“The more you take, the less you have.” With this paradoxical and overwhelmingly simple statement embarks another movie of the quasi-Asian, quasi-American farrago – Kung Fu Panda 3. It seems to be an indictment of consumer culture and capitalist greed. A chink from the philosophy of the Tao, Grand Master Oogway’s dictum suggests to the unwary audience (me, of course) a breath of rejuvenating fresh air from the mystic elusiveness of eastern philosophy. Sadly, the movie makers have concocted a philosophic base mixing the rejuvenating fresh air of eastern thought with the cool mintiness of American optimism, manufactured to guarantee the dazzlingly white-toothed cheerfulness of billboard dazzlers.
Besides the miserable attempts at humour, the strained plotline of the father-son relationship (in keeping with the recent theme of homosocial love, as in Frozen, Brave, Maleficient, and How to Train your Dragon), the racial overtones of the villain Kai, the devitalization of Master Shifu and the Furious Five,and the lousy script, the pace and structure of the film are seriously flawed.
Though this list seems to have covered everything there is to be covered, on the plus side — there seems not to be much of a side, perhaps a corner — the animation is excellent, especially the section where the manuscript tells the story of young Oogway and Kai, the final confrontation scene between Po and Kai, and the characterization of each panda in the panda village.
The events at the panda village, though, and the father-son and father-foster father talks drag the film in the middle, but is made up by the amazingly prompt conclusion. Which is: You may be old, obese, lazy, weak, young, mortal, or Asian, you can turn into Spiderman overnight (or contextually, the Dragon Master). The only thing you need to do is know who you are. And use it to your advantage. The film upholds the basic premise of hidden potential in every individual. Accepting who you are helps you unleash this potential. Sounds good, but what does this mean, really? Po realizes he is a Panda, not anyone else, learns to be comfortable in his panda-ness, and lo and behold! he is transformed into the Dragon Master wielding a set of powers he doesn’t have a clue where from. Same for the Panda villagers, they revive their long-lost powers when they accept who they are, and even little children are using their chi for the cause. How inspiring for a modern kid feeling out of sorts with his/her identity, peer pressures and anxieties.
It’s like enrolling for taekwondo and by the next day you have got yourself deathly skills and two black belts (reminds you of Amitabh Bhachan’s 1978 Don, where Zeenat Aman joins a karate class, and the next shot has her firing from a gun at police officers and throwing down mafiosos like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill). Where is the process in between? I am not asking for a Million-Dollar-Baby-styled training sessions, after all, this is animation for children and accompanying adults. But there is a problem with showing a ‘tender toddler’ beginning simply to be followed by a ‘ninja warrior’ ending. Hollywood is littered with superheroes who became superheroes just because they decided to the previous night or because they were injected with an obscure poison. For the reason that the Panda series are set in Japan and uses eastern cultural imagery, I expected, wishfully, some eastern philosophy to boot. The primary facet of Eastern thought is the belief in flux, movement, anti-stasis. The virtue is not in what you are and what you become, but in how you become. It is against any kind of absolute ends, terminations, and conclusions. The state of becoming is the only permanent thing in the universe.
CLOWNIN’ score: 2/5