Monday, January 6, 2014

Kung Fu Panda 2

Sometimes there's a little touch of serendipity. For example, right around Christmas, Amazon had Kung Fu Panda 1 and Kung Fu Panda 2 on sale in the digital format. I snagged both of them for like $5.99 each as opposed to the almost $10 they are now.

I saw serendipity because I had no clue that I'd be playing in a Legends of the Five Rings game, which was brought about by seeing the movie 47 Ronin. Sometimes things just hit in cycles. Mind you, while I love Wuxia style games, Legends of the Five Rings is generally more of a samurai game. I'm not saying it's impossible to make a monk style character.

If I'm recalling correctly, the Dragon have their own clan for it, and there are some skills and advantages that allow you to at least be competent in it. I believe the Dragon monks even breath fire if they survive long enough. But it's been a long time since I was a master of the game system and 4th edition is still calling me to read it more and more.

Anyway, I enjoyed the original Kung Fu Panda. I dug the sound track, the visuals, and the story. The folks at DreamWorks tend to make a good movie in my opinion.

I was not disappointed in Kung Fu Panda 2. It helps that it's an animated film. By doing so, the company is able to overcome issues that plague many historical based productions like HBO's Rome. Anyone remember that it was supposed to be the sheer cost of the sets, the huge cast and the awesome costumes that doomed it to being only two season? Going the animated route allowed the creators of Kung Fu Panda to also play around with the imaging.

For example, we discover more about the Dragon Warrior's background. To all viewers, it's obvious that Po is adopted since you know, his father is not a giant panda but to Po it comes as a surprise. By using what I'll call 'traditional' or carton style imagery it clearly cuts the scenes that are memory and those that happen in the here and now. It works well.

The story hits several of the 'standard' bits. We have a little bonding between the members of the original Five and Po. We have some great 'kung fu' moments. We have moments where the opposition seems entirely too powerful and that it will take a miracle to overcome. Oh yeah, and chase scenes. We get several of these and some of them very entertaining visually like where Po and the Five are disguised as a dancing dragon for a festival and 'eat' their enemies and well, they don't come out the front end.

There is also a bit too much of the 'drama' key for me. Mind you, it's not an overwhelming thing. There are some tragic elements added to Po's background, which for the purpose of the movie, work fine, but the added little 'extra' at the end, that hit the drama key for me. Worse then that though, is the supposed sequel isn't supposed to be out until Christmas 2015. Thankfully there is an actual carton series that doesn't do a bad job of capturing some of the fun although the animation in that has nothing on the movies.

I'll be discussing some specifics of the movie below and things that inspired me from the movie so if you don't want any specific spoilers, read no further.

1. The nemesis effect: I'm not quite sure that is the actual specific name but in short, when you hear a destiny you don't like and go about changing it only to have the exact thing you didn't want to happen, happen. In this case, the foe, Shen, a peacock, is a chemist of sorts who sees a new future for the powders used to make fire works but a seer foresees that a panda will stop him. Shen's solution? Kill all the panda. Doesn't work though as Po winds up being sent off to a far away place and due to his location, becomes the dragon warrior, the only one capable of stopping Shen.

Mind you, that's the 'easy' way. It's similar to the original Batman movie with Jack playing the Joker. Joker in that movie at least, kills Bat's parents, Bat's and thug fight, thug gets turned into Joker and final showdown happens!

One of my favorites though is a little more subtle. It's a Viking tale. Powerful warrior goes to see how he'll die. He's told it's his horse. He's like, "My hose?" Kills the horse. Goes out and does all sorts of Viking things. Years later finds the skull of his horse and is like, "Whose killing who!" and kicks the skull aside, disturbing the poisonous snake beneath it who bites and kills the Viking.

2. Its a Wonderful World after all. I can't speak for Jack's acting chops. I'm entertained by his music mind you, but he really hasn't wowed me in any movies. Here though, maybe because it's animated or maybe because it's a character Jack would never have the ability to play in an actual movie, he does a great job. Now when I say great, what I appreciate is that Po is first and foremost, a fan of kung fu. He is a destined warrior and is an important part of the 'hero' food chain but he loves where he's at. He loves and can't believe his luck to work with the Five. When he meets other legendary characters, he's awed and thrilled to be working with them at the same time. It's a refreshing change of pace of heroism from some of the more cynical and standard batons of grim soldier that are so common these days. Po is fun.

3. Big Things: Po and the Five and the other masters are not your standard people. While we're not talking about Dragon Ball Z levels of power or anything, they are capable of dodging multiple arrows while fighting multiple opponents while leaping about and engaging in combat sequences that are visually appealing. This includes say, gang piling ships at the entrance of a river to prevent Shen and his canons from leaving the city and conquering China. This bigger than life effort only works short term mind you, but it does work and it's an impressive bit.

When you have characters that are capable of doing great things, like in L5R perhaps some of the more magical classes, let them shine. Let those points spent in advantages and specializations come to the forefront.

4. Character moments: One of the things that's easy to overlook in the movie, is that Po continues to bond with the others in the setting. This doesn't only include the Five, but also his master and his father. These moments of character allow the character to be more than just a set of awesome abilities.

When I was regularly running, I tried to make the characters lives interesting with numerous NPCs, interactions with lots of people, and enough things going on in the character's lives, that going to a dungeon and fighting might not be the most important thing, but countered that by having things in the dungeon that they'd need. Mind you my 'dungeons' used to be much smaller than the common monstrosities out now and might have even resembled some of those in 4e where things might be 'grouped' into mini-dungeons for specific things for the characters to do or get.

5. Visual Style: This one can be hard to pull off. I mentioned that my friends started the L5R game because they were inspired by 47 Ronin. Part of that was just how cool it looked. Kung Fu Panda has a lot of moments of visual 'stunts' and great action sequences. These things make it appealing. Doing so while just describing it can be a touch more difficult, so don't be afraid to steal visuals and even sounds when you can. There are some songs, like the Conan the Barbarian soundtrack where if I play the Anvil of Crom, from the Conan the Barbarian soundtrack, of which there is apparently a three disk version now, most of the players know that the big fight is getting ready to come down, or if I play The Siege of Camylarde, which is actually a different song in its original classic name, from the soundtrack of Excalibur, which is no longer available apparently but the blu ray is like $10 bones. Go figure.

Anyway, it doesn't necessarily have to be a 'visual' style, but if your words can enforce the themes and conflicts without any need for print outs or sounds, all the better, but don't be afraid to use those other resources when they're out there.

Kung Fu Panda 2 is a fun movie and while it gives some maturation to the main character, at the end of the film he's still jumping into the air in awe that he gets to fight alongside the legends of kung fu.