Film Review: Rumble in the Bronx (dir by Stanley Tong)

First released in 1995, Rumble in the Bronx is known for two things.

First off, it’s the film that finally made Jackie Chan a star in America.  Chan had been an international star for two decades before starring in this film but he had initially struggled to break into the American film industry.  Before Rumble in the Bronx, no one in Hollywood was quite sure what to do with an actor who was both skilled at martial arts and who also had perfect comedic timing.  Indeed, the very title of  Rumble in the Bronx seems to designed to make Americans feel comfortable with the film.  Jackie Chan may have been from Hong Kong and the film itself may have been dubbed and it may have been released internationally before New Line got around to releasing it in the States but it was a film about the Bronx!  And what’s more American than the Bronx?

Except, of course, Rumble in the Bronx wasn’t filmed in the Bronx.  The other thing for which this film is remembered was that it may have taken place in the Bronx but it was filmed in Vancouver.  From the minute the audience sees Jackie walking through this film’s version of the Bronx, it’s pretty obvious that he’s in Canada.  All of the extras are very polite.  The city streets are surprisingly clean.  Even the graffiti is rather mild in tone.  (Reportedly, the production spray-painted the locations every morning and then cleaned up all the graffiti at night.)  When the film shows us its version of an NYPD stationhouse, the building is so neat and clean that it seems like it should be in a Canadian tourism brochure.  New York has never looked more inviting than when it was played by Vancouver.

Of course, the main giveaway that this film was shot in Canada was that there are mountains in the background.  Majestic mountain ranges are one of the few things that you cannot find in New York City.  When the bad guys drive someone out of the city so that they can threaten him, they end up in front of an absolutely gorgeous mountain stream.  Seriously, I’m sure I’m not the only person who wanted to travel to Canada after watching Rumble in the Bronx.

But, hey …. it’s a Jackie Chan movie!  If you can’t suspend your disbelief while watching a Jackie Chan movie then when can you suspend it?  The film’s plot is not terribly complex.  Jackie plays a Hong Kong cop who comes to New York for his uncle’s wedding.  While his uncle is on his honeymoon, Jackie looks over his uncle’s store and protects it from the local gang.  Jackie also befriends Nancy (Francoise Yip) and her wheelchair-bound brother, Danny (Morgan Lam).  Both Nancy and Danny need someone to look out for them and to encourage both of them to reject the seedier temptations of the Bronx.  They also need Jackie to protect them from the golf-loving crime lord, White Tiger (Kris Lord).

The plot is mostly an excuse for a series of increasingly elaborate fights and stunts.  As always, it’s fun to not only watch Jackie Chan in action but to also try to spot all the moments in which he nearly killed himself performing his own stunts.  Rumble in the Bronx is the film in which Jackie Chan broke his ankle while jumping onto a hoverboat.  One can actually see the ankle bending at an extremely awkward angle.  I actually covered my eyes when I realized what was happening because it was obviously very painful.  If anyone had any doubt of how painful it was, Jackie included footage of him howling in pain during the end credits.  That said, as painful as it was to watch Jackie’s ankle snap, it doesn’t change the fact that this film’s finale actually involves a hovercraft!  Even without Jackie’s stunts, the action in this film’s finale would be enjoyably and shamelessly over the top.  But knowing that Jackie was out there risking his life to make the film makes it all the more enjoyable.  And it also helps that Jackie Chan is a legitimately good actor, one who gets a lot of laughs out of the fact that the characters that he plays are often as shocked by some of the things that he does (and survives) as the audience is.

Myself and a few others watched Rumble in the Bronx on Friday as a part of our weekly #FridayNightFlix get-together.  We had a blast.  Another film that we recently watched for #FridayNightFlix, Escape From The Bronx, is famous for its line of “It is time to leave the Bronx”  but you know what?  Why would anyone ever want to leave beautiful Vancouver?

Live Tweet Alert: Join #FridayNightFlix for Rumble In The Bronx!

As some of our regular readers undoubtedly know, I am involved in a few weekly live tweets on twitter.  I host #FridayNightFlix every Friday, I co-host #ScarySocial on Saturday, and I am one of the five hosts of #MondayActionMovie!  Every week, we get together.  We watch a movie.  We tweet our way through it.

