Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Kill Bill

I’m sure everyone in the world has seen this. It’s the story of the Bride (later revealed to be named as Beatrix Kiddo although her name is ostentatiously bleeped out a few times) and her quest for revenge after she’s left for dead, and her husband to be and his entire family are gunned down at their wedding rehearsal. She wakes up out of a coma four years later, and she's away! Of course, Tarantino has a bit of fun with the storyline, cutting it up and spreading it across two movies.

I did like Tarantino’s control of the story, it is the best feature. The film opens with Bill saying he’s not being sadistic, it is the most masochistic thing he’s had to do. We really have no idea what that’s about at all, and it isn’t till near the end, when we get Bill’s need for her, that this statement comes into focus. There are plenty of other times where he does this, doles out some bit of the story which is subsequently given an extra layer of meaning or two. So, when she turns up at Vernita Green’s house, she does so in a bad ass truck (“Pussy Wagon”).
We don’t know initially what their problem is, she kills Vernita with the young kid, Nikki, watching. This gains poignancy when we learn that Beatrix herself had wanted to keep her own daughter away from this sort of life, because of its inevitable consequences on a kid (when we meet B.B., her favourite movie seems to be some sort of samurai assassin movie). Then there is the truck: it turns out to be one she has taken from a fellow who had been selling sexual favors with her comatose body (yuk!).

I also liked the way he paid homage to those he saw as great within the particular movie traditions he was interested in
and I’m sure he had some fun in doing so. Take the man from Okinawa: he’s a retired samurai and master craftsman, Hattori Hanza (the name of a real warrior from the 1500’s). His swords are simply the best: all swords not made by him cannot be compared with any sword made by him. Hanza has given up sword making: his only fighting now is with his assistant over whose turn it is to make tea! He is played by Sonny Chiba – a fellow Tarantino had grown up watching in all sorts of kung fu movies. Then there is David Carradine as Bill; he was in something I vaguely remember from the 1970’s called Kung Fu. The cutest was his use of Gordon Lui, who had fought the good fight against Pai Mei and other baddies: now, he is playing the bad man himself (with a ridiculous beard affectation).

Of course, the major part of the first movie is when she takes on O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Lui, lookingfabulously regal), ruler of the crime scene in Tokyo. I found my sympathy with her, what with having her parents killed by the crime boss of the time and the way she was so in control of her colleagues:
"As your leader, I encourage you from time to time, and always in a respectful manner, to question my logic. If you're unconvinced that a particular plan of action I've decided is the wisest, tell me so, but allow me to convince you and I promise you right here and now, no subject will ever be taboo. Except, of course, the subject that was just under discussion. The price you pay for bringing up either my Chinese or American heritage as a negative is... I collect your fucking head. Just like this fucker here. Now, if any of you sons of bitches got anything else to say, now's the fucking time!"

Now, when the film first came out, I thought long and hard about seeing it, because found myself made squeamish by the talk of all of the violence in it and the way that it seemed to desensitize people to violence. Sure enough, when I did finally see it, the violence was not a problem, mainly by having

the big showdown so stylized. It really was just silly, completely over the top. Beatrix takes on O-Ren’s entire fighting force, the Crazy 88’s (there must have been over a hundred of them) all intent on keeping her away from their boss, yet she bests them all. Tarantino explains this: the greatest form of film directing is making action movies, he wanted to test the limit of his own talent – and to hell with anything approaching realism.

I did find it hard to sympathise with the central character, the Bride. Sure, when, it is natural she wants revenge. But let us not forget, she herself was apparently happy enough to be a member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad while it suited her, and no doubt that involved her in killing quite a few. Maybe if I was a bigger fan of Uma Thurman, I’d feel differently. Ultimately, I found the whole idea of her wanting to stop killing because she had found out she was going to be a mother just a little bit too trite. And, really, things had worn thin by the end of the second DVD. That turgid dialogue didn’t really help, with Bill wittering on about the goldfish and Superman: thank God Beatrix applied the Five-Point-Palm Exploding-Heart technique when she did! Carradine may well be a fine actor but Bill: he's a pretentious bore. No wonder the movie is called Kill Bill.

We also seemed to get just a little too close to Tarantino’s own obsessions in this movie; he seems to cross the line into fetishism, more than once – that stuff with the swords was just a bit much. He seems genuine in his idolatory, otherwise I’d suspect a parody, and he virtually confesses in the commentary that having two “gargantuan blonde women” fight each other is his own wet dream fantasy. Funnily enough, he has one of the characters also use the word gargantuan, tossing it around and saying “I like it”.

So, I'm quite ambivalent about the second DVD overall. There were bits that reeked of padding. What exactly was going on with Budd and his boss? After Beatrix has said she has only one man left to kill, Bill, why does she go after Budd? Just to set things up for the twists and turns between him, her, and Eve and to get in the story of Beatrix's training under Pai Mae? Not to say they weren't interesting to watch, (and there was delicious understatement when Bill tells Beatrix that Pai Mae "hates caucasions, despises Americans and has utter contempt for women" so it might take him "a little while to warm to you") but they seemed just a little gratuituous in terms of the story line. It did make me wonder: if I was being buried alive, would having a torch make me feel the slightest bit better? I suspect not!


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