I’m not sure how to start today’s episode. This is number two of a trilogy. I’ve never done a trilogy before.
This is kind of weird. Another episode talking about the same characters on a journey to a place they’ve never been to and while on that journey, the main character deals with some past repressed trauma and goes through a personal transformation.
Have I ever done this before?
Literally every single movie that I’ve covered on Think Spiritual Podcasts.
And am I tired of it?
Nope, not in the slightest. In fact, Kung Fu Panda 2 may be one of the best yet.
Hello, Spiritual Seekers, and welcome to yet another Deeper Meaning of Movies episode of Think Spiritual Podcasts. I’m your host, Mark, and as I stated in the introduction, today we’re diving into the second movie installment of the Kung Fu Panda franchise.
If you haven’t watched my deep dive into the first Kung Fu Panda movie, you may find it helpful to watch or listen to that episode first, but I will sum it up again here as a refresher.
What I primarily intended with the first episode was to point out how Master Shifu is possibly the more important panda of Kung Fu Panda. Remember, Master Shifu is a red panda.
That first movie is the completion of Shifu’s personal Hero’s Journey or, perhaps it could be considered the Atonement with the Father stage of his Mentor’s Journey.
Yes, Po certainly begins his Hero’s Journey in Kung Fu Panda, but it is only the beginning. Po is actually only born as the Hero – birthed out of the Belly of the Whale and bounced out onto his Road of Trials when he defeats Tai Lung.
While that very defeat of Tai Lung is Shifu’s attainment of inner peace.
And that brings us to Kung Fu Panda 2, which, this time, certainly is Po’s story. Although there are definitely certain elements that point this to being a continuation of Shifu’s journey as well. This story is still a visualization of Shifu’s inner workings.
In order to stay on point with Po and Shifu, for the moment I’m going to ignore the story of the peacocks that begins the movie and begin at the scene where Shifu summons Po back to the Pool of Sacred Tears. Remember that in Kung Fu Panda 1 I referred to this pool or sacred place as Shifu’s inner consciousness or the depths of his soul.
Notice how it seems that Master Shifu doesn’t leave this place much anymore? He has achieved inner peace. He’s perfectly content to be in this place and allow his inner Hero, Po, and his inwardly-programmed Ego, the Furious Five, to do the work of protecting the Kingdom – his Self.
Shifu has mastered not attempting to be in control of everything around him. Remember the scene with the peach tree in the first movie? It seems that Master Oogway’s final lesson paid off.
Getting back to the story of Kung Fu Panda 2, Shifu summons Po and tells him that he is ready for his next lesson: achieving inner peace. Shifu then does this kind of meditative dance where he catches a falling drop of water, shifts it from one hand to another and rolls it gently onto a growing plant.
It’s quite an elegant feat.
Po, says he’s ready to get this “inner peace thing” going, but it’s painfully obvious that he doesn’t understand why it’s even necessary for him to learn this. Po is currently living life one fight to the next. He is on his Road of Trials and he’s always itching for the next bit of action – or his next meal.
Po is always in motion, never still, and never at peace.
It’s definitely a relief to Po when Tigress comes bounding in and says that bandits are attacking the musician’s village. Po says to Shifu, “I’ll be right back to master inner peace as soon as I’m done with these bandits.”
We see Shifu give a bit of a knowing smile as if to say, “be careful of the vows you make, Panda.”
Because in one sense, Po does exactly what he says. Once Po is done – completely done – with these bandits he does achieve inner peace.
But it’s a long journey to get there. Much longer and much deeper than he expects to go.
It turns out that wolves are attacking the musician’s village. They need metal to complete a weapon for Lord Shen – we’ll get to him soon. Po and the Furious Five show up to spoil their plans.
The Heroes are, as usual, victorious, except for one small incident:
Po is about to fight the lead wolf when he sees a symbol on the wolf’s uniform. This symbol triggers a memory in Po. A memory of a dream of when his mother hid him in a basket and then she ran away chased by wolves.
This opens up the entire plot of the movie and it opens up the depths of Po’s soul.
