Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)

Computer-animated comedy-adventure martial arts film, directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson and produced by DreamWorks Animation. It is the sequel to the 2008 film “Kung Fu Panda” and features the vocal talents of Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Gary Oldman, Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Jackie Chan, James Hong, Michelle Yeoh and Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Trailer

Cast

Being an animated movie, it is the vocal talents rather than the fighting skills of the cast that are employed here. Returning to the role as cuddly hero “Po” is comedian Jack Black. Also returning is Dustin Hoffman as “Shifu” along with the “The Furious Five”; Angelina Jolie as “Tigress”, Seth Rogen as “Mantis”, Lucy Liu as “Viper”, David Cross as “Crane”, and Jackie Chan as “Monkey”. Veteran star James Hong returns as Po’s father “Mr Ping”.

Joining the impressive list of talent is Gary Oldman as the villainous “Lord Shen”, alongside Michelle Yeoh as “Soothsayer” and Jean-Claude Van Damme as “Master Croc”.

Plot

Years before the events of the first film, evil peacock Lord Shen seeks to harness fireworks as a weapon. The goat Soothsayer has a vision of “a warrior of black-and-white” defeating Lord Shen if he does not change his wicked ways. Fearing the prophecy may come true, Shen leads an army of wolves to exterminate all pandas. Shen’s parents are horrified at this atrocity and exile their son, who swears revenge.

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Many years later, hero panda Po is living his dream as the Dragon Warrior, protecting the Valley of Peace alongside his friends and fellow kung fu masters, the Furious Five. His teacher, Master Shifu tells him that although he has come far in his training, Po is yet to achieve the power of inner peace.

Shifu receives word that kung fu masters are mysteriously disappearing, and that Lord Shen has taken control of Gongmen City. Lord Shen plots to destroy the art of kung fu and conquer all of China with his newly developed weapon, a cannon that fires weaponised fireworks. Po and the Furious Five set out to Gongmen City to stop Lord Shen and destroy his weapon.

Action

Although this movie is effectively a “cartoon”, there is actually some intricate, and in places, authentic martial arts choreography going on. Whereas the first movie had obvious nods to films such as “36th Chamber of Shaolin” and the like, here we get references closer to wuxia films, such as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon“, or even “Iron Monkey“.

The first action scene sees Po and the Furious Five defending a village from Shen’s Wolf Army, who are there to procure as much metal as possible. The action moves at blistering speed and is littered with recognisable kung fu moves. Tigress scorpion kicks a wolf, Po butterfly twists, Monkey tumbles and somersaults etc. There is a strong emphasis on teamwork, with two or more characters at a time linking up to defeat a wolf or save a villager.

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Lord Shen is fully introduced in a duel with Storming Ox, Master Croc and Thundering Rhino. Using some inventive animation, Shen fights using authentic Cai Li Fo/Choy Li Fut metal fan techniques. However, being a peacock, Lord Shen uses his large tail feathers rather than an actual fan, whilst Thundering Rhino twirls and spins a large mallet in the style of the Guandao.

Referencing real-life Chinese culture, Po and co try to sneak into Gongmen City dressed as a giant centipede, with movements akin to traditional Chinese lion dance. This sequence is followed by a wild and crazy rickshaw chase, featuring plenty of thrilling stunts that actually wouldn’t look out of place in a live action Jackie Chan film.

As the film builds to a climax there are subtle nods to films like “Once Upon a Time in China“, “Iron Monkey” and even “Tai Chi Master”, with flaming arrows, concealed steel darts and the flowing “soft” style of Taijiquan. The action concludes on a grand scale with a battle in the harbour that rivals even Tsui Hark’s “Detective Dee” movies!

Summary

There are no two-ways about it; the “Kung Fu Panda” films are for kids. However, as a father and martial artist myself, they are quite ingenious.

With family films there is always a tricky balancing act of keeping your target audience of young children entertained without irritating or boring the adults who inevitably also have to sit through the movie. The first film achieved this balance reasonably successfully with it’s slapstick humour, cute characters, great voice casting, and subtle references to the kung fu films of the 1970’s. “Kung Fu Panda 2” is even more successful in striking this balance.

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The humour is still there in spades, but much less reliant on jokes about Po being fat or clumsy. The story has a real emotional heart in Po’s relationships with his stepfather, Mr Ping, and Tigress. The voice cast are once again excellent, especially James Hong, who nearly steals the show as the hilarious Mr Ping. British actor Gary Oldman also remarkably manages to make an animated peacock seem genuinely sinister! Composer Hans Zimmer, famous for his music in films such as “Gladiator”, “The Dark Knight” and “Inception”, delivers a score that hits all the right emotional notes, action cues, and is appropriately epic when required.

From a technical aspect, this sequel has made a huge leap forwards. The animation of real-world things like water, smoke and fire look realistic. The backgrounds, be they the scenic countryside and mountains, or the architecture of ancient Chinese cities, are all beautifully rendered and authentic. But it is the animation of the characters that really sell the acting performances, and of course, the martial arts action. Throughout the film there are many small but effective nuances such as a sample of tai chi pushing hands, or a quick cut to the footwork during a fight.
The action moves at a breathless pace and keeps the slow motion gurning of the first film to a minimum. The fighting techniques always try to incorporate something relevant to the character, such as Tigress’s tiger strikes, or Mantis trapping with his forelegs. My only criticism would be that the Furious Five aren’t featured more heavily as vocal or animated characters.

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If you are a fan of kung fu films and need to entertain a bunch of under-12s, “Kung Fu Panda 2” will leave the whole family with a smile on their faces!

Trivia

  • Nominated for an Academy Award for “Best Animated Feature”.
  • At one point in the movie Master Croc, voiced by Jean-Claude Van Damme, leaps onto a boat and lands in JCVD’s trademark box splits!
  • This movie was the biggest box office success for a film with a female director Jennifer Yuh, until Disney’s “Frozen” in 2013.
  • Although only their voices appear in this movie, Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh are old friends and previously worked together on “Police Story 3: Supercop“.
  • This sequel was originally going to have the subtitle “Pandamoneum”, which was then changed to “The Kaboom of Doom”, before simply being titled to “Kung Fu Panda 2”.

Film Rating: 8/10

Influenced by the movies of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, Glen began training in martial arts and gymnastics in 1995. He made his first of many visits to Malaysia and Singapore in 1998 to learn Chin Woo kung fu under the supervision of Master Teng Wie Yoo. Glen is the author of "The Art of Coaching" and "Fearless The Story of Chin Woo Kung Fu", and runs a kung fu & kickboxing school in Hertfordshire, England.

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