R0BTRAIN's Bad Ass Cinema: Rob's Kill Bill Dojo Part 1

So in deciding the topic for my column this week, I wanted to do a series of columns on the movies that inspired Kill Bill. In doing research for the columns I then decided to actually write about Tarantino’s films themselves. I wanted to do a dense discussion about as many aspects of the movies as possible, and well…I may have gotten a little over zealous. Kill Bill is so dense with info that for the first time I’m going to cover the same film over two columns. So at the bottom when I stop at the second chapter of Volume 1, don’t think that I forgot to cover 2/3 of the movie. In conclusion, this’ll be the first column in a series covering many aspects of Kill Bill. Hope you enjoy.

Revenge is never a straight line. It’s a forest. And like a forest it’s easy to lose your way…to get lost… to forget where you came in. To serve as a compass, a combat philosophy must be adopted that can be found in the secret doctrine of the Yagu Ninja. And now my yellow haired warrior, repeat after me;

When engaged in combat, the vanquishing of thine enemy can be the warrior’s only concern…

…This is the first and cardinal rule of combat…
…Suppress all human emotion and compassion…

…Kill whoever stands in thy way, even if that be Lord God, or Buddha himself…

This truth lies at the heart of the art of combat. Once it is mastered… Thou shall fear no one… Though the devil himself may bar thy way… -Hattori Hanzo

I’ve said many times how film as an art form is a watershed. Each new film maker that comes out is somehow influenced from those that came before them. It’s amazing how many films we hold dear were actually made from blueprints that were laid down years ago. Now I’m not even talking about straight remakes, such as The Magnificent Seven or A Fistful of Dollars. What I’m referring to are films that took the pieces from several films and put them together to make a new whole.

Several beloved films are in this category. Recently, The Matrix used a combination of aesthetics from John Woo films such as Hard Boiled and The Killer, Anime films such as Ghost In the Shell, 90’s Kung Fu epics such as Fist of Legend, and Sci-Fi standards like The Terminator. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have noted several times that some of their best films got inspirations from the heroes of old. Its well documented that Raiders of the Lost Ark got its inspiration from Republic serial of the 1930’s. Star Wars was a combination of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials, Westerns like The Searchers and the works of director Akira Kurosawa, the most important being Yojimbo and The Hidden Fortress.

After the critical success of his films Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, Quentin Tarantino began work on his homage to the exploitation films of the 1970’s. In many ways Jackie Brown had already been a throwback to the gritty crime thrillers of the era such as Coffy and others. This new film though, would encompass many more films. Growing up watching the works of The Shaw Brothers, Japanese exploitation cinema, and Spaghetti Westerns, Tarantino was a huge fan of each of these categories. The film he crafted would be a revenge tale that the makers of a film such as Point Blank would be proud of as well as all the other directors Tarantino was paying homage to.

Kill Bill Vol. 1 Starring Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Chiaki Kuriyama and Sonny Chiba. Directed by Quentin Tarantino.

It’s incredible when a director can set the mood for a picture even before the opening credits roll. There’s that feeling of excitement that builds in an audience when the 20th Century Fox fanfare and logo turn into A Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy Far, Far Away at the beginning of each Star Wars film. QT does the same thing here with Kill Bill as following the Miramax logo comes the proud logo that the film will be presented in “Shaw Scope”, the traditional logo for Hong Kong’s Shaw Brothers’ Studio.

The transition is jarring as an old school “Feature Present” title card shifts to a black and white shot of Uma Thurman. Tarantino gets the homage train rolling early as the shot is in honor of a similar one from QT’s favorite movie The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly., where Eli Wallach intends to shoot Clint Eastwood’s Blondie after their trek through the desert.

From there, he lets the soundtrack do the work for him as the opening credits roll. From Reservoir Dogs through Jackie Brown, Tarantino had already been noted for his uncanny skill at putting together a film’s soundtrack. Kill Bill is no exception. Nancy’s Sinatra’s Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) just tops off an amazing selection of songs such as Bernard Herrmann’s Twisted Nerve or the theme to Green Hornet. The film’s most important song is perhaps The Flower of Carnage. The song was the theme to Lady Snowblood, which is the film that most influenced QT during the writing of Kill Bill. The film told the tale of a girl who grew up to take revenge on the men that raped her mother, and gave Tarantino the inspiration for his modern female/samurai tale.