You see, this moment of Po’s triggered memory represents a few things: repressed trauma, something that holds great power over you, and spiritual awakening.
For Po, he finally admits that he’s been having nightmares and visions of being abandoned by his parents. This is his repressed trauma.
Deep down, Po also knows that there was someone else involved. This person holds great power over Po.
And this moment is also Po’s true spiritual awakening. His desire to learn Kung Fu and his being chosen as the Dragon Warrior set his feet upon the path, but now Po must choose his own direction.
And suddenly that path and the world isn’t what he thought it was. Everything is suddenly shaken and in disarray.
Or shall we say that Chaos has entered Po’s world of Order?
More on that in a few moments. We will get around to the importance of Lord Shen, but before I do so, I want to talk about Po’s father, Mr. Ping.
Because of his disturbing vision and the release of his repressed trauma, Po goes to see his dad. Did you watch my previous episode on Kung Fu Panda 1? Remember how I advised you to keep in mind Mr. Ping’s dream of making tofu?
Well, it turns out that maybe Mr. Ping’s dream wasn’t so stupid after all. Perhaps it wasn’t crazy, because he now has a successful noodles and tofu restaurant.
Mr. Ping followed his dream, his vision, his bliss because he saw the feats his own son was capable of when he followed his “stupid dream” of learning Kung Fu.
Po changed himself and changed his world – the world of his father. The father followed the example of the son when he could have easily taken the Path of the Tyrant and forced Po to keep serving noodles for the rest of his life.
Po, the Hero, is the son of the Hero, Mr. Ping.
Yes, my dear Heroes. You can change and influence others, but you have to lead those others to be their own heroes. Thus, you have to be the Hero of your own life first.
Wow. Eleven minutes into this movie and the lessons are profound.
These animated movies aren’t just for kids!!!
Anyway, Po goes to see his dad and he finally asks him where he came from and Mr. Ping reveals that Po was adopted.
Big shocker, right?
[your father, the goose?]
Perhaps this is a sly, artistic dig at families who don’t talk about and deal with their “obvious to everyone else” issues?
Obvious or not, this information shakes Po’s world. He realizes that all is not as it seemed to be. Po feels lied to. The foundation of his life is not what he thought it was. His sense of personal identity has been shattered by the Destroyer.
The Destroyer is an archetype that I both have and have not talked about on Think Spiritual Podcasts.
The Shark from The Shallows, for example, is a Destroyer Archetype that uses Existential Nihilism as its primary weapon. However it is an irredeemable Destroyer that must, itself, be destroyed lest it eat the Hero.
Not all Destroyers are evil or without hope. Destroyers are necessary. They cut through deception and break prison walls. They see the cute stories we coddle ourselves with and they roll their eyes and show us the lies contained within them.
All of us can be Destroyers at some point in our lives. How many times have we dropped Truth into someone’s life and watched the shock spread across their face? We don’t necessarily do it to be cruel. Sometimes we’re just too practical for our own good: and, yes, I’m pointing the finger at myself here.
The weakness of all Destroyers is that they are prone to falling into patterns of bitterness and hatred and thinking that “everyone should just see it my way!”
Thus, Destroyers can easily become Villains.
Lord Shen is the Destroyer in Kung Fu Panda 2. He is Po’s antithesis, Po’s polar opposite, Po’s God or Goddess incarnate – God most likely as Po is an emotional, Feminine-driven character.
Look, the movie even blatantly tells you this by showing Po and Shen as the opposing halves of the Yin and Yang.
Shen’s story is that he is the dishonored son of the King and Queen of China. He is a peacock. Peacock’s are symbols of pride and arrogance, but also of elegance and refinement.
Shen was dishonored and banished from Gongmen City for two reasons:
First, he turned his parents’ greatest treasure and achievement, fireworks, into a weapon. Now, this is important – Shen turned fireworks, something that brought joy to people, something that was the bliss of his parents and turned it into a weapon of destruction.
The Destroyer took something good and turned it towards evil purpose.
The second reason Shen was banished was his response to a prophecy about him. It was foretold that Shen would be taken down by a Warrior of Black and White. Shen took this to mean a panda would be his downfall, so the Destroyer sought to destroy all pandas.
