Most action movies are mindless ‘splodey and fisticuff-y entertainment that happens to use martial arts. Martial arts movies, on the other hand, focus on the themes and philosophies of martial arts with action as a happy coincidence. For instance, many martial arts (and sports flicks) promote the values and benefits of self-confidence, training, and perseverance. But Dreamworks’ Kung Fu Panda took these themes to such a whole other level that few others I’ve seen match.
What makes a movie about a bumbling, fat panda so different? Well, for one thing, it’s not just about Po (the titular panda).
A Teacher Learns from His Students
In most martial arts movies, the teacher is an infallible figure who always knows which path the student should take. It’s the student’s fault he can’t open his mind to his teacher’s teachings. How dare the student not grasp the concept of the Five-Fingered Slap of Doom the first time he sees it?
But in Kung Fu Panda, Shifu is just as lost as Po—maybe more. Sure, he trained the Furious Five and that psycho Tai Lung, but Po’s inability to learn is a sign that Shifu might not be as good a teacher as he thought he was. And that’s way more damaging to his pride than it is to Po’s, who knew from the start he sucked.
It’s not until Shifu learns to bend and adapt to his student’s needs that they start seeing results. Shifu’s on a journey too, and it’s just as poignant as Po’s.
Enjoying the Journey
One of the things I love best about Po is that he never loses his enthusiasm for learning martial arts, even when he’s taking a physical and mental beating. He wants it. He wants it so much he literally cries. Po never grows out of his “geeking out” phase. It’s something the jaded Shifu can barely comprehend. Until he finally figures out how to teach Po.
Just take a look at this scene:
Po and Shifu aren’t just training. They’re enjoying themselves. A lot. Po’s learning martial arts, and Shifu’s helping a student grow. They love what they’re doing, and that makes the training much more effective.
No Secret Ingredient
We’re all looking for that magic item that can help us stop sucking as fast and as easily as possible. A surgery procedure. A special training regimen. A well-written blog with amusingly inspirational messages (*ahem*). But while some training methods work better than others, there are no secret ingredients. And Po realizes this on his own—even before Shifu does. I love that this movie stresses that so much, especially in today’s age of quick fixes and instant gratification.
The Last Word
Although you could argue that the goose is the wisest of them all.