Kill Bill [volume ONE]
(2003, dir. Quentin Tarantino)
by Andres Baca
FILM DATA: TRAILER: http://youtu.be/z-T9l8cJ6g0
Kill Bill [volume ONE] written and directed by Quentin Tarantino based on a story by Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman, was released on October 10th 2003. Its budget [not counting volume TWO] was $63 million. The movie made $70 million in the U.S. and $180 million worldwide and has an 85% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes. The film stars Uma Thurman (as The Bride/Black Mamba/Beatrix Kiddo), Vivica A. Fox (as Vernita Green), Lucy Liu (as O-Ren Ishii), Daryl Hanna (as Elle Driver), and David Carradine (as Bill). The film, along with volume TWO, is widely considered a masterpiece and is frequently shown on television where it has shown enduring popularity. As of the time of this blog, It is available on Amazon.com on Blu Ray for only $15 and on DVD for only $5.
Kill Bill volume ONE is told out of chronological order. As the movie opens we see the Bride (Uma Thurman) laying beaten and pregnant on the ground, her face freshly bruised as we hear Bill (David Carradine) calmly talking to her. He shoots her but her final words just as he pulls the trigger are: “Its your baby!”
In the next scene we see the Bride as she tracks down her second victim, Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) at her home. They fight, but stop when Vernita’s little girl is dropped off from her school bus.
Vernita tries to backstab the Bride again, with the pretense of preparing a meal for her daughter, by using a gun hidden in a box of cereal, but Vernita misses, giving the Bride the split second she needs to pull out a knife and hurl it at Vernita, finishing her off.
Two detectives come to the scene where there has been a massacre at a small church. The Bride, believed dead is at the crime scene, where the investigators discover she’s still alive.
Now we see the Bride in a coma and at a hospital as Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) enters the building disguised as a nurse to poison the comatose Bride to death.
But Bill calls Elle right before she injects the poison and tells her to stop because killing the Bride in her sleep, he says “would be beneath us.”
Four years later a mosquito bites the Bride and she wakes up!
She starts crying uncontrollably when she sees she no longer has a baby in her womb.
We, and the Bride, learn that a male nurse named Buck (Michael Bowen) has been prostituting her while she was unconscious. Being a skilled assassin, the Bride kills the next customer and then hides behind the door with a pocket knife pulled from said customer’s pocket.
Next time Buck comes in she slices his ankle with the pocket knife slams the door on his head several times and steals his keys.
She finds she has no use of her legs, so she has to use her arms to help her move, she climbs in a wheel chair, and escapes the hospital. Goes into Buck’s car, but now there is a dilemma, she can’t drive the car because she has no use of her legs!!!!!!
It is at this point that we cut to the movie’s 3rd Chapter: THE ORIGIN OF O-REN
We learn that O Ren Ishii’s (Lucy Liu) mother and father were killed by a Japanese mob boss while she was little.
O-Ren grows up to become one of the greatest assassins in the world, that’s when she meets Bill and joins the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad of which the Bride was once a member.
And then we cut to the scene where O-Ren Ishii, along with Vernita Green and the other members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, double cross the bride and beat her to a pulp.
The Bride regains control of her body but she is unprepared to face what lies ahead. So she flies to Okinawa where she tries to convince Hattori Hanzo (Sonny Chiba) to forge a weapon which will be capable of cutting Bill down.
Hanzo tells her he can’t because he made an oath to God decades ago that he would never again forge an instrument of death.
All the Bride does is drop the name of Hattori Hanzo’s wayward ex pupil (Bill) and that convinces him to break his oath and forge a sword capable of aiding her on her quest, his finest weapon yet.
“If on your quest.” he says, “You encounter God, God will be cut.”
We learn that now O-Ren Ishii, now a mob boss, rules the Tokyo crime scene. She has several capable henchmen including Sophie Fatale (Julie Dreyfus) who is fluent in French, English and Japanese; Gogo Yubari (Chiaki Kuriyama) as insane as she is beautiful, and the leader of the Crazy 88 (Gordon Liu). The Bride will have to get past each of them if she is even going to even have a shot at killing O-Ren Ishii who, because of her notoriety, is the easiest person for the Bride to find, and so she hunts her down first.
The Bride catches up to O-Ren Ishii’s limousine as it is escorted by several motorcycles.
This is how the Bride manages to infiltrate the House of Blue Leaves.