And, thus, sealed his own fate.
One often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it.
So, the Destroyer was banished from the city. But as we all know, the unconscious is not an endless dumping ground for repressed emotions. Whatever we banish will return.
And thirty years later, Shen does return to Gongmen City and he quickly dispatches its heroic guardians.
You see, Shen is also attempting to destroy someone else’s bliss: Po’s.
Kung Fu is Po’s bliss. It was the “impossible dream” that he chased after in the first movie. Po followed the thing he loved most and found his bliss.
And now Shen has a weapon, a cannon, that can destroy Kung Fu.
The Destroyer has a cannon that can destroy bliss.
Life has a cannon that can destroy bliss.
That is what the flaming cannonballs in Kung Fu Panda 2 ultimately represent: the big, explosive, seemingly life-altering events that hit us and “destroy” us throughout the course of our lives.
So, because of this weapon and the threat to Kung Fu, to Bliss, and to the rest of China – your entire existence of being – Shifu sends Po and the Furious Five to Gongmen City to stop Shen.
Thus, we end up with quite a few scenes that go back and forth between Po and Shen – further evidence that they are opposite sides of the same coin.
Both characters even have a companion with them: Po has Tigress and Shen has the Soothsayer. Tigress and the Soothsayer act as complementary archetypes or as a “conscience” to the Hero and the Villain.
Tigress’s more Masculine and practical approach to life compliments Po’s Feminine and emotional nature. And, though rarely shown, she is capable of compassion and empathy. Tigress feels things deeply, she simply doesn’t express these feelings outwardly.
The Soothsayer’s role is the opposite for Shen. Shen is uncaring and his emotions are buried and in turmoil. He is the epitome of the dark and damaged Masculine psyche. The Soothsayer acts much like a Caring Mother to him. Not overbearing in the slightest, just the calm voice of the Feminine warning him of the consequences if he does not turn away from his path of destruction.
You can actually hear the care and love for him that she genuinely feels when Shen finally sends her away: a symbol of him abandoning that small voice of compassion and reason within himself.
And then who ends up in the care of the Soothsayer?
Po, of course.
Now, I have to back up here a bit and state that there is a lot of action, a lot of things that happen and there is a lot of symbolism in all the scenes between Po and the Furious Five travelling to Gongmen City and up to Po’s second major showdown with Shen.
There is actually too much here to cover and I don’t think any of it is a major piece of the depth of story that I’m unveiling here.
The only thing I will touch on is Po’s experience in Gongmen City jail when Master Ox and Master Croc refuse to leave the prison. They are willing prisoners and seem to have given up hope. I believe that they are representations of Po being unwilling to face the reality of his abandonment as a child.
The Orphan archetype. It’s an archetype that keeps coming up for me and something I need to study further.
It is later on, in the prison again, where Po finally admits to what has been bothering him and it is Master Shifu, Po’s True Self, who finally convinces Master Ox and Master Croc to leave the prison.
So, let’s skip ahead to briefly look at Po’s second major showdown with Shen in the forge where the cannons are made.
The part I want to focus on is the moment when Po finally stops Shen in his tracks and demands answers as to what happened in the past. And Shen, as all good Destroyers must do, bluntly tells us the Truth:
Oh, you want to know so badly? You think knowing will heal you, huh? Fill some…crater in your soul? Well, here’s your answer. Your parents didn’t love you. But here…let me heal you.
I would have just read that line myself, but come on, I can’t say like Gary Oldman. God, that man’s a master.
Now, follow along with me here. Did Shen tell Po the Truth? Did Po’s parents not love him? Po did have nightmares that vaguely pointed towards this possibility.
Remember that Shen and Po are two sides of the same coin. Remember in the Kung Fu Panda 1 deep dive that I said that the Villain and the Hero are often unleashed at the same time.
Po and Shen are merely two divergent paths that Master Shifu could have taken in his life. Both Archetypes exist within him. Both possibilities exist within him.
And one of those possibilities believes that his parents didn’t love him.
