A Warrior of Black and White
An explanation of why I believe Lord Shen wasn’t defeated by Po and neither was he meant to.
[Spoilers for Kung Fu Panda 2 below]
After watching Kung Fu Panda 3 (and loving it), I went back to rewatch parts of my favorite second part. One moment in particular always struck me as intense - the one where Shen closes his eyes just before his death. Has he found inner peace in that last moment, I wondered. We don’t know for sure, but I don’t think so. I think he might have been relieved that his demise would come from an accident (one of his own making, too) and not from the prophesied “warrior of black and white”. He accepted it as the closest he could get to victory - going down, but not as he was foretold.
All this time he expected a panda to be the one who defeats him, but I think it was never the meaning of the prophecy.
I think the warrior of black and white was Shen himself.
First of all, just like the pandas, he fits visually (add red and you got it). Secondly, and more importantly, unlike Po, Shen deals in extremes - everyone is either for or against him. Remember how easily he turned on Wolf Boss? Shen has a very black and white view of the world.
Thirdly, let’s look at the prophecy:
“…if Shen continued down this dark path, he would be defeated by a warrior of black and white.”
If he continued. That is a very important point. He didn’t have to continue his research of weaponizing fireworks. He could have stopped it then and there. But because he deals in black and white he did not consider his own course of action could possibly be the problem. He believed someone was out to get him, because everyone is either an ally or an enemy, there is no middle ground.
his black and white outlook that was his doom. If he continued making judgements based on that, if he failed to see how it was a dangerous way of thinking both to him and others, then he would be defeated. By himself.
And that’s what happened. Po may have taken down his ships, destroyed his canons, but who made the canon fall on Shen - the peacock himself. Why? Because even when everything was lost and Po told him he held no grudge, and Shen could have turned a new leaf, instead he pressed on.
And so he was killed and thus ultimately defeated through no will other than his own. I find it deeply poetic that what kills him is the very thing he was pursuing. Sadly, I don’t think he ever understood this. He is indeed a very tragic villain.
Before Shen’s turning point, where he went out to command a genocide of the pandas, we have really little idea of whether he was really that bad a guy. His parents seemed to care for his well-being, he was rich, he was busy inventing weapons. Maybe they were for defense. Most likely they were an attempt to make his firework-inventing elders proud. One way or another, Shen’s character was tested by the prophecy. And thus the warrior of black and white came to be. Not Po. But Shen himself.
And so Kung Fu Panda 2 remains my favorite from the three currently existing movies. And one of my all time favorite movies in general.
It shows us a hero, who has all the reasons to be filled with prejudice, to believe himself the ultimate judge, the chose one, one who knows best - and yet he is a flexible forgiving guy, who knows how to move on and let go of things. And the villain is his exact opposite - someone whose judgements were extreme and who could not let go or move on, focusing on one path until it consumed him. At any moment Shen could have stopped what he was doing and saved himself from defeat, but he couldn’t see it.
Shen’s final exchange with Po is very powerful to me. It’s what makes them different, it’s what gives one strength and dooms the other to failure.
The moral of this story is: don’t be inflexible warriors of black and white, kids, or you might get yourself killed. But if you do go out the same way Shen did, maybe at least the fireworks will create your image in the sky:
P.S. Of course the prophecy could also mean Po, cause he is a balanced dude, thus black and white, but hey, I like my theory. XD