Tonight, at 10 pm et, #FridayNightFlix has got 1995’s Rumble in the Bronx!

Jackie Chan takes on the Bronx!  And wouldn’t you know it, the Bronx looks a lot like Canada!

If you want to join us this Friday, just hop onto twitter, start the movie at 10 pm et, and use the #FridayNightFlix hashtag!  It’s a friendly group and welcoming of newcomers so don’t be shy.

Rumble in The Bronx is available on Prime!  See you there!

Monday Live Tweet Alert: Join Us For In Hot Pursuit and Rush Hour 2!

As some of our regular readers undoubtedly know, I am involved in hosting a few weekly live tweets on twitter.  I host #FridayNightFlix every Friday, I co-host #ScarySocial on Saturday, and I am one of the five hosts of #MondayActionMovie!  Every week, we get together.  We watch a movie.  We tweet our way through it.

Tonight, for #MondayActionMovie, the film will be 1977’s In Hot Pursuit!  Selected and hosted by me, this Southern drive-in epic features drug smugglers, an airplane, a helicopter, and an RV!  It also features a cast made up of a combination of real-life cops and hippied!  The movie starts at 8 pm et!  Here’s the playlist!


Following #MondayActionMovie, Brad and Sierra will be hosting the #MondayMuggers live tweet.  We will be watching Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in 2001’s Rush Hour 2!  This film is available on Netflix and HBOMax!


It should make for a night of fun viewing and I invite all of you to join in.  If you want to join the live tweets, just hop onto twitter, start the In Hot Pursuit playlist  at 8 pm et, and use the #MondayActionMovie hashtag!  Then, at 10 pm et, start Rush Hour 2, and use the #MondayMuggers hashtag!  The live tweet community is a friendly group and welcoming of newcomers so don’t be shy.    

Hope to see you there!

Cannonball Run II (1984, directed by Hal Needham)

In 1981, director Hal Needham and star Burt Reynolds had a surprise hit with The Cannonball Run.  Critics hated the film about a race from one end of America to the other but audiences flocked to watch Burt and a group of familiar faces ham it up while cars crashed all around them.  The original Cannonball Run is a goofy and gloriously stupid movie and it can still be fun to watch.  The sequel, on the other hand…

When the sequel begins, the Cannonball Run has been discontinued.  The film never explains why the race is no longer being run but then again, there’s a lot that the sequel doesn’t explain.  King Abdul ben Falafel (Ricardo Montalban, following up The Wrath of Khan with this) wants his son, The Sheik (Jamie Farr, returning from the first film) to win the Cannonball so he puts up a million dollars and announces that the race is back on.  Problem solved.

With the notable exceptions of Farrah Fawcett, Roger Moore, and Adrienne Barbeau, almost everyone from the first film returns to take another shot at the race.  Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise are back.  Jack Elam returns as the crazy doctor, though he’s riding with the Sheik this time.  Jackie Chan returns, riding with Richard “Jaws” Kiel.  Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. return, playing barely disguised versions of themselves.  They’re joined by the surviving members of the Rat Pack.  Yes, Frank Sinatra is in this thing.  He plays himself and, from the way his scenes are shot, it’s obvious they were all filmed in a day and all the shots of people reacting to his presence were shot on another day.  Shirley MacClaine also shows up, fresh from having won an Oscar.  She plays a fake nun who rides with Burt and Dom.  Burt, of course, had a previous chance to co-star with Shirley but he turned down Terms of Endearment so he could star in Stroker AceCannonball Run II finally gave the two a chance to act opposite each other, though no one would be winning any Oscars for appearing in this film.

Say what you will about Hal Needham as a director, he was obviously someone who cultivated a lot of friendships in Hollywood because this film is jam-packed with people who I guess didn’t have anything better to do that weekend.  Telly Savalas, Michael V. Gazzo, Henry Silva, Abe Vigoda, and Henry Silva all play gangsters.  Jim Nabors plays Homer Lyle, a country-fried soldier who is still only a private despite being in his 50s.  Catherine Bach and Susan Anton replace Adrienne Barbeau and Tara Buckman as the two racers who break traffic laws and hearts with impunity.  Tim Conway, Don Knotts, Foster Brooks, Sid Caesar, Arte Johnson, Mel Tillis, Doug McClure, George “Goober” Lindsey, and more; Needham found room for all of them in this movie.  He even found roles for Tony Danza and an orangutan.  (Marilu Henner is also in the movie so I guess Needham was watching both Taxi and Every Which Way But Loose while casting the film.)  Needham also came up with a role for Charles Nelson Reilly, who is cast as a mafia don in Cannonball Run II.  His name is also Don so everyone refers to him as being “Don Don.”  That’s just a typical example of the humor that runs throughout Cannonball Run II.  If you thought the humor of It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was too subtle and cerebral, Cannonball Run II might be right up your alley.

