Quentin Tarantino, the writer/director behind a number of pop culture-defining films, is an icon of modern era of American cinema, having influenced filmmakers in seemingly every genre of the art form. But the director/writer has a theory on one film in particular that comes as something of a surprise since it's seemingly so disconnected from the theme and tone in his films.
Tarantino is convinced that the Dreamworks-animated film Kung Fu Panda is actually a riff on his own Kill Bill saga, with the former sharing sequences, songs and characters with the latter. The most ridiculous part in al of this isn't necessarily that comparison... it's that he might actually have a point.
Kung Fu Panda Vs. Kill Bill: A Comparison
Released in two parts, Kill Bill focuses on the Bride (Uma Thurman) awakening from a coma that her former lover/boss Bill (David Carradine) put her in. The Bride targets him and the rest of her former allies, known as Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, for revenge. The two films come together to form a bloody revenge narrative, with the Bride going head-to-head with various other martial arts masters and trigger-happy assassins. Eventually, her quest for vengeance transforms when the Bride learns about the survival of her daughter, and she sets off to try and rescue her.
Kung Fu Panda came to theatres in 2008, five years after the release of Kill Bill Part 1. In it, a lazy panda named Po (Jack Black) dreams of becoming a kung fu legend and gets the opportunity when he's mistaken for "the dragon warrior," a destined defender of the world. While his training proves difficult for the panda, the outcast fighter Tai Lung (Ian McShane) decides to return to his home to try and test himself against Po. As one could immediately see from this comparison, the latter film is more enthusiastic and silly than Kill Bill, more focused on a sweet lesson of self acceptance than revenge. But do they have more in common than their different stories attest?
What Did Tarantino Say About Kung Fu Panda?
During an interview with BBC Radio 1's Film Critic Ali Plumb, Tarantino said, "'Kung Fu Panda' is just a straight-up parody of 'Kill Bill.' In every way!" Tarantino specifically mentioned the kung fu elements present in both versions and addressed how the animated film series has ballooned over the years into its own franchise with multiple films and seasons of television. He at least has a positive outlook on the situation, joking, "They're keeping me pop-culturally relevant."
Initially, the two films couldn't seem more different. One of them is the animated adventures of a portly panda who ultimately learns a lesson. Kill Bill is as grisly revenge story all about slicing open enemies on a path for vengeance. But it's clear that if Kung Fu Panda isn't an outright parody of Kill Bill, it was definitely inspired by the tropes it similarly employs.
Tarantino Has A Point About Kung Fu Panda
While Kung Fu Panda explores completely different story beats than Kill Bill, it does feature surprisingly specific similarities with the Tarantino film. During the training routine where the future Bride learns from the martial arts master Pai Mei (Chia-Hui Liu), she is forbidden from eating until she learns how to use chop-sticks perfectly. In Kung Fu Panda, Po's master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) trains Po with a pair of chopsticks, keeping him from eating a dumpling by dueling him with the chopsticks. Training with chopsticks has been used as a trope in other films featuring martial arts, of course, most notably the original Karate Kid.
A closer moment might be with the soundtrack choices used in the animated film. The trailer for Kung Fu Panda heavily featured the song by "Battle Without Honor or Humanity" by Tomoyasu Hotei. The song reached the general cultural consciousness by being featured in Kill Bill Vol. 1 as the entrance music for the Yakuza lord O-Ren Ishi (Lucy Liu). It's likely that Kung Fu Panda was inspired to use "Battle Without Honor or Humanity" by its appearance in Kill Bill.
Perhaps the most overt reference that gives Tarantino's words credence is that Nickelodeon television series, Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness, which features an outright shout-out to the Tarantino film. A minor martial arts master is introduced in the series called Pai Mei. This character shares a name with the one who taught the Bride how to fight in Kill Bill.
As we mentioned, in this case, it feels more like a direct shout-out to the film. Kung Fu Panda explores a lot of tropes used in various classic kung fu films, but along the way it had some fun with Kill Bill, which was, at that point, one of the most recent and big-budget examples of the genre. But at least it's references to the Tarantino films are loving call-backs to the two-films.