Thursday, June 05, 2008

KUNG FU PANDA: Hail The New Martial Art Kid

KUNG FU PANDA (animated comedy in English and Cantonese in selected cinemas)

Voices: Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan and Lucy Liu
Directors: Mark Osborne and John Stevenson
Time: 90 mins
Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 4)

WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? Watch out guys, there is a new kung fu kid in town and his name is Po (pictured above). Just Po! And voiced by Jack Black as the roly-poly panda who dreams of being a bodacious kung fu fighter, he is set to win the hearts of not only the children but also most adults who have ever watched a martial arts movie. He is that fun... and funny! "Kung Fu Panda" is also available locally in Cantonese dialogue, featuring the voices of Hong Kong's three famous Chans: Eason, Jackie and his son, Jaycee.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Somewhere in ancient China, a village is all excited by the upcoming announcement of a new Dragon Warrior who will inherit a Sacred Scroll and receive unimaginable powers. The announcement is to be made by the Yoda-like turtle sage Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) at his mountain temple and young panda Po is asked by his father (James Hong as Mr Ping, the goose) to take the noodle cart up there and hawk their noodles.
Po has trouble climbing the steps leading to the temple - and by the time he gets to the top, the event has started and the doors are closed. One thing leads to another and Po is 'accidentally' picked to be the Dragon Warrior instead of a member of the Furious Five: Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Viper (Lucy Liu), Crane (David Cross) and Mantis (Seth Rogen). These five are all martial arts prodigies who have trained under the diminutive wolf Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman). Now Po faces a grave problem: He has to train hard, learn the secret of the Dragon Scroll, and fight against the fearsome Tai Lung (Ian McShane), a kung fu master so resourceful that he is able to escape from a mountain prison manned by 1,000 guards!

HITS & MISSES: The scripters Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger have kept the plot elementary so that it would appeal to the young 'uns. Its message, that we must believe in ourselves, has been done so often that it is a cinematic cliche. Still, it works here, thanks to the appeal of Jack Black. They have also stuck to the Chinese martial arts traditions for the storyline, poking fun at them and delighting kung fu fans young and old. With animation, any stunt is possible and directors Mark Osborne and John Stevenson go all out with seemingly impossible ones - all without the need for 'wire-fu'.

Technically, the scenes and 'locations' are breath-taking. The characters are all well-drawn, with minor details like the pudgy Po's wobbly abdomen, Shifu's facial expressions, etc. However, the most important aspect of the movie is that the audience can 'connect' emotionally and spiritually with the animal characters - yes, even with the villain Tai Lung.

THE LOWDOWN: There's no doubt about it, Po the kung fu panda is set to kick up a storm in cinemas all over Malaysia.


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