The main problem with Cannonball Run II is that there’s not much time spent on the race, which is strange because that’s the main reason why anyone would want to watch this movie.  The race itself doesn’t start until 45 minutes into this 108 minute film and all the racers are quickly distracted by a subplot about the Mafia trying to kidnap the Sheik.  Everyone stops racing so that Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. can disguise themselves as belly dancers to help rescue the Sheik.  By the time that’s all been taken care of, there’s only 10 minutes left for everyone to race across the country.  After a montage of driving scenes and a cartoon of an arrow stretching across the nation (the cartoon was animated by Ralph Bakshi!), we discover who won the Cannonball and then it’s time for a montage of Burt and Dom blowing their lines and giggling.  Needham always ended his films with a montage of everyone screwing up a take and it’s probably one of his most lasting cinematic contributions.  Every blooper reel that’s ever been included as a DVD or Blu-ray extra owes a debt of gratitude to Hal Needham.  Watching people blow their lines can be fun if you’ve just watched a fun movie but watching Burt and Dom amuse themselves after sitting through Cannonball Run II is just adding insult to injury.  It feels less like they’re laughing at themselves and more like they’re laughing at you for being stupid enough to sit through a movie featuring Tony Danza and an orangutan.

The dumb charm of the first Cannonball Run is nowhere to be found in this sequel and, though the film made a profit, the box office numbers were still considered to be a disappointment when compared to the other films that Reynolds and Needham collaborated on.  Along with Stroker Ace, this is considered to be one of the films that ended Reynolds’s reign as a top box office attraction.  Cannonball Run II was also the final feature film to feature Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.  This could be considered the final Rat Pack film, though I wouldn’t say that too loudly.

Cannonball Run II is a disappointment on so many levels.  It’s hard to believe that the same director who did Smokey and the Bandit and Hooper could be responsible for the anemic stunts and chases found in this movie.  The cast may have had a good time but the audience is left bored.  Stick with the first Cannonball Run.


Kung-Foolery: Jackie Chan in DRUNKEN MASTER (Seasonal Film Corp. 1978)

cracked rear viewer

Jackie Chan’s  combination of slapstick comedy and kung-fu action helped make him a worldwide superstar, and DRUNKEN MASTER put him over the top as a cinematic force to be reckoned with. While I’m no expert on the genre, I’ve seen my fare share, and I can tell you this movie’s more than a few belts above because of Chan’s natural charm and comic timing.

As per usual with these films, the plot’s thinner as a Chow Mein noodle, which is okay because who needs a plot when you’ve got Jackie Chan? The dubbed version I saw casts Jackie as Freddie Wong, a rascally scamp whose father runs a kung-fu school. Pop tries to break the spirited Freddie without success, so he sends for Great-Uncle So Hi, a tough old buzzard with a fondness for saki (hence the title!). So Hi drives Freddie so hard with his grueling training the youngster…

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A Movie A Day #6: The Cannonball Run (1981, directed by Hal Needham)

cannonball_runA legendary Hollywood stuntman, Hal Needham moved into directing in the 1970s and proved that all he required to make a successful film were willing stuntmen, fast cars, Coors beer, and Burt Reynolds.  Following that logic, The Cannonball Run may very well be the ultimate Hal Needham movie.

