Get ready to feel the thunda! “Kung Fu Panda” high kicked into theaters June 6, telling the tale of a sweet, but clumsy Panda named Po (Jack Black), who dreams of fighting with the legendary Furious Five. When it’s time to select the Dragon Warrior, Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), however, he ends up choosing Po rather than Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Viper (Lucy Liu), Crane (David Cross), Monkey (Jackie Chan), or Mantis (Seth Rogen).
The problem is that Po has no real life experience in kung fu, and his real job is serving noodles at his dad’s (James Hong) noodles shop. Will Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) have the patience to teach Po the secret to indomitable power from the Dragon Scroll before the imprisoned snow leopard, Tai Lung (Ian McShane), reaches the Valley of Peace?
While the moral of the story won’t be revealed here, the “secret ingredient” to this DreamWorks Animation production is a combination of great chemistry and style that results is a genuinely funny, awesomely colorful family film with a refreshingly smart dialogue.
The story highlights the struggles of Po – both internal and external – though the fear of failure does not dismiss his enthusiasm for being in a place of which he has always dreamt, a lesson everyone can learn.
KISS FM and KLOVE, along with Paramount, DreamWorks and ArcLight Cinemas, promoted a free screening of the movie at the Sherman Oaks Galleria opening day at 7 a.m. in the morning. The non-profit promotion was done throughout the community to encourage kids to see a movie. Movie lovers of all ages stood on one side of the entrance as students from the Wushu Training Center dressed in various colors of silky uniforms stood on the other side.
“The moves used in the movie are real-life movements from wushu,” said Tova Weintraub, a publicist for the event.
Prior to showtime, a woman greeted the guests, informing them after the show that a free breakfast would be provided complements of Kellogg’s and Yoplait, along with a wushu demonstration performed outside of the concession stand.
Eric Chen’s 35 years of skill were used in the making of the movie, as he was hired as the martial arts consultant for “Kung Fu Panda.” For five years, Chen has choreographed hit movies such as “Pirates of the Caribbean” (parts 2 ‘ 3), “Shanghai Noon” and “Beverly Hills Ninja.”
Adding to his eclectic resume, Chen and his wife, Debbie, are founders and head coaches of the Wushu Training Center. The program offers classes to teach students how to empower themselves and combat with the necessary force needed.
Something that Po winds up learning within the 88 minutes of the film. Luckily, for those who are bored to tears with the sugary-sweet sentiment most animated movies produce nowadays, “Kung Fu Panda” keeps the flow continuously moving with laugh-out-loud moments and a detailed digital atmosphere, thus catering to the needs of all viewers, young and old.
This writer’s favorite part was that the Furious Five were animals that each represent a form of wushu, which is an umbrella term to describe all martial arts styles. For example,
? The tiger is strong and powerful.
? The snake is quick with fast strikes.
? The monkey is nimble, agile, and uses lots of acrobatics.
? The mantis is, despite its size, powerfully controlling.
? The crane is graceful with dance-like steps.
Shaolin monks developed their fighting styles from watching such animals in nature.
What wasn’t well done was that even though the cast is assembled with Asian actors, the overwhelming majority is still by those who are white. So while the main characters’ voices may be provided with the talents of Black and Hoffman, they are not convincing enough to be mistaken for Chinese characters. Even Jolie speaks most of the lines when it is just the five fighters. This can be rather offensive, especially when the writers and artists put so much detail to make the story so authentic.
Jonaz Moreno, a student of Chen, said that to this day China celebrates festivals that the movie showcased. Moreno has been studying for 15 years, and at 19 years old, he has the grace, yet agility to perform moves like a professional. Originally from Mexico, Moreno has lived in the United States for about a year, yet he trains back and forth.
“I wanted to do martial arts ever since I watched the ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,'” Moreno said.
Matthew Osborn, who is also a student of Chen’s, at 22 years old has been learning wushu for almost three years ever since he was mezmorized by the video game, “Soul Calibur 2.”
“I love that (wushu) aspect of it all, so pretty and powerful with so many different styles,” Osborn said.
Osborn may not have been studying very long, but he has already been labeled as an apprentice coach at Chen’s studios in L.A.
“I’m very proud of my students,” Chen said. There is no “master/student” relationship within our family, as it’s more “coach/athlete.” While Chen may not be traditional in that sense, his teachings are done in a way that has his students absorb its rich history and culture. About six times a year, traveling all over the globe is done to inspire others who are less privilege, Chen said.
“This all has been a great experience. DreamWorks is fantastic and so gracious,” Chen said. “We have been invited to so many events.”
Those interested in joining or to know more about the Chen’s organization should log visit the Web site, www.usawushu.com.