Thursday, January 27, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Samurai Fiction

I continue to say, hey, maybe Tarantino is not so much stealing from other movies as transforming them into a new whole -- not unlike how Milton drew on epic poetry.


[Opening credits. Fighters in silhouette do moves in front of a background that consists of abstract red squares with black gutters. It looks like two fighters, perhaps training. They are not fighting each other. You can see it here:



[In the House of the Blue Leaves Thurman fights guys. They are all in silhouette and are against a background of abstract blue squares with black gutters. You can see it in the trailer



[Pai Mei and Thurman train in silhouette against a red background.]

Samurai Fiction is a mostly black and white comedy samurai movie with a rock and roll soundtrack from 1998. The plot revolves around a guy trying to get a stolen sword back, when no one really wants him to. After his first failed attempt, in which he is almost killed, he is taken care of by an old man and the old man's daughter. The daughter falls in love with him. The old man turns out to be a super samurai warrior, who helps him get the sword back by teaching our guy to throw rocks at his opponent instead of face him with a sword. They win.

The Samurai Fiction clip above is from the opening credits.

The sword used in the movie, the stolen sword, belongs to Toshirō Mifune, from Seven Samurai, which gives the film a bit of a historical kick. The title Samurai Fiction echoes Pulp Fiction. These are Wikipedia observations. Tomoyasu Hotei, who stars as the guy who steals the sword and also wrote the music to Samurai Fiction, wrote a song important to Kill Bill -- Battle Without Honor or Humanity, used most importantly in the Kill Bill trailer.

I am not going to lie. On its own I don't really have a good link to Kill Bill here. I mean obviously Tarantino is taking the visual, but I don't see him really doing much with this one. This seems more like an old fashioned homage. This one IS Tarantino doing what people say he does. He saw a cool thing in a movie and wanted to use it in his movie, in part because he wanted to pay tribute to the actor who wrote this song he liked, to a director who was thinking of Pulp Fiction when he named his movie Samurai Fiction.

The only thing I might argue is that Tarantino adds to the pure style of Samurai Fiction urgency. Nothing is at stake in the opening credits of Samurai Fiction. It is just a mood. Tarantino uses the style as part of the narrative so that you will care more. And of course as is Tarantino's way he pumps up the volume: more fighters.

But we are not done with Samurai Fiction yet -- next week we will see how it is actually being filtered through Highlander.

Oh, and you also see a bit of a Samurai Fiction reference in the training sequence of Kill Bill -- the two figures silhouetted against a red background, training.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: [some problems]

I wanted to write a brief note letting you know about some problems with the Kill Bill project.

The major influence on Kill Bill is Lady Snowblood. I needed like 8 clips from that movie. Frequently I am told that material I put up on Youtube "matches third party content" but that no action need be taken now. Twice now -- with those two cinema classics Citizen Kane and the Highlander -- embedding has been disabled, but I could still link to it. With Lady Snowblood clips were completely disabled -- as in you could not view them at all. I was sent an email in Japanese. I am not sure what it said but the next time I went into YouTube before I could enter I had to read a letter stating that there was a strike on my account, and press a button saying I understood. A few hours later a second letter went out to me, and a second strike warning went in front of my account -- for more clips as part of that batch of Lady Snowblood uploads. There were a few Lady Snowblood clips on my youtube account unmentioned in either warning, and I felt a third letter was imminent. I third letter would have been a third strike, and the termination of my YouTube account altogether.

There was also an added problem. Even if a third letter was not coming I have many more clips to upload. The strikes against my account did not go away once I deleted the material. So anyone who wanted to make an issue out of an upcoming, or past clip, would cause my account to be disabled.

I had hoped that my keeping the clips private -- that is you had to have the link to view the clip; you could not just search YouTube for the links because you were in the mood to watch The Best of Lady Snowblood -- would keep strikes from coming against me. I was giving out the links on a blog doing academic work. I had also hoped that the short length of many of the clips (one Lady Snowblood clip was 18 seconds) would give me a pass. I had also hoped the fact that I was a an assistant professor doing University grant funded work would give me a pass. But the strikes were not being issued on or acted by people easily contacted. A computer saw that the material on youtube matched material it its databanks and sent a message you youtube computers and those computers sent a message to me and acted against my account.

