This Memorial Day weekend, I, along with many other parents, took my kids to see "Kung Fu Panda 2." It feels strange to say this, but I really enjoyed seeing what all the characters were up to, as if I were revisiting old friends. The movie delved deeper into Po the panda's personal history, and although the expected visual and verbal gags kept the audience giggling, the film also touches on some real-life themes in surprisingly thoughtful ways: adoption, "man" vs. machine, reconciling the past with the present and future, and redemption.
As the movie ended, I was very curious to see who intertwined the childish comedy with the deeper, more sober issues with such a light, masterful touch. And when the director's name appeared on the screen, my mouth dropped. First of all, she was a woman. Second of all, she could very well be Korean!
Both turned out to be true: Jennifer Yuh Nelson is the first woman to singlehandedly direct a big-budget major animated feature. BOOYAH!!!
From this LA times article, I learned that Jennifer Yuh Nelson actually grew up in Lakewood, CA, minutes away from where I grew up, and not surprisingly, received encouragement and guidance from her own Kimchi Mama from a very young age:
As a young girl, she would sit at the kitchen table for hours and watch her mother draw, copying her every stroke. Nelson traces the lineage of her career to those formative family experiences.
I also really enjoyed reading how she learned to come into her own as a naturally soft-spoken person in a position that usually is defined by auteur angst:
"I'm a very soft-spoken person. I don't throw furniture. I don't throw tantrums," Nelson said. "As a director, your job is to protect this movie with your life. Protect it against anything that would take it off its course and turn it beige. You have to be very, very ferocious and that was the hardest part for me because I'm not used to yelling."
And perhaps the most glowing testimonial comes from the CEO of Dreamworks himself, Jeffrey Katzenberg:
"What I always find so amazing about Jennifer is that inside this beautiful, soulful, soft-spoken, elegant lady is this macho, kung fu-loving action dynamo," Katzenberg said. "It's the opposite of what we're all used to dealing with in the world, the macho exterior and marshmallow center. There is very much a cult following that she has among our artists. They all want to work with her."
Well, I'm not an artist, but definitely count me in as a cult member. I'm so inspired! Ms. Yuh Nelson, you rock!!!
Cross-posted at Kimchi Mamas!