Here she fights dozens of O-Ren Ishii’s henchmen, including Gogo (Chiaki Kuriyama), and the head of the Crazy 88. She kills some but dismembers dozens more with her sword until she is all finished and leaves the House of Blue Leaves full of O-Ren’s dismembered groaning henchmen.
She tells everyone that they can go free, but to leave their dismembered body parts. “They belong to ME” the Bride says.
Everyone could leave, she reiterates, except for Sophie Fatale.
But first the Bride has to fight O-Ren Ishii in an epic swordfight. After nearly getting killed, the Bride defeats O-Ren by cutting off her scalp with her sword.
“That really was a Hattori Hanzo sword,” O-Ren says.
The Bride pumps Sophie for information and then leaves her at a hospital.
Bill visits Sophie and Sophie tells him everything, including the information that the Bride is going to hunt every one of her double crossers down, principally him.
“Is she aware…” Bill retorts, “That her daughter is still alive?”
The first time I ever heard of Kill Bill was when I was at my grandmother’s house in Ecuador in the Summer of 2003. When I saw the trailer I was astounded, I immediately knew this was a movie that I wanted to see. I spent the next five months or so eagerly anticipating it. I had a magical summer that year and the wait for Kill Bill was a large part of it. After watching it in Sunset Place after an appointment with my psychiatrist a walking distance away, I left the theatre overjoyed. I drew the Bride in hospital garb as I waited at the station for the bus back home, and could not wait for the second installment which would come out in Spring 2004 the next year. The two installments put together, in my humble opinion, comprise the very best Quentin Tarantino film of all.
Kill Bill [volume ONE] starts off with the Shaw Brothers logo. When I first watched Kill Bill on its day of release this reference was lost on me, but it gave me this feeling of excitement that I was about to watch a kind of movie I’ve never experienced before.
Now, almost ten years later. Now that I’ve watched a few Shaw Brothers movies (for example, the magnificent The 36th Chamber of Shaolin and the dark but expertly crafted The Magic Blade) and read a little bit about them, watching the logo come up before the movie gives me goose-bumps because I’m about to watch a latter day Shaw Brothers film, written and directed by Quentin Tarantino!
Tarantino should make more films like the Kill Bill series. The two films together could also be considered one film, although for the purposes of this blog I’m considering them as two separate films. I’m not wrong in doing this, as Tarantino himself has said that his most favorite movie he’s made is Kill Bill [volume TWO] (emphasizing that the director himself sees the two parts as two separate films).
Whatever the case may be, once in a while Tarantino should make a straight up, unapologetic action film like Kill Bill. One of Tarantino’s overlooked talents is that he is excellent at directing action (and at selecting the right collaborators to help him accomplish this). For example, one of the brief shootouts at the end of Django Unchained in which Django uses another man’s body for cover and handles his weapons with great flair.
His dialogue heavy films are masterpieces too, but I would really like him to make another film in which he takes us on a ride (like he does in Kill Bill), and it doesn’t necessarily have to be another martial arts film (although it could be), it could be another World War II film, another Western, or even maybe a science fiction film (a genre which he has not tried yet), but with the action to dialogue proportions of the Kill Bill movies.
The Shaw Brothers logo is followed by a very 70’s style exploitation movie logo which reads “Our Feature Length Presentation” while poorly recorded and wonderful 70’s style music plays in the background.
Kill Bill is very much an art house exploitation film. It has the quality and great writing of an art house film, but also all of the outrageous elements of an exploitation film including the blood and gore and over the top characters.
The quote which opens up the movie: “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” establishes the tone of the film as a few seconds later a few additional words appear attributing the quote to an “Old Klingon proverb” (this is a line delivered by Ricardo Montalban in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn). It totally upends our expectations of everything that is about to come next. A mixture of darkness, non-conventional cleverness and humor. It tells us that we are probably going to see some serious revenge-driven violence, but there are also going to be moments of levity.
Now we are ready to watch the film:
Right after the Bride is shot we hear a woman singing a song which seems to be about the shooting we have just observed. “He wore black, and I wore white” just like the characters we saw moments before and “My baby shot me down.” just like what happened moments before. This whole song happens during the entire opening credits sequence, it does what many opening credit sequences fail to do. The delicate melody also stands in contrast to the violence we have just observed. Most action movies actually play throbbing bombastic music during the opening credits, sometimes this works quite well, but more often than not it works to the detriment of a lesser film, exhausting us before the movie has even started. The song also allows us to learn more about the characters and keeps us connected to the story while any other song would disconnect us from it.