I could have let them shut down my account and then fought with them about it, as I think I am in the right, but I did not want to deal with it before I got more info on what to do. To be fair to them I did have like 200 clips of other peoples stuff up on youtube and while I was working it into an academic argument, they had no way of knowing that.

So I took down ALL the Kill Bill clips, even for posts already up. I have enough posts in the can to last till the end of May if they go up once a week. I plan for these to still go up, but they are going to have to go up without the clips. This is going to make them less fun, but be assured that I am still working on this project and a bunch of blogs with clips was never the final form this was going to take. I hope to have something fancy to show you eventually, built in part out of the clips on my hard drive. Hopefully putting them in a new and clearer context will help.

Anyway, thanks for bearing with me.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Shanghai Noon

I continue to insist that Tarantino is JUST LIKE JOHN MILTON. They both allude to earlier works as part of a large interpretative project, which ends with their work being the culmination of a long tradition that no one will ever view the same way again.

[Jackie Chan ties a rope to a horseshoe and uses it as a weapon. At one point he does a flourish where he wraps it around his neck and then swings it out from there at his opponent.

[GoGo uses her bladed ball on a chain weapon. She swings it around her neck and swings it from there at her opponent.]

Shanghai Noon is surprisingly fun movie, actually. Jackie Chan is an 19th century imperial guard in China who tasked with getting Lucy Lui's kidnapped princess back, after she is stolen and taken to Nevada. He teams up with Owen Wilson's cowboy and they win. The end. What makes it fun is that the kid-friendly martial arts scenes, including the one clipped above, are mixed with Owen Wilson being MAXIMUM OWEN WILSON: digressive, self-conscoious, super aw-shucks casual, and just really funny. Some people don't like him. I like him. That is going to be the end of that.

Chan uses his horseshoe on a rope weapon as GoGo uses hers: there is the exact move with the rope around the neck in both. This is not the strongest connection. If you are being fancy with a weapon on a chain or rope, this is probably how you are going to do it, and it does not mean for sure that Tarantino is trying to allude to Shanghai Noon.

But there is no movie beneath Tarantino's notice, and this one might have caught his attention. For one, Owen Wilson inexplicably survives a hail of bullets and calls it a miracle, just as Samuel L Jackson does in Pulp Fiction. He also spends a lot of time talking like a Tarantino character, at one point quoting James Brown's "I don't know karate but I know c-razy." Referencing 70s songs like that is major Tarantino territory.

Like Kill Bill Shanghai Noon is a fusion of Kung-Fu and Cowboy elements, scored with contemporary music (such as Kid Rock's Cowboy). As in Kill Bill, Lucy Liu is a major object of the fighting. Tarantino, as we will see later in this post and as we have seen many times before, has he female characters allude to male counterparts into order to signal that his women have replaced the men -- that they are just as tough, and more tough. He revises Shanghai Noon by giving Lucy Liu something more to do than get saved.

And like Kill Bill, Shanghai Noon alludes to earlier films in a deliberate way. There are lots of Western in-jokes, including a villain named Van Cleef (the actor who played The Bad in The Good the Bad and the Ugly), a title that is a pun on Garry Cooper's High Noon, Chan's character is named Chong Wang, which sounds like John Wayne (Owen wilson tells him that he has to change his name because John Wayne is a terrible name for a cowboy), at the end Wilson tells Chan that his real name is Wyatt Erp, which Chan says is a terrible name for a cowboy, Doctor Quinn Medicine Woman is alluded to in the end as is the ending of Buch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (our guys leap out doors into a hail of bullets at the end but of course our guys survive). There is a reference to The Good the Bad and the Ugly, as Wilson is hanging by a noose and is saved when a rifle at a distance shoots the rope. There is also an allusion to Chan's Drunken Master movie -- Chan gets really drunk and the director hoped to do a big homage to the movie in which Chan's martial arts are brought on by drunkenness. He only gets a matching scene of Chan blowing bubble with his mouth as he does in Drunken Master, but still. A lot of this is pointed about by One big one that is not is a scene where Wilson gets buried up to his neck and left to die and is found by Chan who is his mismatched buddy at this point. This is exactly the situation in of the the major influences on Kill Bill -- the little seen Death Rides a Horse.

