What would an underdog story be without an antagonist? The beauty and sheer power of the Furious Five in action become evident in their face-off with the bad guy. With such strong good guys, the bad guy needs to be a truly menacing presence….and he is.
Tai Lung is that most dangerous of adversaries — physically imposing, ruthless, manically driven, brilliant and just this side of imbalanced. Take the most powerful fighter the Valley has ever seen and then imprison him for 20 years, where his dark heart can marinate in anger and revenge, and then set him loose to cut a swathe of destruction through the country where the inhabitants once thought him to be the shining hope of all.
Having voiced Captain Hook in “Shrek the Third” (and etched a memorable portrait of Al Swearengen, a villain of the Old West on HBO’s “Deadwood”), fans know that Ian McShane can be as bad as he wants to be.
Director Stevenson says, “Ian can go from zero to 60 in like 2.5 seconds. In life, he comes in as the nicest guy in the world. And then, when he becomes Tai Lung, he’ll just get behind the microphone and roar and make the hairs on the back of your neck stand straight up. He’s an amazing actor to watch.”
McShane can and does understand what Tai Lung’s problem is: “He believes he should’ve been the Dragon Warrior. He’s been denied it for 20 years, because pride comes before a fall, and that’s Tai Lung’s big problem — pride. He wants to reclaim his rightful place. Shifu put him in prison for these 20 years. But then, you know, it’s a moral story about believing in what you are but not ignoring the guy behind you, like the tortoise and the hare.”
Stevenson has been a fan of McShane’s for a while, having watched him over the years in his innumerable appearances in movies and on British television. And it just so happened that about the same time the director came aboard “Kung Fu Panda,” McShane had made the HBO series “Deadwood” an unmissable viewing experience.
And while McShane (as Swearengen) may have been involved in his share of knock-down, shoot-’em-up fights, he is glad that his “Kung Fu Panda” alter-ego does his own stunts: “I always enjoy playing a character that’s full of contradictions like Tai Lung — he’s not really a villain. He’s a complex character and he physically looks very good in the film. I mean, I’d rather I didn’t have to do any of the wonderful fighting that the characters do in this movie. I’d love to say that I could do that in real life. I’m just glad to supply the grunts and the groans.”
The timbre and gravity of McShane’s voice brings layers to the character from the first moment we hear Tai Lung speak. Says Mark Osborne: “What’s great about Ian is that he has this ability to really command the screen. Every line he says is incredibly memorable and powerful. And you get a sense of this really fascinating, angry, emotionally-wrought character, who’s coming to the Valley of Peace to exact revenge — and you get it with every word he says.”
Even if some of the citizens of the Jade Palace are convinced that Tai Lung can and will break out of Chorh-Gom Prison, there is one who does not — even as he’s watching the prison break take place: Commander Vachir designed and oversaw the construction of the one-man stronghold, built with the intention of keeping Tai Lung from ever rampaging through the Valley of Peace again.
“The Commander is a rhinoceros,” Duncan says. “Broad shoulders, big all over, muscular, probably can bench-press at least 5,000 pounds, fears nobody except for Tai Lung. That’s the one thing in the back of his mind he really does not want to deal with. I have a unique job. I have the most fail-safe prison in the world. I only have one prisoner and Tai Lung is his name. And he is very good, extremely good at martial arts. And I have a thousand soldiers on this one guy. One prisoner, nothing else, a thousand soldiers. And like I just told you, the guy is really, really, really good. I wish I could move like that.”