The Cannonball Run follows several teams of racers as they compete to see who can be the first to reach California from Connecticut.  Trying to stop them is Arthur J.  Foyt (George Furth), who represents the Safety Enforcement Unit and who believes that cars are a menace.  However, Foyt is no match for these racers, who include:

  • J.J. (Burt Reynolds), who is racing in memory of his father, and his mechanic Victor (Dom DeLuise), who turns into Captain Choas whenever he is feeling threatened.  J.J. and Victor are driving an ambulance and are accompanied by crazy Dr. Van Helsing (Jack Elam) and a fake “patient” (Farrah Fawcett),
  • Bradford Compton (Bert Convy) who is riding a motorcycle and who, because of the weight of his mechanic, has to pop a wheelie for the entire race,
  • An Arab oil sheik (Jamie Farr) who is racing for “the glory of Islam” and who would probably not be in the movie if it were made today,
  • Sidney Goldfarb (Roger Moore), the heir to a mattress fortune who has had extensive plastic surgery to make himself look like Roger Moore,
  • Jackie Chan and Michael Hui, called “The Japanese team” even though they both speak Cantonese throughout the entire movie,
  • Terry Bradsahw and Mel Tillis because why the Hell not?,
  • Marcie (Adrienne Barbeau) and Jill (Tara Buckman), using their cleavage to get out of speeding tickets, or at least they do until they’re pulled over by Valerie Perrine,
  • And Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr., pretending to be priests and apparently drunk throughout filming.

Based on a real life (and very illegal) cross-country race that was held four times in the 1970s, The Cannonball Run is profoundly stupid movie that, if you’re in the right mood for it, is also profoundly fun.  It’s a movie that really has no plot but it does have a lot of cars, a lot of stunts, a lot of cleavage, and a lot of politically incorrect humor, some of which has not aged well.  Despite being hated by the critics, The Cannonball Run was a huge box office hit and it still remains a nostalgic guilty pleasure for a lot of people, myself included.  One person who did not like The Cannonball Run was Burt Reynolds who, in an interview with the New York Times, once said, “”I did that film for all the wrong reasons.  I never liked it. I did it to help out a friend of mine, Hal Needham. And I also felt it was immoral to turn down that kind of money. I suppose I sold out so I couldn’t really object to what people wrote about me.”

Burt has a point but, in defense of The Cannonball Run, what other movie actually features Jackie Chan beating up Peter Fonda?


Or Roger Moore playing someone who thinks that he’s Roger Moore?


Or Jack Elam playing a mad scientist?


Or Sammy and Dino, phoning it in one last time?


Or Captain Chaos?


Like most of Hal Needham’s films, The Cannonball Run ends with outtakes of Burt Reynolds blowing his lines and hitting people.

Tomorrow’s movie a day will be a film that Burt Reynolds is presumably much more proud of, Sharky’s Machine.

Film Review: Supermen Against the Orient (1973, dir. Bitto Albertini)


Forgive me, but I watched this last week. I may have some trouble remembering the complex storyline. Good thing I have the movie right here. Let me just turn it on.

“I smack ’em! I whack ’em! I scratch ’em! I bash ’em! I cream ’em! I ream ’em! And then I redeem them!”

Ah, it’s all coming back to me now!

First off, me being half Italian, I can assure you that title translates to Knockoff Burt Lancaster, Harpo, and Rick Wright Rob a Safe in the Orient. The alternate tile being Supermen Against the Orient. By the way, the opening song is awesome!

The movie opens up on a deal gone wrong between criminals after two guys pop out of boxes with guns.


There is more talent on display here in this opening scene than in all of Superdragon vs. Superman. Just the fact that they have two fights going on during this scene on two different boats in the same frame is incredible. They even have the courtesy to make sure the bad guys were in black and blue while the other guys were in white. It’s small, but it makes fights easier to follow. Being confused about who is who gets in the way of enjoying fight scenes.


Oh, and it’s clearly done by people who are fans of 60’s crime and western films. A lot of style on display here.

After torturing the two guys who popped out of the boxes, the bad guys find out about something in Bangkok. Cut to a boardroom meeting and who cares. All you need to know is that they need Captain Wallace. They describe him like they are going to bring in Peter Sellers or something.


Here is Captain Wallace played by Robert Malcolm. He’s pretty funny in this movie. He’s here to finally get married. It’s the third time he’s tried.


Boy, the guy singing over the opening credits wasn’t kidding when he said he reams ’em.

Anyways, people show up to drag him away to serve his country of America. Yeah, he’s actually supposed to be from America in this Italian film. He goes to Bangkok.

After calling for a taxi, this guy pops out to look at our hero.


Clearly, he wants to check out our hero’s awesome mustache!