The movie keeps upending expectations as the first chapter title comes up. It reads:
CHAPTER 1: 2
Every time we encounter one of the characters who double crossed The Bride, we go into her mind and relive her trauma as the screen turns red and we hear the sound of an alarm underscored with music as the face of the betrayer on the day of betrayal flashes onscreen (in a point of view shot of the Bride’s perspective as she lies beaten on the ground) followed by a brief flashback of the events of that day. In each of these memory trigger moments, the respective double crosser looks down on the Bride in a cold, sociopathic manner. This is effective because it makes us sympathize with the Bride and root for her on her path of vengeance. Even though I am a Christian and personally forgive in forgiveness, Tarantino is talented enough that he overrides my redemptive inclination at least for the running time of the movie. In this sense he has manipulated my emotions in an expert way.
At the beginning of the movie when the Bride introduces herself to Vernita Green’s daughter, Tarantino censors Uma when she reveals her name, this is one of only two times a portion of dialogue is censored in the movie. I think this is maybe because the Bride introduced herself to the young girl as an expletive, or maybe because Tarantino does not want us to know the Bride’s real name (Beatrix Kiddo) so early in the movie because he first wants to build the mythology of Uma Thurman as “The Bride”, and introducing the name “Beatrix” so early in the movie would undercut this legendary aura surrounding the Bride so therefore he diegetically reveals this information to one of the characters onscreen while non-diegetically concealing this information from us by superimposing this censor beep onto the soundtrack.
Even though he is the main villain, we never see Bill’s face in volume ONE. This lends an aura of mysterious legend to him tantamount to the Bride’s. David Carradine’s casting is just right for the part. His voice sounds old and gravelly, yet charming and he is also very eloquent and you could even say, he has a certain perverse code of honor (for example, when the Bride is comatose and vulnerable he refuses to allow her assassination). This, as well as other characteristics, makes Bill a classic and compelling villain, and Quentin Tarantino even includes a very beautifully crafted Hattori Hanzo sword held by Bill’s hand the second time we see him, putting in the audience a great sense of anticipation at the potentially epic swordfight we may eventually see between the Bride and the title character.
The sequence in Kill Bill where we are told the origin story of O-Ren Ishii is done almost entirely (save for a split screen picture of O-Ren Ishii holding a rifle in the middle of the frame next to a manga image of her child self and a third image of the crime boss who killed her parents) in the Japanese process of animation. Note that I do not say “genre of animation” because anime is a process which while totally different from American animation, is still technically not a genre, but an animation process which can be used to create movies from every conceivable genre.
The origin of O-Ren is arguably the most gory and violent sequence in the entire movie. It introduces the effect (common in the most violent anime and Asian action films) of blood spurting out of veins and arteries as if it came out of a water hose. This effect is highly shocking yet strangely effective at enhancing the drama of the particular scene in which it is used.
Quentin Tarantino also has a talent for casting old or obscure, and even foreign stars unknown among most U.S. movie goers. In this case famous actors from Japanese chambara (or sword) films like Sonny Chiba (who plays Hattori Hanzo who in Kill Bill is reprising his character from an old Japanese TV series which Tarantino saw when he was little; Hanzo is also a character in the Samurai Showdown series of videogames). He also casts Gordon Liu, a Chinese kung-fu action star (famous for such films as The 36 Chambers of Shaolin) as the head of the Crazy 88.
Tarantino is also expert at combining the right type of music (most times music not even composed for the movie in question but which Tarantino selects himself from his encyclopedic knowledge and vast library of music) to elicit a powerful emotional response. Reservoir Dogs had Michael Madsen dancing to “Stuck in the Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel. Kill Bill volume 1 contains an exciting musical montage which chronicles, in a tightly edited and powerful form, the Bride’s flight to Tokyo (during which, she is seated, unbelievably enough, beside her samurai sword, as she sees the setting sun outside her plane window), it then follows the Bride as she catches up with O-Ren Ishii’s caravan (the female crime boss is in a black limousine protected by men in black suits, on black motorcycles, with black swords sheathed on their backs).
Something so cool about this scene is how nonchalantly the Bride carries her Hattori Hanzo sword through the airport terminal like a total boss, and how she is allowed to carry the sword on the flight is total “movie logic” in real life it would make absolutely no sense, but in the world of Kill Bill, in the world of a Tarantino movie, it makes perfect sense, gives us goose bumps and, along with several other elements, aids in making a cinematic icon of Uma Thurman’s “The Bride” character.
