Tag Archives: kung fu

Kung Fu Panda: Fat, Fit, and Fighting

Liz Henry says:

Kung Fu Panda is an animated movie about Po, a panda who gets laughed at a lot. He’s big, fat, and clumsy, and feels bad about himself. He doesn’t want to be a noodle seller like his dad. He wants to be a martial arts hero!

By accident, his dream comes true and he’s chosen to be the legendary Dragon Warrior, instead of one of his idols, the Furious Five. They laugh at him for being fat. His teacher Si Fun constantly beats him up to make him quit his training.

In one scene, Po explains that the brutal training and beatings are easy to endure, because they’re nothing compared to the pain he suffers every day being himself, as he says, “just being me”. As he speaks, his eyes roll downward while he sadly hefts his big stomach. It’s pretty clear he equates “me” with his fat body and that he feels a lot of shame. He also explains that when he’s upset, he eats.
The turning point in his training comes when Si Fun realizes that Po, motivated by a jar of cookies on a high shelf, does amazing acrobatic feats. They begin to train with food as a reward. Po does pushups over hot coals while trying to slurp noodles from a bowl of soup, and there’s an extended homage to Jackie Chan’s chopstick duel in Xiao quan guai zhao (Fearless Hyena), with Po and Si Fun battling over a bowl of dumplings.

Here’s the dumpling battle!

I couldn’t find the clip from Fearless Hyena. If anyone has it, please link from the comments.

At some point in Kung Fu Panda, I realized there was an expected narrative line where the hero would lose weight, become skinny, and then be happy and competent and respected — but that was not going to happen. Instead, Po becomes a kung fu master and the Dragon Warrior, while fat and fit.

The movie has a very clear message of respect for bodily differences. The Furious Five, a tigress, viper, monkey, crane, and mantis, all have radically different bodies. The mantis is notably tiny and fragile, and a great fighter. While there is a lot of humor and mockery based on fat jokes at the panda’s expense, he learns to believe in himself. He trains hard to become wise, fearless, and talented — not to lose weight. He becomes a hero, but stays a big fat panda.