Talking to the Director & Producer of The Furious 5

Inside the Furious 5

It should come as no surprise that Dreamworks is the franchise business.

Their biggest money making film ever is Shrek III. Madagascar: Back 2 Africa was the top money maker its debut week, and in two weeks topped $100 million.

According to Box Office Mojo, Kung Fu Panda already made $630 million internationally. So, no surprise, a sequel feature film is in the works. It’s slated for June, 2011.

But that apparently isn’t soon enough for Katzenberg and company. The recently released KFP DVD has a special edition. It comes with a second disk containing a new short entitled The Secrets of the Furious Five. It’s well worth acquiring, as this 24-minute short kicks some mighty tail in its own right.

The film starts off in CGI as Master Shifu (still voiced by Dustin Hoffman) gives Po the Panda (Jack Black) his greatest challenge yet. Po must teach kung fu to a pack of cute baby bunnies. The kids are all over Po about learning secret moves and such, but are way too young for such “awesomeness.” Instead, Po decides to teach them disciplines such as patience, trust and discipline. To sugar coat their lessons, he covers each some of history of the Furious Five.

The short is catching its share of much deserved attention. Producer Karen Foster and director Raman Hui sure know. They conducted this interview on cel phone driving to one destination from another.

Then again, it appears original directors Mark Osborne and John Stevenson unintentionally had a hand in F5’s creation.

“While Kung Fu Panda was still in development, the Furious 5 had a bigger part,” recalls Foster, who worked in development at that time. “They each had their own story. Then it was decided to concentrate just on Po and Shifu. We decided that it would be good to do a special focussing on them. That’s pretty much the genesis of it.”

“It’s amazing to me because I’m Chinese myself,” adds Hui, who co-directed Shrek III. “When the project first started, even though I was working on Shrek III, I was hoping to just get a little animation in on Kung Fu Panda. So I asked the original directors if I could do some animating. They said rather than do that, they were doing a short based on Panda. Why don’t I direct that? I jumped on it because it had so much to do with my country and I could put it into the short.

“Also, it was great to work with Karen Foster. You see, I can put in a lot of Chinese culture but I was glad to have Karen around to make sure if I put in a cultural reference, Karen would make sure everyone would understand what I was talking about.”

It wasn’t hard for Foster to get Black, Hoffman and David Cross (Crane) to return for their roles. The only original they wanted but couldn’t get was Seth Rogen (Mantis). That didn’t mean they wanted the entire original cast back.

“The stories about Viper, Monkey and Tigress were all supposed to take place when they were young,” said Foster, “so we didn’t think using the original cast members would have been right either, the story of Tigress in particular.

“Then again, each of these past stories ties into the main film. For instance, in Kung Fu Panda, there was a scene shot of when Tigress was young. With Furious 5 we get into what was the implication of that sequence. In a way, you can say Furious Five is the origin story of them.”

So they hired Jessica Di Cicco to voice young Viper and Max Koch to replace Rogen. Still, the most interesting touch was who replaced Monkey. In the original, the super-simian was voiced by martial arts legend Jackie Chan. For the role of young Monkey, they got Jackie’s son Jaycee Chan (also known as Jaycee Fong).

“The Monkey in the film is much younger than the one in Kung Fu Panda,” says Foster. “I was really pleased when we got Jaycee. He was great. Raman recorded him in Hong Kong. I understand his recording sessions were a lot of fun. His English is actually better than Jackie’s because he went to college here in America.”

“Because of my background from Hong Kong, I already knew that Jackie had a son who is turning into a star in his own right,” adds Hui. “He’s doing action movies, just like his father. Not too many have come here yet, some are too local.

“Anyway, when we were developing the story, I just thought ‘Hey! We have to have a younger version of Monkey, so why not get Jaycee?’ So I called him up and he said yes. He was funny. As it was, he did the voice of Crane in the Chinese version of Kung Fu Panda. So he knew how to do voice acting, but more from watching the film and then synching in. So doing Monkey was very different for him, he had nothing to look at. Then when I asked him to be like his father, he became really active and became like a little Jackie Chan. He started jumping around, including a lot of the noises his father would make.”

The voice cast isn’t the only difference with this film. While Kung Fu Panda had some hand-drawn animation in it, Furious Five is dominated by it. At the same time, there is a purpose to the heavy reliance on trad 2-D.

“We decided to go 2-D while it was still in development,” says Foster. When we saw what James Baxter was doing all this incredible 2-D for the feature, and we found out his crew could also be available for us. Also, being a lot of our animators were originally from 2-D, they all volunteered to work on it. There’s a reason for the traditional animation though. If you notice in the movie Kung Fu Panda, we only use the 2-D in the credits or where they’re talking about the past or telling a story. So being Furioius 5 is primarily Po telling stories to the children, we told them in 2-D. So it was kind of a perfect marriage of us wanting to work in 2-D and the perfect story to use it in.”

“I didn’t have too much trouble because I come from a 2-D traditional background before I started working for PDI/Dreamworks,” continues Hui. “It was fun going back to doing hand drawn animation. I would say we were more influenced by Chinese paper cuts and some Japanese anime, but there was some UPA. For me, all it really involved was making sure I had the story straight before we started drawing. It helped to be surrounded by talented people, too.”

So how do the creators feel about the final product? Quite good, for a number of reasons.

“I’m incredibly proud of it,” Foster admits. “I didn’t get to work on the original movie, so I was pleased to work on something associated with it. We had our own premier of it recently, and my own 85 year-old father attended. He actually cried during part of it. That made me feel really proud as I was one of those kids who grew up watching cartoons sitting on her dad’s lap.”

As it stands though, Hui’s experience might end up more profound in the long run.

“China is going crazy about animation,” says the young director. “They have started converting all these industrial parks to make it throughout the whole country. They have seen a lot of animation from Japan make money and that’s part of it. So China wants to start doing all that, importing animation and converting it for TV. They see a lot of initial potential there.

“Now it’s still a little early. They haven’t really started doing original animation. A lot of that was due to the Cultural Revolution. Now I have gone to China a few times to do some lectures and attend some conferences. What I can also tell you is there are a lot of young animators who are really hungry for input.

“Everyone over there is talking about that movie,” says Hui. “They are all asking how China itself didn’t make that movie. It was so true to their culture, and they did pay extra attention to the details. They really felt the respect coming from Hollywood and Dreamworks.”

So it sounds like the tales of Po the Panda are kicking open doors no one expected. That could make Kung Fu Panda a franchise with even more impact than anyone could have expected.

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