In Kung Fu Panda (2008), we had the fat, loveable and fuzzy Po making a superhero landing into every scene with the clumsiness of a fat panda, often making a colossal mess coming in like a wrecking ball. In the first movie, Master Shifu was forced to teach Po Kung Fu much to his annoyance but his master, Oogway said that it was necessary for him to teach Po so he could fulfill his destiny as the Dragon Warrior and bring peace to The Valley thus defeating Tai Lung (Ian McShane), the vengeful snow leopard who had escaped from prison to steal the dragon scroll. He nearly killed Shifu but thankfully Po stopped him and saved China from certain doom.
In the second movie (2011), the valley was in peril yet again but this time from a deadly peacock called Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) whose main goal was to kill Po and take over China with his new deadly weapon, which in reality was a mega-canon. This film shows us Po’s next lesson in Kung Fu from Shifu. He has to master inner peace. Lord Shen was told a prophecy by a Soothsayer (Michelle Yeoh) and he made it his goal to snuff out any happiness that Po had in his life thus the death of all the pandas. This ended badly for Shen since Po found inner peace despite his best efforts to destroy Po physically and mentally.
Now, we’re in the third movie of this awesome trilogy. Our favourite panda teams up with his dad in this latest arse-kicking extravaganza. Throughout our experience of this witty and amusing series of movies, we’ve watched Po grow in mind and spirit. He has discovered Kung Fu and has fought tooth, nail and paw to protect its legacy. In the latest installment of series, Po’s quest is more personal and emotional than ever as his long-thought dead father Li Shan (Bryan Cranston) re-enters his life.
Li takes him to a hidden panda sanctuary where Po is taken aback by a new love interest called Mei Mei (Kate Hudson). But there’s a new player in China who is not from the land of the living. He comes from the other realm in the form of an evil spirit named Kai (J.K. Simmons) who has made quite a splash in China’s Kung Fu circles. He has been travelling around, defeating all the living masters of Kung Fu and absorbing all their chi energy for himself. Essentially, he’s been soul searching. It’s time for Po to accept his destiny and become the ultimate Kung Fu master. The notion is simple. He must train his panda kindred to become great warriors and defeat Kai.
Living large and eating too many dumplings, Po is making the most of the royalties of being the Dragon Warrior, but he still has a lot to learn. The thing about trilogies is that they rarely maintain the same quality throughout. The ones that comes to mind are Star Wars (Original Trilogy), The Hobbit/Lord Of The Rings and Robert Zemeckis’ classic Back To The Future Trilogy. Those are the only trilogies that I have seen that think retain their quality throughout. Sure, many trilogies normally have an ace first installment and then the sequel is okay or avergae and then the last movie falls flat on its face. The Kung Fu Panda trilogy is excellent throughout. Yes, each film has aspects that trump the others but as overall movies they truly are something special.
For example, the effects and set pieces in this third installment are a lot better than the others. I am in no way saying that the effects in the previous two movies are bad. We are shown the otherworldly setting of the spirit realm where we are re-aquainted with Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), who departed the land of the living in the first movie.He’s just minding his own business in the spirit realm when he’s assaulted by an old friend, Kai (more like a frenemy). Kai is a brutish yak who wields two blades on a long chain. He’s been challenging ancient Kung Fu masters, defeating them and taking their chi which he stores in jade amulets. He has been using these amulets to create a supernatural army. Once he takes Oogway’s chi, he has enough chi energy to travel to the mortal world where he wants to take down Po and take his chi as well. It’s quite amusing that nobody knows who Kai is. Shifu even had to look him up in ancient Chinese Google, which is what we’d call reading a book. Kai even had to say that he used to work with Oogway so two animal civilians would know who he was when he threatened them.Kai’s timing of wanting Po dead couldn’t have been better planned. It comes at a time when he’s only just met his father. Now that he’s met his father, he has to show him the darker side of himself like constantly being in perilous fights against ancient warriors. Li is worried about this. He has no time to worry since Kai poses a threat to the secret panda village, so the pandas must be trained to fight and defend their homes from this blade-wielding yak. Po has been in conflict with his identity since forever really. He was adopted by a goose and all his friends are not pandas. There is not one single panda in The Valley Of Peace. He feels out-of-place and he feels a longing to be with his own kind, other pandas and then his father comes along. He is now belly to belly with other pandas and that’s great for him.
The set pieces are truly awesome. It’s as if Christmas came early and sucker punched you with cinematic brilliance. This series has been written to not take itself too seriously as well. “My fist hungers for justice…that was my fist (rumbling stomach)”. The comedy isn’t always in the dialogue. It’s mostly physical comedy from Po using his size to evoke some amusement from adults and children alike. It’s a kid’s movie but adults will find it funny too. It’s comedic activities like: sleeping until noon every day, avoiding almost all forms of exercise, and consuming one’s body weight in dumplings, cookies and noodles. This all sounds like student life to me. It seems I’m fulfilling my panda potential and conforming to student stereotypes.
I think the best scene in the movie was when he gets indoctrinated into their little panda posse. This is our first look at the potential love interest Mei Mei (Kate Hudson). She’s quite seductive and seems like the type who could be considered promiscuous if this wasn’t a PG children’s movie. She’s sarcastic, witty, amusing and an all round fun-loving character. The role was written mainly for the witty banter, not to crush the KFP fandom’s dreams of the Po/Tigress shipping.
There’s a big battle in the village but the big boss battle takes place in the spirit realm which is the stuff legend. The tale of ‘Po V Kai’ will be talked about for centuries to come and will go down into one of the greatest showdowns in history. Kai did a lot of talking and ended up chewing on Po’s fist rather than on the lyrics he was spewing. Enough talk Kai, let’s fight. All he does chit-chat but we were witness to an apt voice performance from the future Commissioner Gordon, J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
Much alike the other two, it still tells a great story with a good message and themes. You can do anything you put your mind to if you believe in yourself. It doesn’t have to be mastering chi or inner peace. Basic things like integrity, honor, strength and loyalty are some of the components that make up a good person. A good heart and a will to help your friends as well as helping your enemies become better too. Kai is voiced by the evil booming octaves of J.K Simmons, and Bryan Cranston (Trumbo) brings and emotional sting to Li Shang at finding his son and trying to make up for all the years they’ve lost.
The Furious Five are fairly vacant in this movie, maybe except for Tigress (Angelina Jolie) who even calls Po “a friend”. She’s come along way from the ironclad warrior to the copper-hearted tiger. James Hong’s Mr Ping is also back and has more screen time than the Furious Five. He’s Po’s father in practice, always worried if Po is okay and has enough to eat or even his Kung Fu figures. Despite the series being about animals, he edges the trilogy in the direction of the emotional feelings that we as humans experience daily and it’s beautiful to watch.
It takes a village to master chi