The film’s first chapter, entitled 2, doesn’t even really tell you what’s going on. Uma Thurman’s Bride show’s up to a house and starts fighting with Vivica A. Fox’s Vernita Green. Two things are readily established in this early section. First, the brutality of the fights in this film is far and away more ferocious than any other Martial Arts film made in the US. This opening fight is a brawl in which the two combatants go at it “Jackie Chan” style, using every possible foreign object to beat the holy hell out of each other. Fight choreographer Yuen Woo Ping goes away from his famous “dance like” style that was the feature of the beautiful Oscar Winner Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to give you faster paced, edgier fights.

The section also establishes the film’s sportive humor. The Bride pulls up in a car called “The Pussy Wagon”. The house in which the two have their insanely intense fight sits in a pristine suburban neighborhood that would make Mr. Rogers seem uncomfortable. As the two fight to the death, Vernita’s daughter pulls up in a school bus and the two former assassins make like they’re old chums catching up. Vernita’s last ditch effort to kill the Bride is a gun hidden in a box of cereal called “Kaboom”.

This mood gives the film tongue-in-cheek playful tone to it, despite the story’s vengeful spine. This frame of mind also seems to harken back to many examples of Japanese exploitation, such as pictures in the “Pinky Violence” category from the 1970’s. The Japanese film Sex and Fury and its insane sequel Female Yakuza Tale both had stories of revenge, but never took themselves too seriously. Each film had wild sequences of vibrant colors, as well as heaping helpings of gratuitous nudity and cheeky violence.

Background to the Bride’s plight is finally given in the film’s second section, The Blood Splattered Bride. This period of the movie begins with the return of Michael Parks to a QT film as Texas Ranger Earl McGraw. Parks had played the exact role before in the Tarantino scripted From Dusk Till Dawn. In the past, Tarantino had previously given little hints of continuity between his films with the Vega Brothers, Vic (from Reservoir Dogs) and Vincent (from Pulp Fiction) and Harvey Keitel’s Mr. White from Dogs mentioning Alabama, Patricia Arquette’s character from True Romance, which was written by Tarantino. Parks’ real life son James plays Deputy Edgar McGraw, a character that also appeared in a From Dusk Till Dawn film.

The dialogue in this section is really of note. The banter between the two Parks is really exceptional as their timing is topnotch. This may actually be the most quotable portion of the first film. The elder McGraw even refers to his son Edgar as Son #1, which is a reference to the Charlie Chan series films.

It is here between the playful dialogues of the two Parks that we discover part of the story behind Uma’s Bride and her thirst for vengeance. Getting married, her entire wedding party is cut down by members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad or DiVAS. According to imdb.com Tarantino has confirmed that the inspiration for the squad was the fictional TV show Fox Force Five the fictional show that Uma Thurman’s Mia Wallace was apart of in Pulp Fiction. The details of why the DiVAS attacked the church are still not known at this point, but we do know the attack was brutal and cost the lives of 9 people.

Fortunately, the Bride is only put into a coma. Unfortunately, upon reaching the hospital she is put into danger once more by Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), another member of the DiVAS. This is a virtuoso sequence by Tarantino, made more memorable by his use of the song Twisted Nerve. Using splits screens and a gorgeously commanding, one eyed Hannah, QT crafts the segment as a love letter to Director Brian DePalma and the result is mesmerizing.

Previous to this film Daryl Hannah had fallen on hard times artistically. The actress that had shined in Splash and was ferocious in Blade Runner was being relegated to TV and B-Movies. She comes storming back here, imbuing Elle with an intense fury. Not even engaging the Bride in a fight at this time, her imposing nature swells to the point where her formidability is unquestionable.

QT also does what perhaps would not be possible with any other director; he makes you truly anticipate the appearance of David Carradine. The former Kung Fu star has never been noted for his acting prowess, but here he has actual presence even though you never see his face. His voice is that of a caring father, although he is the leader of a vicious group of assassins.

So this column doesn’t run 3, 500 words, I’m going to stop here. The Bride makes a quick getaway and Tarantino constructs a tremendous setup, but the meat of Volume 1 is still to come. Tune in next week for the Bride’s biggest battle and one of cinema’s great fights scenes as well as one of cinema’s all time great villains.

Picture Credits: impawards.com, media.mysan.de, outnow.ch