Review – A Po Excuse for a Sequel (“Kung Fu Panda 3”)

That roly-poly Kung Fu ‘dragon warrior’ is back again for another chop-socky kids comedy starring Jack Black as the voice of Po, the rotund panda that’s part of an elite fighting force in Old World China. This time around he meets his greatest enemy: the third sequel!

We pick-up from Part Two where Po discovers Li Shan (Bryan Cranston), his long-lost panda father, who’s been hiding in a secluded sanctuary of pandas. But, before any family reunions can take place, we find out (in the Spirit World) that an evil bull named Master Kai (J.K. Simmons) is able to capture the “Chi” in others, (the living energy inside you), and reduce them to jade trinkets he wears like ornaments. This includes the former late Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) who, with his Chi captured, allows Kai to return to Earth to square-off against The Dragon Warrior (Po) and his buddies, The Furious Five.

But Po, assigned to be a Kung Fu teacher now by Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), has his doubts (as always) about being a teacher and learning to harness Chi for himself. Once his teaching skills are, shall we say, less than stellar, he turns his attention to finding out more from his new pappa and the panda village. It seems the only way to defeat Kai is learning Chi from the pandas, who supposedly hold the secret of Chi and it’s mysteries. Well, isn’t that convenient!

Anyway, while Po is having fun at his new panda gathering, Kai is on the move and leaving a trail of destruction in his path, turning most of the Furious Five heroes (David Cross, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogan, Lucy Liu) and Shifu into jade ornaments. Tigress (Angelina Jolie) escapes to warn Po, who then sets out to teach the panda villagers to fight back using their unusual skills against Kai’s jade minions. In the end, Po faces Kai after receiving devastating news from his father, but turns it around to achieve his own personal Chi.

Written by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, the same writers from parts one and two, this movie suffers from the age-old writers paradox: if the movie formula works, should I mess with it? The first two had adventure, thrills, excitement, comedy and moved like a samurai sword. In a departure away from that, Aibel and Berger decided to focus on family, self-doubt, finding ones Chi, and crippling unfunny panda village mayhem. Oh sure, there’s the requisite fight scenes here and there, but all the former adventure, thrills, and excitement were jettisoned in lieu of cutsie panda hijinks.

Co-directors Jennifer Yuh Nelson (from Part Two) and newbie Alessandro Carloni, muster the feel of the past Kung Fu Panda‘s, but the story just meanders and becomes anti-climatic, which is a terrible shame given the previous two films were so excellent. Yes, it still looks fantastic! Dreamworks Animation spares no expense in their CGI with eye-popping graphics, striking colors, and beautiful renderings. In THAT we can all agree that Kung Fu Panda 3 excels.

The Warrior’s Way (2010) 

The pupil becoming the master and teaching a town to defend themselves against a bunch of bad guys? Well, you don’t have to be a Kung Fu Panda to do that! In this blistering fun and wickedly cool New Zealand-South Korean fusion, writer/director Sngmoo Lee serves up a delicious mélange of High Plains Drifter and The Magnificent Seven with some<i

In 19th century Asia, an unstoppable warrior named Yang (Jang Dong-gun) has grown to be the best in his clan by wiping out nearly every other clansman in order to be number one. But, when ordered to kill an enemy–a baby–he refuses and flees with the infant to a dilapidated town in the old American West. Yang arrives in Lode, a small, dead and dusty town, where the main attraction there used to be a carnival. Yang is introduced to the townsfolk of friendly carnies, led by dwarf Eight-Ball (Tony Cox), town drunk Ron (Geoffrey Rush) and spunky laundress Lynne (Kate Bosworth).

Lynne gives Yang the nickname ‘Skinny’ and agrees to teach him how to do the laundry, while Yang begins to enjoy his life with the baby, dubbed April. Meanwhile, back in the East, Yang’s former master Saddest Flute (Ti Lung), sends his assassins to America to find out where Yang is. And if that weren’t bad enough, nasty Colonel (Danny Houston) and his loathsome posse, arrive in town to terrorize the townsfolk, but Yang stops the bad guys with his mad ninja skills. The Colonel vows revenge and decides to return with even MORE bad guys to wipe out the town and Yang.

Cue the training montage! Yang teaching the jittery carnies how to fight back, especially showing Lynne how to use a samurai sword. The plan works and, at a chaotic shoot-out at the town’s Ferris wheel, the good guys win. . . until the Sad Flutes assassins show up! An epic battle of sword and blood erupts with Yang taking the fight out of the town to save the others with baby April in tow.

This is one terrific movie that you probably never saw. Barely on the U.S. market radar for more than a moment, this movie came and went faster than kung pao chicken. It’s amazing that this is Sngmoo Lee’s one and only movie and it’s a hum-dinger. A wild combination of East meets West, of bullets vs samurai, and a baby caught in the middle, just like in John Woo’s Hard Boiled.

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