Monday, December 8, 2008

Kungfu Panda movie hidden meaning, insights, comments & aha moments

Kungfu Panda movie meaning hidden interpretation reviewSo, Kungfu Panda turned out to be one of the most meaningful movies of 2008! It came as a surprise though as the trailers made it look like those kids movies in which a panda called Po (representing an obese individual) would be supposed to act weird and embarrass himself to make little children laugh and cheer! Nothing wrong with that "Disney" types genre but I'm just not into that stuff (any more, that is!).

So, surprisingly Kungfu Panda totally blew me away more so with my severely low expectations from the Panda and brigade when I first sat down to watch it! Fortunately, I had the director's commentary turned on and I found myself playing some scenes over and again to review what he meant and how the thematic elements worked and what not! It was a really well made movie and the whole anime part not withstanding I ended up watching it 3-4 times! I even kinda wished that a real movie be made with the same concepts!

Anyhow, what I found really interesting is that Kungfu Panda is so full of seemingly inconsequential but immensely philosophical insights and life lessons. It's not just the story of some fat Panda who became a Kungfu master, rather in Kungfu Panda's plot, each character has his own story and the movie is about how their lives are intertwined with each other (remember Crash!)...Below are some of those philosophical insights, meanings and Aha moments in Kungfu Panda that I found really interesting (thanks in part to the director's commentary too or else I would have missed many of these) -

1) Why does Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) decide to die just when he is needed most (to fight Tai Lung) -

Kungfu Panda movie meaning hidden interpretation reviewThis was honestly a very puzzling thing in the movie for me. Doesn't it make sense for Oogway to actually stick around till Tai Lung has been taken care of? It's like one of those things where we shrug and say "it works for the plot" - Kill the master Oogway so that the prodigal son / Panda (Po) can save the day!

But after listening to the commentary I realized that Oogway chooses that time to depart deliberately to help Shifu's spiritual development. If you look at the movie closely, Shifu is skilled in martial arts but lacks the qualities of a true master (that Oogway is); his personality is more blunt and full of psychological flaws, he lacks patience (Oogway blowing the candles scene), can't control his emotions (anger), is not humble, severely lacks empathy, and is highly presumptuous.

Further, Shifu relies too much on Oogway, case in point - Tai Lung; Shifu knows that master Oogway can save the day by beating Tai Lung this time too so Shifu just doesn't try to train Panda. Oogway knows that he is not allowing Shifu to grow spiritually by acting as Shifu's crutch. As long as Shifu has this Oogway's safety net he can't grow. So, Oogway decides to get out of his way at that particular moment as that will push Shifu to learn to stand on his own feet. And before departing, Oogway makes Shifu promise that he will have faith in Po, thereby making him committed to Po's training because Oogway knows that it won't just be Po who learns his lessons from this training!

2) Why doesn't Shifu's super-hearing doesn't work when Po is breaking/entering the kitchen

Kungfu Panda movie meaning hidden interpretation reviewShifu super-hears the noise that Po is making but instead of heading to the kitchen where the sounds are coming from, he looks at the battle-room first! Why though? Doesn't Shifu have super-hearing and being a kungfu grandmaster can't he even locate the source of the sounds? As a matter of fact, he can as we notice the very first time when he accurately determines the direction of snake's attack while sparring with the famous five.

What is significant in this case is the fact that he looks in the battle room first because the sounds seem to be that of someone practicing Kungfu! This shows that Shifu is presumptuous about how things are supposed to happen and for him the only place where kungfu can be practiced is the battle room! He is so lost in his presumptions that Shifu can't even imagine that Kungfu can happen in the kitchen too!

And this is the "aha moment" here - Shifu has the epiphany that in Po's case the best place to learn Kungfu is kitchen and not battle room! Teaching will need to be adjusted to the individual's needs and aptitude! This also paves the way for Shifu to become less presumptuous about the world around him and learn to adapt and adjust to new things!

3) Po is a natural Kungfu master

Kungfu Panda movie meaning hidden interpretation reviewThis is another thing that is not readily apparent in between all the humor and distractions. Po is natural at Kungfu and as it happens he doesn't even need to learn anything special, all he needs is the realization that he already got it all! If you look closely, Po seemed to have learned splits just by watching the Tigress do it and that becomes significant when you take Shifu's comment regarding how it takes years to learn to do a perfect split, into account! Another example would be the way Po learns the Wuxi Finger Hold technique. This technique is supposed to be more of a mental energy or "ki" / "chi" attack variety and therefore not something (like splits) that an astute student can pick up by observing someone do it. But Po does seem to be able to figure Wuxi Finger Hold technique out just by watching Shifu execute it once on Po himself!