He also follows him in his car. Then a car chase ensues that lasts the enormous time of…


a few seconds. After Superdragon vs. Superman I expected this to go on for 7 minutes at least.

He now checks in at the hotel where he bumps into this lady.


She will be our Supergirl later on. Yes, I know she looks blind in that screenshot, but she isn’t.

Now the movie goes on Thailand vacation.


It’s like these scenes are here not only to add some realism, but as if the filmmakers cut a deal with the tourism board. You can shoot here, but show off some of the sights please!

After going to the pool and a kickboxing match for reasons that don’t matter, the film has fulfilled it’s Thai quota for the movie so it’s off to Hong Kong. He needs to find the “kung fu expert”. Although Jackie Chan is supposed to be in this movie, he’s just an extra and not the man he is looking for.

Wallace goes to the American embassy, which is run by an Italian character actor sitting in front of a picture of Nixon.


He’s a cryptic prick who says he has some sort of secret weapon that is so secret that he can’t tell Wallace about it even though he is supposed to use it to protect Wallace. No joke. He says all that crap along with a bunch more. He’s quite annoying in this movie. So is what should have been a subplot behind Wallace (the safe) under the painting that is next to the cover of Radiohead’s Kid A album. Wallace actually does guess at what this super secret thing could be. He says he thinks it may be a Buck Rogers Ray Gun. He’s in the wrong decade for that kind of a guess. That’s Reagan era stuff. It’s long johns. In other words, it’s a full body suit that makes you invulnerable to projectiles. Oh, and character actor farts before saying that kung fu is like a laxative because everything comes from inside. If he had only waited four more years, then a film a man like him would go see could have taught him how to solve his little problem.

Not going to say till I review it. If you know, then don't tell. It's a surprise!

Not going to say till I review it. If you know, then don’t tell. It’s a surprise!

Now we are off to continue the search for Jackie Chan in this movie at a kung fu competition.


He’s probably in this crowd somewhere just like Phil Collins in A Hard Day’s Night (1964).

We also meet Harpo (Salvatore Borghese), and who I like to call Rick Wright (Antonio Cantafora) even if he isn’t nearly as short as Larry Manetti.

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Super Stache is called out to fight the kung fu champion. After a good old ass kickery. This happens.


Then we are in the hospital.


There had to be an easier way to meet the champ. Don’t worry about him. A good acupuncture treatment and he’s back in business. By that I mean it’s time for training. Such as punching hot coals.


I’m sorry, but Cüneyt Arkin punches rocks to train.


Now their palms are as strong as steel! They can kill a horse with one hand.


That’s all well and good, but Chuin can finger punch a nail.


Next we get a scene to remind me how much I like traditional Asian dresses/tops, that same guy from earlier is still watching Super Stache, and…


Supergirl, whose pink top I would take off of her cold dead body, tells him to watch out for people who are keeping their eyes on him. Particularly the guy under his table. Then we go back to stick feet into fire followed by a joke about donkeys and ointment for the ass. Moving on.

After ridiculously going around pretending he is Chinese, which no one believes, Wallace runs into Supergirl.


Blah, blah, blah, their kung fu means that bullets don’t work, blah, blah, blah, watch out, blah, blah, blah.

Now Super Stache goes out on the street to get his ass kicked again.


Luckily, Supergirl comes to his rescue and deals with them.


Now Super Stache meets with his friends to ask for their help.


They say they’ll help, but only if he helps them rob the safe at the embassy. After he is initially offended at the prospect, he agrees. The movie is at the halfway point. It’s a heist movie now. Seriously! It now carries on primarily with robbing the safe for about 30 minutes. No joke. 30 minutes! We get a few things in here like this.


This too.


It goes so off track that there is a scene where Super Stache runs to a library to find out when Abraham Lincoln was born and died in order to figure out the safe combination. The movie eventually gets back on track for the last 15 minutes or so of the film.

Finally, here are the Supermen and Supergirl vs. the dudes in black. I really don’t know what the deal with with these guys is, but after they attacked random business owners in the street I knew they had to be stopped.



With masks they can completely withstand bullets.


Except that guy in the front. He has to use his arms. Oh, and this guy jumps in the air.


Somedays you just gotta do midair splits.

