“When you cease to strive to understand then you will know without understanding.” – Caine
I have yet to see the movie Kung Fu Panda, but the always excellent How The World Works, in a post entitled, “Kung Fu Panda’s Inside Joke,” [link no longer exists] has just given me another reason why I should. According to How The World Works, the film references both Chinese art and kung fu:
The animators of this very good-looking film have a lot of fun with classical Chinese landscapes and other familiar tropes of traditional Chinese art. But one scene jumps out. Po, the panda with unlikely martial arts aspirations, has made it inside a temple storing a variety of legendary weapons and other hallowed items suffused with kung fu lore. Po, the kind of geek who memorizes every possible piece of minutiae about his chosen obsession, shudders with delight as he rushes from one object to another.
Beyond that, it may help explain why counterfeiting is not viewed so unfavorably in China:
Finally, he comes to a painting depicting an ancient exploit by kung fu heroes. He exclaims: “I’ve only seen paintings of this painting!”
My kids laughed, as did most of the theater, just because the line sounds funny all by itself, without any context other than that delivered by Jack Black’s voice. But taken in the context of classical Chinese painting, it’s an even better inside joke. For many centuries of Chinese industry, the great paintings of the past were faithfully copied by the great painters of each successive age. The earliest versions of many of these classics have been lost to the ravages of time — we know them only through their reproductions.
Yet those reproductions are not regarded as mere copies, but as masterworks in their own right. Indeed, there is even a theory that the supposed Chinese lack of respect for copyright can be connected to the classical Chinese reverence for copying. “I’ve only seen paintings of these paintings” is a joke written by someone who knows what they’re joking about, and it is not the only such gem in “Kung Fu Panda.”
I can hardly wait to take my ten year old to this movie.