This also adds to the fact that Po is virtually indestructible (so to say!), he can keep on taking an incredible amount of beating forever! Even someone like a really pissed Tai Lung doesn't seem to be able to keep him down! Further, Po demonstrates yet another level of invulnerability in the acupuncture scene where Mantis has apparently stopped his heart but Po still doesn't die! So Po is someone who is almost invulnerable and who learns complex Kungfu moves just by watching someone do them! He is a natural Kungfu master and just needs some little direction.

4) Both Po and Shifu learn through Po's training

Kungfu Panda movie meaning hidden interpretation reviewI guess this is pretty much the central theme of the movie - Both Po and Shifu are waiting to realize their true destinies and both need some help. Shifu is waiting to achieve Oogway's level of spirituality but he is stuck in his own little world - guilty, bitter, presumptuous and simply an unhappy human being (or mouse if you may). Po is waiting to realize his dream to become a true Kungfu master but he lacks the true understanding of what being a true Kungfu master is really about.

Oogway understands both Shifu's and Po's needs perfectly and knows that making Shifu commit to train Po will help both of them realize their destinies. Po would obviously uncover his natural talent at Kungfu but what Shifu gets out of it is more subtle - The more obvious thing is that Shifu learns to have more patience, to change his teaching methods and stuff. But the "aha" thing here is that Po acts as a way for Shifu to correct his old error with Tai Lung! Successfully training Po to become the dragon warrior would cure Shifu of all the guilt and bitterness that resulted from his failure with Tai Lung. This is the biggest thing that has been blocking Shifu's spiritual development and once he has corrected the Tai Lung mistake, he is on his way to get closer to Oogway's level of spirituality.

5) How does Po defeat Tai Lung anyway?

Kungfu Panda movie meaning hidden interpretation reviewThis is another one of those confusing things that don't seem to make sense. I mean, Po is definitely not better than Shifu (or at least it seems to be the case) and Shifu is not better than Tai Lung (anymore) so it follows that Tai Lung can easily beat Po! But Po has nothing short of a spectacular victory, how?

I guess besides the obvious Dragon Scroll understanding thing, there are many other subtle hints laid out (and emphasized upon in Director's commentary) - For one thing, we already know that Po is invulnerable. He has taken beating from five masters, Shifu, battle room, stairs and what not without a scratch and so he can take beating from Tai Lung as well! That part makes sense, now as far as his skills to actually beat up Tai Lung with the classic Kungfuing, that starts making sense once we realize that Po doesn't fight Tai Lung on Tai Lung's terms! Instead, Po uses his environment, his body and his weight and other attributes unique to him to win. Examples are Po stepping on Tai Lung's toes (using his Panda weight), rebounding like a rubber doll to hit back (using his Panda thicker skin and fur) and stuff like that.

Another interesting thing is that almost all of Po vs Tai Lung fight is basically a fight between opposites in different ways. Tai Lung hits hard, shows aggression, attacks, aims to hurt; while Po doesn't hit, tackles aggression humor, defends and aims to protect Dragon Scroll instead of hurting Tai Lung. Later on they switch the roles and Tai Lung is on defensive while Po attacks. But the thing to notice is that the fight shows that you can't fight fire with fire! Po can't just stand at one place and go kungfueey on Tai Lung. The only way to fight fire is by water; the only way to fight the "hard" Tai Lung is to be "soft" Po!

He fights like a Panda, so to say and not like a Lion! Had he fought like Tigress or Shifu though, he'd have most certainly lost because that way he'd not using what he's got to the fullest extent but when fighting like himself (a panda) he is invincible! That's the whole point of Dragon Scroll too - you have to be yourself and believe in what you've got to win.


6) Why doesn't shifu himself become the Dragon Warrior?

Kungfu Panda movie meaning hidden interpretation reviewI guess this one is easy now that we know what all things Shifu sucks at! Basically, Shifu is not enlightened enough to deserve the Dragon Scroll, he is ridden with doubts, uncertainty, silly assumptions, guilt and what not. The whole point of Dragon Scroll is to have faith in oneself and with all the psychological scarring that Shifu sports, he is clearly ineligible just as Tai Lung is. This also brings another interesting observation - Shifu is nothing more than a more obedient version of Tai Lung! If you observe closely, you will notice that they both share similar attitudes and emotional issues. It wouldn't be too much to think that it's Shifu who is actually responsible for making Tai Lung that evil and Shifu actually says something to that effect after getting beaten up by Tai Lung.

7) Kungfu, no Kungfu; Noodles, no noodles

Kungfu Panda movie meaning hidden interpretation reviewThis is another gotcha where Oogway says expresses the solution to Po's real problem with a simple saying! Po's real issue is not that he needs to learn Kungfu or lose weight or develop this or that skill. He is a Panda and by Panda's standards he is not overweight and he is natural at Kungfu so learning Kungfu (given the right training techniques) is non-issue as well. Po's real problem is his disconnected view of the world. In his mind, one can either be a big fat Panda or a Kungfu master, one can either be a Kungfu master or run a Noodle shop; and so on. The main source of his happiness in this view is something that is external to his being - he would become happy if he is a Kungfu master and sad if he becomes a noodle store owner etc.

