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Po power for panda film
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Prior to its release, the movie had been in the works for over 10 years.

"I love martial arts movies, particularly Wuxia martial arts films more than the contemporary Bruce Lee type of films because of the magical, mystical lands - and some of the heroism where people do great heroic deeds," says Stevenson. "So, we thought of the panda, the most symbolic character of China to be the main hero, when we were faced with the storyline."

By choosing the title Kung Fu Panda - the group was well aware they were setting the bar high. One of the biggest challenges for the filmmakers came from having to portray a clumsy panda with dazzling kungfu powers.

Chinese marital arts stars Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Bruce Lee and even Stephen Chow, were all used as models for the action designers when they put together the kungfu action scenes. According to one director, a scene was derived from one of Jackie Chan's films. In another scene, Po's facial expressions resemble those of Stephen Chow.

"We have invited Jackie Chan to watch these scenes. When he laughs, we know we got it," says Stevenson.

Another interesting character in the film is Monkey, which is also inspired by Jackie Chan. The character is fast, unpredictable and funny.

"Usually I mix comic elements and kungfu together - like a monkey jumping up and down, playing lots of acrobatics," says Jackie Chan. "I used my kungfu skills when I did the voice part."

In keeping with the filmmakers' reverence for kungfu, they chose their own "Furious Five": Monkey, Mantis, Crane, Viper and Tigress, as animal incarnations of some actual martial art fighting styles.

"Typically, in the past, in a kungfu movie, you see a human imitating an animal doing those fighting styles, but this is the first time anyone's ever actually seen these animals executing the fighting styles from which they derive their names," says Stevenson.

Creating the image of Po was probably the ultimate challenge as the team had never been to China before, nor even seen a live panda.

"I have never seen a panda myself, but we have done lots of research on the Internet," says Stevenson. "Meanwhile, Jack Black, the voice actor of Po, gave me lots of inspiration. It is actually quite interesting to see how similar they are."

In response to a question about whether the made-in-Hollywood panda Po would be welcomed by the Chinese viewers, Zhou Keqin, the former director of Shanghai Animation Film Studio, gave a positive comment.

"Panda is the Chinese national treasure, so we have a special affection for the lovely animal," Zhou says. "The image design from Hollywood is their understanding of panda, which is different from us in terms of sketching techniques and the panda's personality."

Like other Hollywood animations, Kung Fu Panda features the voices of A-list Hollywood stars Jack Black (Po), Dustin Hoffman (Master Shifu), Angelina Jolie (Tiger) as well as Chinese action star Jackie Chan (Monkey) and American-born-Chinese actress Lucy Liu (Snake Viper).

"It is certainly a good thing, and reflects attention from the world of an understanding Chinese culture," says Lu Shengzhang, dean of animation at the Communication University of China. "Because we Chinese have our understanding of the animal - it is really hard to predict how popular the film will be in China."

(China Daily June 18, 2008)

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