KUNG FU PANDA (2008)
Shooty score: N/A Kicky score: 5/5
Enjoy with: A standard, no thrills, pale ale like the Sierra Nevada or the Camden Pale. Avoid the ones that will distract you with sharp fruit or sweet honey flavours. The right pale should taste of earthy-mellow hops that gently fizzles across your pallet. Open your beer, take a slow sip. As you do, drop your shoulders, unclench your stomach and wiggle your toes. Now take a long deep breath in (count to six) and a long breath out (count to eight) and pause. Congratulations, you’ve found your ch’i. Time to fuck it up.
At first, you might be forgiven in thinking that “Kung Fu Panda” is a kids film. Bright colours and big smiling faces dance across the screen like a martial arts pop-up book. But if you’ve drunk enough cans of pale ale, you’ll know it’s more sinister than that.
Essentially, “Kung Fu Panda” is the story about a giant panda who, if given a chance, will use his fists of power to tenderise the shit out of you, stick a bamboo pole up your ass, and maul your face off like a fucking lollipop.
Set in ancient China, the story starts in a town where predators and their prey live side by side in a zen-like community, eating copious amounts of noodle soup. In one such noodle bar, we meet our panda protagonist, Po (Jack Black), and his noodle-loving goose father, Mr Ping (James Hong). Po spends most of his time daydreaming about making it as a kung fu superhero and joining the “Furious Five” – a local team of wild animals that bring the pain.
After a gruelling stair climb that symbolises his relentless ambition to reach his goal – a point wasted on small sober children- Po is chosen as the Dragon Warrior and initiated alongside the Furious Five. According to a wrinkly turtle (Randall Duk Kim), a prophecy foretold that when the Dragon Warrior appears, they will be granted the secrets to unlimited power hidden inside the forbidden Dragon Scroll. Sexy, right? Trouble is it also means Po has to defeat the most feared martial arts villain in all of China. A massive snow leopard called Tai Lung (Ian McShane)* who is on his way from prison to murder everyone.
Tai Lung’s prison break is the most visually stunning scene in the entire film. Bolted down in a fathomless pit, we watch Lung free himself with a feather and catapult his way up in a rabid assent to maim his captors. Borrowing some imagery from the One Piece movie, “Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island” (2005), Lung meets a hail of bright red arrows, glistening as they pierce through the blackened abyss. He survives and torches the fuckers. The demonstration of his killer talent is remarkable and completely convinces you that the panda will be useless in preventing the impending slaughter.
Why then doesn’t the tiger, Tigress (Angelina Jolie), just pin Po down and use her 400 kg bite force to slowly bleed out the intruding panda and take the scroll for herself? I wish I knew. Instead, she takes her chances with the approaching snow leopard and relies on a flower wearing bamboo viper (Lucy Liu), a crane in a straw hat (David Cross), a monkey in pants (Jackie Chan) and a mother fucking praying mantis (Seth Rogan), to try and kung fu Tai Lung to death.
Before you get your ch’i in a twist, I know these animals are a clever homage to Chinese fighting styles. It’s just that if you’re going to give a viper martial arts moves and she doesn’t also inject a deadly dose of hemotoxin that disrupts blood clotting and leads to organ failure and death, then you’re wasting every body’s fucking time.
Despite not utilising the natural predatory abilities of its main cast, the fighting is excellent. There is an insane number of move combos that have a perfect blend of upper-body blocks and blows paired with gravity-defying kicks. The story-board must have been a work of art to choreograph such satisfyingly fast-paced sequences because the final animation certainly is.
Gradually Po learns kung fu, thanks to Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) controlling when he can eat- sadly not a feature on myfitnesspal. Po takes to the task, but deep down you know how close he is to mangling the stubby little body of that red panda and using his entrails as dim sum dip. Anyway, Po becomes worthy of the scroll and discovers some essential truths that push him into the final showdown against Tai Lung.
The concluding fight is full of the impressive high powered strikes you’ve come to expect from the lunatic leopard. Yet the real brilliance in this scene comes from Po’s hilarious counter attacks paired with some deep emotional sentiment. Getting preachy mid-fight is something that is often misjudged in films, but here it’s sincerely heartfelt. Don’t be surprised if you start sobbing into your can, choking back those three little words, “Wuxi Finger Hold…”. It’s a genuinely moving ending.
On a more serious note, “Kung Fu Panda” is also an important example of how films with a predominately white cast had gone unchallenged for many years. It’s 2018 as I’m writing this and the question of why white actors were asked to voice Chinese animals is an obvious one. After all, in 2016 “Kubo and the Two Strings” was rightly held to account for similarily whitewashing a story set in ancient Japan. “Kung Fu Panda” might boast a more diverse cast than Kubo, but the Asian-American actors were only in minor roles.
Times have changed since 2008, sure, but calling out older movies like this is a useful way to trace back and measure where we have or haven’t progressed and consider its broader ramifications. Especially for films that aim to inspire our future kung fu masters. Even if they are too young and sober to really appreciate it.
Certificate: PG – Implied animal mutilation
Dir: Mark Osborne, John Stevenson
Writers: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger
Story: Ethan Reif, Cyrus Voris
*Also, who creates a kung fu snow leopard and thinks “British”. Mate. Ian McShane should have voiced a crusty urban fox that would have glassed the c*nt.