The realization that he needs to be himself first and disassociate his sense of happiness from the world around him is what he really needs and Oogway tells him exactly that! To rephrase Oogway's saying - "Kung, no kungfu; Noodles, no Noodles. These things are just out of your control. Learn to do what you can today and realize that lasting happiness comes from within and not from outside. That way, you will be happy and content whether you are Dragon Warrior or Noodle store owner."

Oh well, I guess I'm getting ahead of myself with all this philosophy. Let me stop it right here before I accidentally convince myself to move to China and master Wuxi finger hold myself to stop the impending Alien attack! Thanks for making it so far, and since you really have read it I'd appreciate your comments....so click on the comments and speak your mind!

To find the hidden meaning of Wall-E movie, click - Wall-E hidden meaning and interpretation - Wall-E: Bible, Adam & Eve

To read something funny about Quantum of Solace, click - 4 Quantum of Solace plot holes and fun comments

19 comments:

  1. You teased out some really interesting insights.

    It was thoroughly enjoyable.

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  2. Good insights. Somethings seem over-analyzed, though.

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  3. Lots of interesting points raised. Thanks! Added some spice to the recent conversation with a friend who loves this movie...

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  4. This was fantastic. I already knew that movie was deep, but you've really widened my perspective of it. Thank you :)

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  5. I have to say that i love this movie and i watch it sometimes and it simply makes me feel better due to the massages. There are many interesting events and comments in the movie but i have missed some of the stuff you have pointed out.
    On my take, i love when Oogway say "one often meets his destiny on the path he takes to avoid it. It basically means that you cant run away from your problems or who you are.

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  6. Interesting insights. Side note: you implied that Shifu is a mouse when he's actually supposed to be a red panda. Oh, and Tai Lung is a snow leopard.

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  7. Excellent insights...thanks. every time I watch the Movie - Kungfu panda, I get new insights.

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  8. Loved your discourse. What strikes me the most about the story is how tied it is. Oogway creates, kungfu - shifu in his attempt to avoid something, causes it to actually happen - oogway's ascension - shifu finding peace! Beautiful! I am actual convinced at times that this is actually shifu's story right through and through. Something used to bother me about the story though; all these grand lessons had to be learnt at Tai Long's expense. But i guess I have learnt to live with it because he had his chance to reconcile but choose to be vengeful. It says a lot about the "evil" in this world and how we learn and grow from it...at least, how we are supposed to...

    Thank you!

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  9. Very nicely written. Interesting read. Thank you

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  10. Very nicely written. Interesting read. Thank you

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  11. U do know tai lang is a euphemism for japan, right. it seems you missed the most obvious subtext.

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  12. Loved reading this! :) awesome! My real guru was like oogway a lot. And these explanations just got me teary eyed how great, selfless and similar they are. Thank you :)

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  13. I have been saying for a while that movies are modern day scriptures...and any scene can lead to a eureka moment, dispelling doubts and bestowing enlightenment, just as an ancient scripture can..the Guru doesn't have to be in a particular form..all of life can be one's Guru, even a film...am so happy to read your post...cheerz nd sparklzz

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  14. Enjoyed this reading thoroughly.

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  15. Shifu is not presumptious. He looked in the training room first because thats where you fucking train your skills for kung fu, why would you train the kitchen?? Thats dumb as fuck. The training room was specifically designed to do one thing... Sharpen your skills and train in kung fu. Its not hard😐

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  16. Great analysis! Thanks a lot! I'd say after reading this the movie seems to be quite underestimated.

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  17. Good writting, good to see there are more people who see the film very much deeply, not as some friends I have :P.
    Not only is a great movies just based on graphics and staff but the insights make it awesome.

    I wanted to give my oppinion telling that you said the mean topic of the movie is the learning of both Shifu (teaching Po) and Po (following Sifu´s teaching) but if you go deeper, it is simpler, and what I loved of the movie:

    Oogway says right before dying:
    "You just have to believe"

    Shifu start believing in Po because Oogway ask him to and he accomplish it. Po knows that he can defeat TaiLung when he realized there´s nothing else (dragon scroll empty), just believe in ourselfes.

    With faith, we can do everything

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  18. I also want to add something that I figured out on my own observation in the Po vs Tai Lung fight.You can see subtle references in this fight to the rest of the film. When Tai Lung hits Po, he bounces back and hits him just like the dummy did Po. Tai Lung gets hit by the tree just like Po, and Po shuffles the pans with the scroll inside just like Master Shifu who shuffled the bowls with the dumpling inside. This probably symbolizes that Po is now the master, who has figured out the key to being the dragon warrior and Tai Lung is the confused wannabe, just like Po was at the beginning of the film. I don't know if anyone else caught this but I found it to be an awesome detail.

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