expands it into a grand quest of self and inner peace melded with amazing animation on par or even better than the standard set by Pixar. And of course, Hans Zimmer doesn't fail to deliver on the score.

Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson spices up the quest of self-discovery with tales of adoption and destiny, incorporating grand portions of the film's backdrop with traditional Chinese shadow play and ink-and-brush animation. Inter-splicing the CG animation with these elements really delivers an aesthetic that feels natural to the Chinese culture-themed setting. Flashes of black and red on top of Zimmer's heavy bass music create tension and atmosphere.

The movie starts off beautifully with traditional Chinese shadow puppets playing out the story of the film's antagonist, the peacock Lord Shen (Gary Oldman). It also introduces what was left out of the first film - other pandas.

Shen, the heir of Gongmen City styled after ancient Chengdu, was power hungry and enthralled with making weapons out of fireworks, to the horror of his parents. The ambitious Shen is told his downfall would come by the hand of a "black and white" warrior, and he is determined to prevent this prophesy from happening. The way he goes about it leads to his own exile, but Shen doesn't leave quietly. Instead, he creates a weapon that requires him to pillage and steal metal from all corners of China.

Moving on to the present, Po is living his dream as the legendary Dragon Warrior upholding the peace in the Valley along with the Furious Five, Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Snake (Lucy Liu), and Monkey (Jacky Chan).

Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), who at the end of the previous movie had just found inner peace, receives word that one of the Kung Fu masters protecting Gongmen City has been killed by a weapon that threatens to make kungfu obsolete.

Setting out to save kungfu and China, Po discovers more about himself and his origins, and finally, we find out how Mr Ping, the goose (James Hong) became the father of a panda.

At no point does Kung Fu Panda 2 lose its momentum. This film is definitely worth the effort of watching in theaters or on a big-screen TV, because of the vast visuals to behold.

There are some parts that may be too scary for younger viewers. In fact, I sat through a 2-D showing in Manhattan with a child crying right after the "present" day introduction to Lord Shen, which shows how much malice the animators had vested into the character and how well Oldman voices his part.

In Beijing, 2-D showings are limited, so I watched the 3-D version as well. The movie is so vibrant and beautiful that it's a shame to dim the lights for a couple of zoomed-in 3-D effects. I feel that 3-D takes away from Kung Fu Panda 2 more than it adds to it, although my lady friend disagrees. Regardless of 2-D or 3-D, this movie is a gem and great for dates, family outings, or just a good time at the cinema.

(China Daily 06/19/2011 page15)

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