HomeBad Ass AsiansA food loving 'Kung Fu Panda 4’ looks for enlightenment

A food loving ‘Kung Fu Panda 4’ looks for enlightenment

By Erin Chew

It has been fourteen years since the wuxia martial arts animated franchise Kung Fu Panda began its journey. And even after all these years, Po Ping– the flabby, noodles loving panda still has some magic in him. Kung Fu Panda 3 was released back in 2016, so it has been eight years for this latest installment to drop.

This new installment is charming and has all the hallmarks of the humor, emotional journey and great fight scenes audiences have loved and expected from this franchise. It also takes on a new character Zhen (voiced by Awkwafina) who is a fox and a wanted thief that accompanies Po on his journey. This balancing of emotions, humor and martial art fight scenes is what this franchise has done so well – this has continued with this fourth installment.

Co-director for Kung Fu Panda 4, Stephanie Ma Stine (this is her feature directorial debut), discusses with AsAmNews this balancing act and how it was important to ensure that learning about the different journeys and keeping the entertaining scenes was paramount to retaining the spirit of the franchise.

“Well for me, a big part of our theme for Kung Fu Panda 4 was all about the journey of change and moving onto the next step, which is the challenge posed to Po and the other characters. To portray this serious theme, it was important to highlight the idea of change as being scary, full of anxiety but at the same exciting and needed for anyone to progress in their lives. To balance out the seriousness we ensured the fight scenes were elaborate and awesome and the humor was consistent all the way”.

The voice actors are star studded with Jack Black reprising his role as Po Ping, Dustin Hoffman as Master Shifu, and the legend James Hong as Mr. Ping. To add to this cast, there are a host of new characters. In addition to Awkwafina’s role as Zhen, the film also includes Ke Huy Quan voicing Han, Lori Tan Chinn as Granny Boar and Ronny Chieng as Captain Fish among others.

For Chieng, playing a green arowana fish that lives in the mouth of a pelican was one where he had to inject a lot of who he is into the character, or else it becomes a supporting character which is not memorable.

“I think it is pretty obvious the Ronny people see on TV and on stage has in some ways been injected into Captain Fish. However, I do not feel I am a good enough actor yet to inject almost one hundred percent of myself into the characters I play and voice. When you watch Captain Fish in this film you will see his abruptness and his crazy yelling – which is really up my alley. I did my best in putting who I am into this character and I hope it comes through that way”, Chieng expressed in a recent interview with AsAmNews.

Despite being an animated film, keeping cultural accuracy and sensitivities are extremely important. It is again a balancing act in terms of showing creative prowess and ensuring that culturally all aspects of the film are accurate. Director Mike Mitchell spoke about this and said despite himself not being of Asian and/or Chinese background, he consulted a lot with those who have in terms of ensuring culturally, Kung Fu Panda 4 is accurate and appropriate.

from left) Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) and Po (Jack Black) in DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda 4, directed by Mike Mitchell.
from left) Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) and Po (Jack Black) in DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda 4, directed by Mike Mitchell. Dreamworks

“If I am not mistaken, the cultural stuff has always improved as each installment was made in this franchise. In actual fact being culturally sensitive and accurate actually added to the story and has made it all deeper and rich. For me who doesn’t share a Chinese background, I put effort to seek assistance, advice and ensured that what was added to this installment was correct. It was awesome to work with Stephanie who is someone who can speak on the cultural aspects and who reminded me of it if I missed something”, Mitchell stated.

Finally, as audiences fill the theaters to check out this film, it is important to reflect on the meaningful takeaways that cast and crew would like to see happen. Both Ma Stine and Chieng talk about this and they both agree that having a good belly laugh and being entertained are the most important things to walk away with if nothing else.

Po (Jack Black) in DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda 4, directed by Mike Mitchell.
Po (Jack Black) in DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda 4, directed by Mike Mitchell. Dreamworks

“This is a hard question. If you think about it, the film will be watched by young children to adults so everyone will take something different away. I do hope that audiences young to old will have an appreciation of our Asian/Chinese culture and see that we can have fun being Asian/Chinese. But really, having a good time, feeling entertained and coming out of the theater being happy is the most important thing – because the film is fun”, Ma Stine discussed.

“There is a lot that can be said because we can easily just talk about the heart of the movie and story, but I feel this is too obvious. So in my opinion I hope audiences can see the core to which the film was made. Like if you look at every character, set design, story etc – you can see how it was all made with love. It is made culturally appropriate and accurate and has balanced the funny parts out well with the badass fight scenes. I want people to enjoy, have fun and laugh their time away – that is what anyone involved in any film project wants audiences to feel”, Chieng expressed.

Kung Fu Panda 4, hits the theaters across the United States on March 8, 2024.

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.


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