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Proud As A Peacock, Tough As A Warrior
In our world of ancient China—the version that serves as home to the characters of "Kung Fu Panda 2”—fireworks, or sky flowers, were the dominion of the ruling peacocks, until a son in line for the throne saw their potential for destruction. In turning the purpose of fireworks from constructive to destructive, the peacock named Shen sets his own course toward darker purposes…and, inadvertently aims his life's path to eventually cross with a panda named Po.

Jonathan Aibel explains the genesis of Shen: "When we first started working on ideas for the sequel, we knew that we had already created a fantastic villain in the first film with Tai Lung—he was the ultimate in kung fu strength and Po's victory over him was a victory of softness over hardness. We felt we couldn't top Tai Lung if we tried to come up with an even stronger villain, so we thought, ‘What if we tried to make this villain more threatening in an intellectual and an emotional way?' So that's how we came up with the character of the albino peacock, Lord Shen.”

The director interjects, "For the villain in this film, we went a completely different way from Tai Lung, who was hardcore, full-on strength and brutality. And we couldn't really go much stronger than he—Tai Lung could punch his way out of a mountain. So we looked for someone more threatening in a different way—more intellectual, smarter, devious. Po has learned to master the art of kung fu, so something was needed that could trump ability. Lord Shen is, at first, an unimposing-looking guy. He's a white peacock, after all, not much of a threat, right? Well, in addition to his fighting skills, which are imposing, he also has speed, and all of that is backed up with weaponry. He's sinister and scary in his own way.”

To voice such a clever, flamboyant and accomplished bird as Shen, filmmakers sought out one of the best and most versatile character performers working in entertainment: Gary Oldman.

"Among Gary's amazing performances,” points out the director, "are several who could be called villains—and yet, they possess so much charm and bearing that their villainy almost becomes secondary. His work in ‘Bram Stoker's Dracula' shows us the human heart of the monster. We felt that his skills would elevate Shen from a character simply driven by vengeance to a really interesting, multi-layered soul. Evil is so much more alluring when it's painted with a full spectrum.”

The producer adds, "Gary has such a great voice that can communicate gentleness and soul one minute, and spine-chilling evil the next. That combination really serves Shen. He gives him an amazing emotional intensity.”

"I love the challenge of conveying a character fully just using the voice,” explains Gary Oldman. "And Shen is a particularly interesting character. His cleverness led to a miscalculation, and what he had hoped would be an invention worth celebrating turned out to be a weapon that inspired fear. It's that moment when a child, who is immensely proud of something, finds out that what he has accomplished is deemed wrong. That makes for a great deal of hurt—not only does he want to prove himself right and worthy, he wants to take those down who stood in his way in the process. He has come back to take what is rightfully his. I think he fits very nicely in the gallery of Oldman villains.”

Co-star and leading panda Jack Black echoes the praise of his director and producer: "The villain this time around is an evil peacock and it's played by one of my favorite actors of all time, Gary Oldman. I've always drawn a lot of inspiration from his performances, way back to ‘Sid and Nancy.' And to see all of the different villains that he's played? Probably my favorite is ‘Dracula.' In the scene where he's with the white wolf, and he says to the girl, ‘He likes you.' There's something almost delicate about the evil in that scene that was really amazing. I was really excited when I heard he was playing Shen.”

"Pride has been called many things and has carried the blame for some of the worst in man,” muses Oldman. "And Shen is proud—he's a peacock, so it's almost in his DNA. That pride, though, if it were matched with some humility or compassion, he would actually make a formidable leader. But, as it stands, he makes for a rather nasty opponent.”

Leading Shen's army of lupine forces is the aptly named Wolf Boss, voiced by Danny McBride. Notes the actor, "He's pretty fierce and cool—and I think what really makes him awesome to play is that he only has one eye. That is always shorthand for someone who is tough. Anyone in a Western missing an eye is someone to be reckoned with. Who doesn't want to play the big, bad wolf?”

Michelle Yeoh is no stranger to big, bad villains, or martial arts films (although "KFP2” is her first animated martial arts entry). Never professionally schooled in martial arts, the performer used her early dance training to take full advantage when she began making action films for a Hong Kong-based company in the mid ‘80s. Already a respected performer outside of the United States, Yeoh's domestic popularity skyrocketed with her performance in Ang Lee's lyrical "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” In KFP2, Yeoh was cast as the voice of the Soothsayer—a wise and ancient big-horned sheep that is close in character to the witches in "Macbeth,” and her visions come to influence (if not out and out determine) some of the key plot points in the film.

Yeoh comments, "I did ‘Crouching Tiger' because I felt that the genre needed more respect and dignity than it had been afforded. It is steeped in history and our culture—I think it really opened eyes in Western audiences. And I feel that the ‘Kung Fu Panda' films do the same thing, in a way. Whether people realize it or not, they are being exposed to aspects of Chinese culture, martial arts and legend. And it's done in such an enjoyable way that it doesn't feel anything like a lesson or a classroom learning experience. I think they're wonderful entertainment, and I was very glad to be asked to be in this one.”

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