Legend Of A Rabbit. When China Tried To Copy Kung Fu Panda.

Published: February 29, 2024

When Kung Fu Panda was originally released in 2008, it was very popular in the country that is is set in, that being China. The film was apparently so revolutionary over there that many in China were reportedly shocked at how good a film made by Westerners about China when compared to their films. This caused many in China’s film industry to rethink how they crafted films, and it also inspired someone to want to try and copy its success. 

Legend of a Rabbit was a 2011 directed by Sun Yijun the then president of the Beijing Film Academy. The film reportedly had 500 animators working on it, and it took three years to develop.

The film follows Tu the Rabbit (modeled after the Chinese God Tu’er Shen), a small-town baker who is gifted the abilities of kung fu from the Shifu Monkey after an assassination attempt by the evil panda Slash. Tu is sent on a quest to find Penelope, aka Penny, to establish her as Shifu’s successor, and to stop Slash from taking over all of China.

It premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and was released theatrically that July in over 3,000 Chinese theaters. It was also released in over 80 foreign countries, making it the first Chinese animated film to have an international theatrical release. 

The film was not only a box office flop but it was also savaged by critics and called a blatant Kung Fu Panda rip-off, especially since Kung Fu Panda 2 had released only two months prior.

Lionsgate would later acquire the rights to release it direct-to-video in North America as Legend of Kung Fu Rabbit and featured an English voice cast comprising of Jon Heder, Rebecca Black, Michael Clarke Duncan, and Tom Arnold. Despite the bad dialogue, the actor’s clear phone it in. The performances are so bad that it actually makes the film entertaining. 

This is where most stories about Chinese knock-offs would end. But miraculously, not only did the film receive a sequel, but it went on to become a whole franchise. 

In 2015 Legend of a Rabbit: The Martial of Fire (Also called Rise of the Rabbit in certain territories) was released to theaters. Not only was the story and character dialogue greatly improved from the first film, but the animation received a significant upgrade. The visuals were so good that it could almost be mistaken for actual Kung Fu Panda footage. 

The film was featured at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and was heavily advertised with various forms of merchandise and advertisements. It was clear that the studio behind the film wanted to appeal to an international market and try to find potential distribution partners. 

Tu, now a promising martial artist, must set out to find the illusive Martial of Fire, a powerful object that, in the wrong hands, could be used for great evil. Both friends, old and new, must work together and risk not only their lives but the fate of China.

Despite Lionsgate releasing the first film in North America, they instead released another Chinese animated film, Adventures of Panda Warrior, in 2016 to cash in on Kung Fu Panda 3, while the only English release of Legend of a Rabbit 2 was in the United Kingdom. The English voice cast, while unknown, was a vast improvement over the Lionsgate dub.

Not long afterward, the film received two animated shows. The first show is Tu & Bo’s Kung Fu Adventures, which features many of the characters from the films and a new character, Bo the Bear, who goes on many adventures battling the forces of darkness. The series isn’t too dissimilar to the Nickelodeon series Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness

The second series was called Little Rabbit’s Kung Fu Academy, which was aimed at much younger audiences with a Hello Kitty design and much simpler and shorter stories. The series even received its own standalone film, Kung Fu Little Rabbit: The Movie.

A third film was announced for a 2017 release date but was apparently either shelved or canceled due to missing its release window and there being no news since its initial announcement. 

Since then, DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda series has seen multiple television shows and films, while the competing series has been long forgotten. Little to nobody outside of China and their surrounding territories knows of this franchise’s existence and how much it was able to accomplish after its first film bombed. It evolved past being a typical dime a dozen knock-off and became its own thing.

With Kung Fu Panda 4 releasing in less than two weeks after a nine-year hiatus, perhaps there is a small chance that Legend of a Rabbit 3 may be revived.

(Art by: 7oy7iger)

One thing that most likely won’t happen but would be cool to see would be a crossover between the two series. Only time will tell if the rabbit will rise again to meet the challenge like his North American counterpart.

What do you think? Have you ever seen any of the films or shows? Should the franchise be revived for a third film? Do you want to see it crossover with Kung Fu Panda? Let us know.

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