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'Kung Fu Panda' vs. 'The Dark Knight'
[Commentary] Movies on circuit expose both cultural schizophrenia and our vacuous solipsism
Nicolas van der Leek (Nick)     Print Article 
Published 2008-07-02 03:27 (KST)   
"Kung Fu Panda" features a panda (an endangered species) voiced by Jack Black that becomes the "Dragon Warrior," the most dangerous and feared warrior in the world.

Tai Lung: "You you're just a big fat panda!"

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I'm not a big fat panda. I'm the big fat panda."

The panda loses no weight in achieving this feat of skill -- it achieves glory thanks to legend and "believing in himself" and some incidental practice over a short period of time. This "wishful thinking," which we see often on television shows such as the United Kingdom's Pop Idols (where talentless performers are shocked and appalled when they are told how bad they are). This solipsism is the seat of our delusion as a society. We think that simply by believing something (in the spiritual theme of "The Secret"), we can be something, we can get "something for nothing." No effort or real change is actually necessary. Easy huh?

Po: "Legend tells of a legendary warrior whose kung fu skills were the stuff of legend."

The movie also stars the voices of Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu and Dustin Hoffman.

I enjoyed the movie. The mournful touches of oriental music struck a strange cord in me, one that made me feel tearful -- in the sense of saying goodbye to childhood, to innocence, to life as we know it.


But the juxtaposition of "Kung Fu Panda" with the raw grittiness of the visceral "Dark Knight" says something about the cultural schizophrenia of our time. There is no doubt that the disconnect between reality and the reigning societal mindset has never been more chronic than it is now, and probably will never reach this level again.

In two weeks, "The Dark Knight" hits cinemas, a movie that stars the late Heath Ledger, in the role of the Joker. The humor is twisted: "What doesn't kill me, makes me stranger," the Joker intones at one point. The role -- and its chaotic madness -- I would argue played a crucial rule in costing Ledger his life. And it is Ledger's death that imbues this flick with an even more ominous undertone than its already dark dimensions. The Joker in "Dark Knight" sums up the future in these three words:

Why so serious?

Indeed, we have much to be serious about, much to be critical about in the world. But are we?

Opposing Forces

There is probably not a diametrically opposite movie to "The Dark Knight" than "Kung Fu Panda." Director Nolan has gone out of his way to show a superhero that has no special powers, and part of this effort has been a minimal use of special effects. "Kung Fu Panda" has special powers (do not ask me what they are!), many of which seem to fall out of the sky at a moment's notice, and all thanks to Lady Luck. While Batman is real, the cuddly panda is something like the Joker, except not murderous, nor prickly, nor mad. But it somehow stumbles into success.

"Kung Fu Panda" offers audiences happy escapism in that we can escape our responsibilities, escape the hard slog of work and effort, by simply wishing our way out, by following our dreams (but not doing anything of significance to achieve them).

"Kung Fu Panda" is likely to rule the June/July box office. But word is that Batman has already outsold the all-time record holder, "Spider-Man 3," in early ticket sales (when compared to the same period in the ticket sales cycle). It is possible that "The Dark Knight" will become the best selling movie of all time. It makes sense, because "The Dark Knight" resonates perfectly with the signs -- the growing darkness, the escalating seriousness -- of our times.
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Nicolas van der Leek

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