It is in this scene we first see Uma wear her yellow jumpsuit with black stripes (a reference to the costume Bruce Lee wore in The Game of Death) while riding a yellow motorcycle through the streets of Tokyo.
Then the music stops, the Bride looks at Sophie Fatale as her phone rings to the melody of Auld Lang Syne, she remembers how Sophie double crossed her (in a quick flashback in which we once again hear Sophie’s ring tone “Auld Lang Syne”, connecting us to the prior and current moment). Then we cut back to the present where the song “Battle without Honor or Humanity” by Tomoyasu Hotei starts playing.
It is here that Tarantino kicks our goose-bumps to full blast. Then he cuts to the House of Blue Leaves and some slow motion shots of O-Ren and her posse walking towards the camera, counterposing them against the solitary Bride with tantamount, but in this case, malevolent, coolness.
(NOTE BEFORE WATCHING, IT WORKS BETTER WITH THE FIRST PART OF THE MONTAGE WHICH COMES BEFORE IT BUT HERE IT IS ANYWAY the second part of the scene is here:)
The best fight in the movie, even better than the fight against O-Ren Ishii (although that is quite a memorable fight as well) is the fight between the Bride and Gogo Yubari, whose weapon is a ball covered in sharp blades and attached to a chain. The best way I can put it in words, is that it works like a deadly yo-yo.
The sound effects of Gogo’s weapon, the thick swooshing sound as she twirls it in the air like a helicopter, serves to lend to it a feeling of weight, and therefore, danger, that it poses to the Bride.
The varied moves for the fight choreographed by Yuen Woo Ping (an action director who is also a movie director in his own right and is currently scheduled to direct the sequel to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) make the fight exciting and dynamic.
In another director’s and action choreographer’s hands, the sequence might have appeared quite fake, but Yuen Woo Ping, Tarantino, and his editor Sally Menke along with Uma Thurman and Chiaki Kuriyama, all work together to craft a fight scene worthy of inclusion in the cinematic record books.
Gogo’s schoolgirl garb is particularly fetishistic on the part of Tarantino since it has no purpose in the story other than making Gogo appear sexy. It does however, serve as a counterpoint as making her appear innocent as opposed to her deadly nature, and it also works well visually with the outfits of the rest of O-Ren’s posse while distinguishing her from it. Tarantino may also dress Gogo this way as a reference to the Japanese film Battle Royale (which happens to be one of his favorite films) and in which Chiaki Kuriyama also stars.
Like the great action directors Tarantino knows how to create “calm before the storm” moments to break up an action sequence and enhance it, creating excitement while doing so. He knows that some of the great action moments in fight sequences are not actual fighting. For example when after the fight with Gogo the camera starts at the bloody, tired but resolute Bride’s face, and then cranes up to an overhead shot of the Crazy 88, dressed all in black and wearing black masks, massing around the Bride (who is dressed in yellow at the center of the frame). This is a scene taken out of many Asian kung fu movies which show a solitary warrior pitted against the faceless masses. Once again the music, not bombastic here, not only builds the anticipation but builds the aura of “cool” permeating and surrounding The Bride.
The Crazy 88 dressed in suits also hearkens back to the bad men in suits in Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, it also echoes to the Wachowski Bros.’ Burly Brawl sequence in The Matrix Reloaded, which came out the same year as Kill Bill and also had a singular hero fighting against an army of people in suits. Which begs the question: Why are the masses dressed in suits? Maybe fighting against conformity, or maybe, as Tarantino could be imagined saying: “Because it looks cool.”, but even if the last is the case it does have the feeling of the lone individual or lone creative artist against the evil, or mundane artistic masses or corporate hive mind.
Lucy Liu’s outfit in the final fight looks a lot like the one Meiko Kaji wore in Lady Snowblood. And the snowy outdoor setting in a Japanese garden is quite the eye-candy, and the contrast between fresh blood, her pure white dress, and the virgin white snow is staggeringly beautiful.
Our curiosity is also extended beyond the movie by one of the most shocking cliffhangers in cinematic history, on par with the revelation at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, it makes us eager to watch the second installment because it propels the story in an entirely new direction.
Kill Bill is one of those movies that make me want to make movies, and it, like the previous entries in this blog series, reminds me why I bother watching movies in the first place.