Kung Fu Panda and Wuxia

Let me just come straight out and state that I really loved Kung Fu Panda, one of the summer’s animated family movies set in a non-specific Chinese village, featuring all animal characters, ranging from Rhinos and leopards to pigs and praying mantis. Oh, and, a Giant Panda whose father, unfathomably, is a duck who is a chef and owns a noodle shop. I know that upon close examination, many people might find the story a bit superficial, and superficially mystical: about finding oneself and having faith in one’s abilities and the whole “mystical” notion of fulfilling one’s fate. It might be an outsiders’ view of what Chinese martial arts world is all about but the creators of the movie did their homework and pay a lot of homage to the wuxia tradition.

Wuxia can be loosely translated to “martial arts knights” but the notion of WU is larger than just the practice of martial arts; it’s a mind set and a way of life. So is the notion of XIA — it often is not simply a person who has demonstrated talents in the arts of WU but also someone with great integrity and compassion, one who will help the less fortunate, and fulfill one’s duty to the fullest. Wuxia Xiaoshuo (Wuxia Novels) has been a uniquely Chinese popular literary genre for the 20th and 21st centuries. A little more detailed explanation of general themes can be found on the wikipedia article on this topic.

One of the most fascinating elements, for me as a reader of wuxia xiaoshuo (I read wuxia most ardently during high school and college years) is the training processes of the protagonists. These tend to be unrealistically super-human — one might learn to “walk on the top of grass” or to “defeat a dozen enemies barehanded and blind-folded,” etc. That’s why in my mind wuxia is closely resembling the western Fantasy novels. The creators of KFP definitely captured this aspect when Shifu (literally: Teacher/Master) figures out how to train Po and the audience is treated to a fantastic sequence of training sessions.

The movie is accompanied by a wonderful soundtrack and gorgeous background artwork. The calligraphy is not only beautiful but accurate. However, in most wuxia stories, you will find people using many different kinds of weapons: from swords to spears, with “hidden weapons” such as small needles (sometimes dipped in poison) and poisonous powders. Weaponry and the inventiveness of such are also what the readers/audience tend to appreciate in a work of wuxia. Maybe the sequel will feature more than just body-combat and using random objects (bricks and firecrackers, for example) to fight.

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