There are a few goodbyes and the embassy guy does more of his comedy shtick, but that’s it! It was way better than Superdragon vs. Superman, but why did it have to go into that whole rob the safe thing? It had a good setup. I liked the actors. Them being Supermen and having a Supergirl too is fun. It could have worked better if they had stuck with it, but the safe thing is really boring and takes over the movie.

I’d still recommend this if only for Super Stache. He really is funny. It’s a shame that according to IMDb he only made two other films the same year as this one called Sinbad and the Caliph of Baghdad as well as And They Smelled the Strange, Exciting, Dangerous Scent of Dollars. In the first, he played Simbad. In the second, he played Butch ‘Charity’ Jenkins. Maybe someday I’ll see them.

In the meantime, I’ll pull out my complete series box set of The Greatest American Hero when I need my fix of comedians in red suits.

Quick Review: Kung Fu Panda 3 (dir. by Jennifer Yuh & Alessandro Carloni)

imagesHaving become the Dragon Warrior and the Champion of the Valley of Peace on many occasions, Po (Jack Black) has reached a point where its time for him to train others. All of this becomes complicated when Kai (J.K. Simmons), a former enemy of Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) returns to the Valley to capture the Chi of the new Dragon Warrior and anyone else that stands in his way.

The Legend of Korra geek in me hears the character of Tenzin whenever Simmons speaks in this film, only it’s Evil Tenzin vs. The Dragon Warrior. That alone was awesome.

Picking right up from Kung Fu Panda 2, Po is reunited with his birth father (Bryan Cranston), and discovers there are also other Pandas in the world. This, of course, causes a bit of tension for Po’s Goose Dad (James Hong) who raised him up until now. Can Po find a way to stop Kai? The theme of this film seems to be dealing with self discovery (as did the other films), but this focuses more on what we consider our Identity. Are we the role we take on from day to day at work or the role we have at home, or even a little of both? There’s also a nice family element to it as Po discovers what Panda life is like and deals with his Dads. Really young audiences may not exactly catch on to the theme, but there’s enough action and playful moments to keep them occupied.

On a visual level, the animation is beautiful. If you get a chance to see it in 3D, the Spirit Realm is a treat, with rocks and buildings floating around. The action scenes also move in a comic strip format, with the screen split in different ways to catch different elements. If you’re quick enough, you can catch it all. It can be jarring to anyone not used to it, I’d imagine. The Furious Five don’t have too much screen time in this one, save for Angelina Jolie’s Tigress, though it’s cute when you realize that some of the panda children in the village are played by the Jolie-Pitt kids. That was a nice discovery in the credits.

Musically, just like The Dark Knight Rises, Hans Zimmer takes what was a dual scoring effort (at least in the 2nd film) and makes it his. Though he’s assisted by Lorne Balfe (13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi), and drummer Sheila E. (Who worked with him on the Man of Steel score), it’s all Zimmer, really. Kai is given a nice theme to work with, one I can only describe as “Jazz Badass with Kung-Fu Swagger” and I enjoyed the music for the Panda village.

The only problem I had with Kung Fu Panda 3 was that it didn’t feel particularly epic in scope for me. In the first film, Tai Lung wanted to harness the power of the Dragon Scroll. In the second, the Peacock Shen brought cannons to decimate the Valley. This one was more personal and I enjoyed that, but it also felt like it could have been one of the Legends of Awesomeness episodes on Nickelodeon. It moved that quickly. Though it clocks in at an hour and 35 minutes — the same as the other films — it really whizzed by. It’s not a terrible thing at all, really, but I think I wanted something a little more.

Overall, Kung Fu Panda is a fun treat for the kids. While I didn’t go blind out of exposure to sheer awesomeness this time around, it gave me some inner peace and smiles.

Review: Kung Fu Panda 2 (dir. by Jennifer Yuh Nelson)

In 2008, Dreamworks Animation released what many had thought was one of their animated films. Some even went so far as to consider it on the same level as many of the Pixar animated offerings. This was high praise indeed and the praises from critics was awarded by public acclaim as Kung Fu Panda became an instant classic for Dreamworks Animation. It wasn’t a huge surprise that a sequel was quickly greenlit by the studio and now three years has passed and that sequel has finally come out. Kung Fu Panda 2 does one of those rare feats in film-making where it surpasses it’s original predecessor in all things. This was a sequel that was able to take what made the first one so fun and thrilling and build on it without losing the charm that made it so beloved in the first place.

