Kung Fu Panda 3 Executes Sophisticated Punches to Marvel At! A Movie Review

30 Jan

By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)

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Everybody will soon want to hum to the new Kung Fu Fighting in Po’s journey (Jack Black) in Kung Fu Panda 3. Not only does the story reunite him with his past, of a life totally forgotten, but also the CGI, watercolour scroll visuals (revealed in flashback) and 3D deliver a glorious blow to the senses to behold. Very rarely will a film get the depth right and this film gets the job done perfectly!

There’s no subtitle to indicate what the tale is about, and true to the great cosmic will, this young warrior’s destiny is looking like it will come full circle. The virtues of yin and yang are duly explored in this latest entry; from witnessing how Po has to deal with two fathers — one biological (Li Shan, voiced by Bryan Cranston) and the other adoptive (Mr. Ping, played by James Hong) not necessarily seeing eye-to-eye — to learning about what his true potential is, this computer animated gem combines the best themes realized in other Wuxia films. When considering this story is co-developed by both divisions of DreamWorks (in China and USA), enlightenment is achieved!

While this movie is focussed on reuniting Po with his Panda heritage, an old threat wants to return to the physical realm to wreck chaos. Kai (J. K. Simmons) is a temperamental bull who has a history with Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) — who passed away in the first movie. This film takes a peek into the spirit realm to show that life continues, and while this turtle is enjoying his ‘retirement,’ not everyone in this plane of existence feels the same. The two meet again, and the plot of Kai wanting to steal souls exist so he can amass a new army. Of course, he senses Po’s vitality and he is coveting it for his own use.

When this film is coming hot on the heels of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the themes presented about who can master the “Chi” (also known as Qi — a life force of the universe) will feel familiar. Anyone who recalls LEGO: Legends of Chima and Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu will find the ideas similar. In Chima, the story examines how the world’s inhabitants make use of the Chi energy (concentrated into orb form) because it’s the source for all life. Kung Fu Panda 3 sees the souls of martial arts masters turned into crystal totems. In Ninjago, the tale always emphasized how the heroes have to discover their true potential instead of mastering a combat skill. Great power can be unleashed when this awakening happens and Po has yet to fully awaken as the Dragon Warrior. For fans of Sony’s video game God of War, the weapons Kai uses are very much borrowed. Fortunately, Kai is no Kratos; although this character can be seen as an anti-hero, perhaps there will be more story to tell about how those who succumbed into the dark side can find the light again. The yin and yang motifs are very prominent throughout this tale, so anything is possible.

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This film is very fun and highly entertaining because of the contrasts being revealed in a way for everyone to understand. Neither can exist without one or another, and that makes for a great plot device when Po has to figure out where he belongs in the community. Is he a cartoon hero or a humble monk-warrior? The movies sometimes skims the surface of this subject but never fully provides answers until the third film. Instead of going slapstick with the humour, the laughs come from the perfect execution and comic timing between Black, Cranston and Hong. J.K. Simmons is excellent as Kai — his comic nuances are very subtle but they exist.

And who can not love watching a bunch of roly-poly pandas grace the screen? Perhaps the filmmakers acquainted themselves with the hilarious Isao Takahata movie Heisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko because that’s the type of energy expressed when Po observes life around the panda village. Just like the raccoons, these bears are lazy and fun-loving. Everyone here function as a family looking out for one-another. Po discovers he is no longer the last of his kind, and he might even find a love interest eventually. He also learns about the fate of his mother. The reveal is sad; sacrifices are often made for a greater good but he understands. When compared to the earlier movies of this franchise, the first focussed on the slapstick and the second emphasized world building. The latter was not all that memorable despite having the final scenes setting up the third film which took five years to develop.

Fortunately, during that time, Po’s adventures continued on television in Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness. Although the third season was not widely broadcasted, hopefully this film will encourage broadcasters like YTV in Canada and Nickelodeon in USA to put it back on the schedule. New episodes have been sporadic since 2014, and broadcast discontinued in the later part of that year, perhaps when work on the film was ramped up. DreamWorks Animation may have had to focus their energies in where it’s needed. New episodes were allegedly made, but until they are shown, hopefully there will be more tales to come for this Po the Dragon Warrior to fire up!

4½ out of 5

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