Acknowledging and knowing long repressed trauma doesn’t heal you. That is a cannonball to the gut that kills you.
And when Po dies, Shifu’s Inner Peace is disrupted as well. Shifu just got hit with a traumatic memory, perhaps?
Still don’t believe me when I say that Master Shifu is the Kung Fu Panda?
Okay, that’s not the point I’m trying to emphasize here. I’m not a Film Theorist. My reason for bringing that up again is to encourage you to view movies from the different perspectives of different characters and examine who and what those characters can represent.
Let’s look at this moment that Po dies more closely.
Life hits Po in the chest with a cannonball. We know that Po is pretty resilient – that panda can take a beating. The cannonball carries Po away from Shen, from his friends, and from every place he is familiar with.
Po lands in water and is carried away by the river.
Po lands in water.
What have I often said that water represents?
The depths of consciousness or the depths of your soul.
And who picks Po out of the river and nurses him back to health?
The Soothsayer. The Caring Mother figure that Po has never had in his life before.
Again, we don’t know how long Po is here in this place. In the depths of the soul, there is no Time.
Shifu’s Soul was the Pool of Sacred Tears and it was a fairly healthy and tranquil place.
Po’s Soul is a beautiful place as well, except for one thing: the burned out ruins of the Panda village that it once contained. And Po starts having vivid memories while he is here. Some are good and some are very painful.
And as Po faces and feels that pain, a cleansing rain begins to fall. Po then channels those painful memories into the same elegant dance that Master Shifu performed to catch a drop of water.
How did Po know how to do this? He never trained for it and his previous attempt was a disaster:
Inner peace, inner peace, inner peace!
Yeah, that’s exactly how I react at work when the copier jams.
So, how did Po suddenly know how to do this meditative dance with the falling rain drop?
Because we have all the weapons we need at our disposal. All the knowledge we need is already within us.
Now, honestly, I don’t really understand what Po does here. Is there some symbolism in the dance, in the moves? I know that during this action he transmutes his nightmare into a living and loving memory. Notice how the animation shifts from 2D to what is Po’s “reality” of 3D when Po actually remembers his mother leaving him and sacrificing herself to save him.
I also know that what Po does with the raindrop should be impossible and that is the symbolism to focus on here. Po does something that is exceedingly difficult to do: facing and feeling his pain and transforming it into forward action.
And because he does this – sorry, I’m jumping ahead in the movie again here – and because Po is able to do that extremely difficult maneuver with a tiny raindrop, it becomes the most natural thing in the world for him to do with a cannonball.
Think of it this way:
Size matters not. Judge me by my size, do you, hmm?
After you have dealt with your most painful life events, what can life hit you with that will hurt more?
What can Shen hit Po with?
Nothing can touch him. Po is able to catch and divert every single devastating blow that life can throw at him.
We even see him fully integrate his Masculine and Feminine, his Hero and Villain, his Past and Present as he becomes a living embodiment of the Yin and Yang – the Warrior of Black and White.
Po even gives Shen a chance to redeem himself, but Shen is too far gone by this time. He chooses the path of full-blown Nihilism and Destruction and is destroyed by his own creation.
There can be only one!
And all of Po’s actions have now redeemed the explosive cannonballs. They hurl into the sky as beautiful fireworks once again. Po took something that was intended for evil and turned them into something good.
Bliss has been restored.
And there we have it, my Dear Heroes, the deeply spiritual symbolism that I see within Kung Fu Panda 2. Please tune in next time for the final installment of Po’s Hero’s Journey in Kung Fu Panda 3.
I also apologize if the last third of this episode seemed a little rushed. This script was getting very long. I think I could have split it in two and done one part on Po and one part on Shen. This movie simply has too much symbolism and deep meaning.
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I have been your host, Mark. This has been a look at the Deeper Meaning of Kung Fu Panda 2 and I know that if you work to change your Self and atone with your past and achieve inner peace that you will be able to handle any cannonball that Life fires your way. Your World will not be destroyed, but it will be changed forever for the better.
You have all the weapons and knowledge you need within you. I will see you on the next episode of Think Spiritual Podcasts.