Kung Fu Panda 2 brings back the Dragon Warrior Po (Jack Black returning in the role of the big fat panda) as he continues to live his dream of having become the Dragon Warrior and fighting evil, bandits and criminals with his fellow kung fu masters, the Furious Five. Instead of the film highlighting Po’s size as a detriment and keeping him a buffoonish character like in the beginning of the first film this sequel actually makes him an equal of his heroes, if not, surpassing them. This is a refreshing change since the writers could’ve easily banked on Po as a character who bungled and stumbled his way through most of the film.

This film was a continuation of Po’s journey as a hero which the first film was just the first step. Despite being a kung fu master in his own right his culture becomes threatened by a villain even more devious than the first film’s Tai Lung. Lord Shen (voiced by Gary Oldman) is the mad peacock heir to Gongmen City who has found an ultimate weapon through fireworks that he plans to defeat kung fu and conquer all of China. Kung fu is everything to Po and he journeys with the Furious Five to confront Lord Shen and stop his plans before it’s too late.

It’s during this journey that Po learns more about his true past and where he truly comes from. The sequences where Po’s adopted goose father tells of Po’s past was some of the best animations Dreamworks has done and I’d say surpasses some of Pixar’s own work. After seeing this film I’m sure many kids and some adults would want themselves their very own baby panda. Who would’ve thought that baby pandas sounded like human babies when they cried. It’s knowing his past that Po must now learn to find his inner peace if he’s to ever go beyond just being a kung fu master.

Kung Fu Panda 2 was actually quite a dark film in places as themes of genocide, destructive march of technology against nature, difficulties of adopted children finding their true origins and many others. That’s not to say that this sequel wasn’t fun to watch. The action took the kung fu fight scenes from the first film to a whole new level, but without turning it into all flash and no substance. It’s during some of the thrilling fight sequences that we see Po truly become part of the Furious Five and even affection from some of it’s members. It would be interesting to see how a third film would explore the growing relationship between Po and certain striped-feline.

The story gets a much needed infusion of creative help from one Guillermo Del Toro who served as creative producer. His inclusion in the film’s development was probably why the film had a much darker and serious tone in addition to the charm it continued from the first film. If there was anyone in Hollywood who knows how to further develop a character through a Campbellian hero’s journey then it’s Del Toro. If Dreamworks Animation is able to keep Del Toro on hand to further treat their other projects then it will be quite a coup for the studio.

The animation in this film is a step above the first film and anything Dreamworks Animation has ever done. With each passing year and release it looks like Dreamworks Animation has been able to come to the same level of animated work Pixar has set with their own projects. While I’m sure there’s no animosity between animators fo the two houses there probably is some sort of friendly rivalry which helps push both studios to improve on their animation work. All this means is that the public wins out in the end as we’re treated to better animated features from both Dreamworks and Pixar. It’s a good thing that Dreamworks Animation has also improved their storytelling with each new film that they’re not being called the weaker films when compared to Pixar’s latest.

In the end, Kung Fu Panda 2 more than lives up to it’s predecessor and actually surpasses it in every way. This sequel’s animation and use of stereoscopic 3D was some of the best in CG animation to date. It had a story that continued to explore and build the characters from the first film that they’ve gone beyond simple, basic animated characters but fully realized and complex individuals. Even the ending scene in the film which definitely sets-up a third film doesn’t seem tacked on but looks like something that would further continue Po’s hero’s journey. Sequels and milking of a franchise usually don’t sit well with serious film fans, but this franchise seems to be doing it correctly and using each new film to further an epic tale. Here’s to hoping we see Po and his Furious Five friends back for more in the coming years.

Kung Fu Panda 2 (Super Bowl TV Spot)

Here’s another tv spot to air during Super Bowl XLV and this time around it’s the one for the upcoming sequel to Dreamworks Animations very popular and successful Kung Fu Panda.

This one using that Queen arena anthem chant from “We Will Rock You”. The 30-second ty spot shows more action with the requisite panda shenanigans from Jack Black’s character.

Kung Fu Panda 2 is one sequel I’m definitely hyped to see as the first film I ended up watching over and over and over and over and over again. The film comes out on May 26, 2011.