INSPECTOR CLOUSEAU's manservant KATO has been ditched from The Pink Panther remake because screenwriter and star Steve Martin feared the martial arts expert would be offensive to Asians.

Instead, French actor Jean Reno will play Clouseau's sidekick PONTON - and Martin hopes Pink Panther fans will understand his need to create a new character.

Martin says, "Clouseau has a partner now named Ponton. We've taken some of the classic and most beloved aspects of the Kato and Clouseau relationship and reinterpreted them through the Ponton character.

"There might have been a politically correct influence in the script."

Martin is also using his influence as a writer to make sure he gets to smooch with sexy co-star Beyonce Knowles.

He adds, "I always put those in my screenplays: '...and he touched her breasts or boobies.' Inspector Clouseau seducing Beyonce, that's in."

12/05/2004 02:12