Kung Fu Panda 2
Featuring the voices of: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Gary Oldman and Dustin Hoffman (English version); Eason Chan Yik-shun, Denise Ho Wan-sze and Jaycee Chan Cho-ming (Cantonese version)
Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Category: I (English and Cantonese versions)
If there's one thing in Kung Fu Panda 2 that mirrors the film's spirit, it's the new decor of the noodle restaurant run by the kung-fu fighting panda Po's father, Mr Ping. The memorabilia celebrating his son's heroics have clearly been a boost to business, but they also show his love and pride towards Po's virtues and villain-bashing endeavours. This mix of pragmatism and passion drives Dreamworks' sequel to their 2008 hit, as the Hollywood studio delivers a commercially accessible yet culturally reverent film which channels aspects of Chinese culture into a thoroughly universal (and, admittedly, Westernised) blockbuster.
Like its predecessor, Kung Fu Panda 2 works mainly because it veers clear of relying overtly on pastiche: while there are certainly nods and winks for those well-versed with film aesthetics - such as when Po (voiced by Jack Black in the original English version) asks villagers 'to start playing some action music' to complement a fight scene - Kung Fu Panda 2 is basically a self-contained piece boasting a solid narrative, sharp humour and, of course, remarkable imagery which does justice to its action scenes and quaint landscapes.
As the film begins, Po has already become one of the Dragon Warriors, a group of formidable heroes working under the tutelage of Shifu (Dustin Hoffman). The clumsy, clownish panda is soon jolted out of his antics - entertaining people by stuffing 40 meat buns into his mouth and the like - when news emerges of the evil masterplan of Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), a peacock hell-bent on conquering China and destroying kung fu.
In an opening sequence, which pays homage to shadowplay theatre, it's revealed that Shen's monstrous ambition stems from his desire to avenge his parents' decision to banish him from the palace. This oedipal raison d'etre runs parallel to Po's struggle to comprehend his own roots: struck with visions from a long-suppressed past, Po finally comes round to suspect that Mr Ping (James Hong) - a goose - is not his biological father. Shen and Po's lives become increasingly intertwined, providing a new take on the reflections on fate which dominated the first film, and adding another layer to what is essentially an entertaining and technically masterful piece of work from Jennifer Yuh Nelson.
Kung Fu Panda 2 opens today