The new animated movie Kung Fu Panda, in theaters tomorrow, has a pretty goofy name. But directors Mark Osborne and John Stevenson took the project very seriously. Well, very half-seriously. “The big concept was, ‘What if Akira Kurosawa shot a Jerry Lewis movie?’” explains Osborne. In the film a tubby panda named Po, voiced by Jack Black, is trained in martial arts so that he can battle Tai Lung, Ian McShane’s villainous snow leopard. The film’s other voice artists include Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, David Cross and real-life martial arts legend Jackie Chan.

Osborne and Stevenson talked with about how a kung fu instructor — and a strangled hooker — helped them create a movie that would not besmirch the Chan name.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How important was it that the kung fu in the movie be realistic?

JOHN STEVENSON: It was very important and one of the movie’s biggest challenges. You can’t make a film called Kung Fu Panda unless you have kung fu. And if you’re gonna have kung fu, you should have good kung fu.
MARK OSBORNE: We wanted to make the kung fu more realistic than “real” kung fu. Because, in “real” kung fu, you get to see amazing stuff happen, but you’re always conscious of the wire work and the stunts. We had the opportunity to have a real grounding with our kung-fu.
STEVENSON: The title of the movie has big comic premise. Kung fu: very hardcore. Pandas: soft and cuddly. But there was a very conscious decision not to make a parody.

You yourselves were trained in kung fu for a day?
STEVENSON: Well, “trained” is a very kind word. I think “abused and humiliated” is actually what we requested. We had this terrific kung fu instructor called Eric Chen and we actually took all our crew [with us]. We said, okay, don’t take it easy on us, because we want to get a sense of what it would be like for someone that doesn’t know anything about kung fu to be really thrown into it. So don’t give us the cushy beginner class. Give us a serious kung-fu class.
OSBORNE: We wanted to get as much of the experience [as possible] that Po was going to get in the movie; of being forced to do things that we couldn’t do. It was a five-hour workshop that was very intense. We were pretty sore afterwards. There were two or three days of moaning and groaning around the crew.
STEVENSON: That kung fu stuff is hard! Really unbelievably hard! And the last thing [Eric] made us do was knuckle push-ups on a concrete floor.

[More Fu after the jump]

How many knuckle push-ups did you manage?
STEVENSON: Um, none. I was basically, like, you know what, I’m anout-of-shape, middle-aged guy, I’m never going to be a kung fu master,this is where I check out. That’s when I rolled on my back in a gaspingheap.
OSBORNE: I did two. But I think I was doing girl ones on my knees.
STEVENSON: The humiliating thing is that all of this was, of course, lovingly captured [on video].
OSBORNE: I think it’ll be a DVD extra.

Is it true that you used some of Ian McShane’s dialog from Deadwood while developing the character of Tai Lung?
OSBORNE: For our first animation test, we took dialog from Deadwood andwe had the animators animate it, and we sent it all the way through thepipeline to lighting just to see how Ian’s voice would work in thecharacter. It really helped establish our tone.

So is there footage somewhere of the character dropping the f-bomb and threatening hookers?
OSBORNE: He’s actually throttling Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman’scharacter), but it was him throttling a hooker in the sequence. I thinkwe may have cleaned the swearing out.