And like Bruce Lee, whose presence is all over The House of the Blue Leaves sequence, Chan is a guy famous for using martial arts to cross over into Western movies. Chan himself is careful to distinguish is style from Bruce Lee's, so he feels the influence there. Chan worked as a stuntman on Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon and Fist of Fury when he was 17. Here is Wikipedia on Chan's early career:

In 1976, Jackie Chan received a telegram from Willie Chan, a film producer in the Hong Kong film industry who had been impressed with Jackie's stuntwork. Willie Chan offered him an acting role in a film directed by Lo Wei. Lo had seen Chan's performance in the John Woo film Hand of Death (1976) and planned to model him after Bruce Lee with the film New Fist of Fury. His stage name was changed to Sing Lung (Chinese: 成龍, also transcribed as Cheng Long, literally "become the dragon") to emphasise his similarity to Bruce Lee, whose stage name was Lei Siu-lung (Chinese: 李小龍, meaning "Little Dragon"). The film was unsuccessful because Chan was not accustomed to Lee's martial arts style.


Jackie Chan created his screen persona as a response to Bruce Lee, and the numerous imitators who appeared before and after Lee's death. In contrast to Lee's characters, who were typically stern, morally upright heroes, Chan plays well-meaning, slightly foolish regular guys (often at the mercy of their friends, girlfriends or families) who always triumph in the end despite the odds. Additionally, Chan has stated that he deliberately styles his movement to be the opposite of Lee's: where Lee held his arms wide, Chan holds his tight to the body; where Lee was loose and flowing, Chan is tight and choppy.

With Thurman dressed as Lee is in Game of Death for her fight with GoGo there is a bit of Lee vs Chan here, as if Thurman and GoGo are avatars for these earlier Chinese movie stars to play something out. And of course Thurman wins. Because Bruce Lee is way better than Jackie Chan, and even if he was not Tarantino is on Bruce Lee's side no matter what, as we will see.

Tarantino has found an unlikely ally in Shanghai Noon, a spawn of Tarantino's sensibilities, and GoGo makes an almost literal nod to it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Battle Royale

I continue to look at Tarantino's influences as they factor into Kill Bill. Some jerks claim he just steals things, but I think it is more complex than that. I think he alludes as Milton alludes to epic poetry -- to rethink the history of his genre.

When I clipped I did not get the subtitles. Summary is below that will help you understand what is going on in the clips.

[Chiaki Kuriyama in her school girl uniform. At the start of Battle Royale]

[Chiaki Kuriyama in a yellow track suit. This kid follows her and wants to talk to her and she rejects him. He points a crossbow at her and they talk in Japanese. She ends up stabbing him in the crotch over and over.]

[The introduction of GoGo, in a bar with a guy who wants to sleep with her. She stabs him in the gut and empties his entrails. She is in the schoolgirl uniform.]

Battle Royale (2000) about a group of middle schoolers kidnaped by the government and brought to an island where they are each given a different item, most often a weapon, sometimes an unusual weapon. They are to kill each other and the last person standing wins and gets to go home. There is a time limit -- if someone does not win in X hours they all die, killed by an exploding collar. Is it possible that this movie is the origin of the exploding remote control collar? In the world of the film the reason for the whole Battle Royale scenario is the following, shown in a title card at the start of the movie: "At the dawn of the millennium, the nation collapsed. At fifteen percent unemployment, ten million were out of work. 800,000 students boycotted school. The adults lost confidence and, fearing the youth, eventually passed the Millennium Educational Reform Act, AKA the BR [Battle Royale] Act...." If this makes sense to you, let me know. I think the gist is "Repress the Youth" but this is a very odd way to do it. The movie is one of the top ten highest grossing movies of all time in Japan.

Chiaki Kuriyama plays Takako Chigusa in Battle Royale. In the first clip, you see her in her schoolgirl uniform at the start of Battle Royale. She is a track star. The second clip shows her later, once the kids have received their instructions and are sent out into the island to kill each other. This boy that she hates but who loves her wants to team up with her. She refuses and he threatens to rape her now that he has a weapon -- though he is not really committed to this. He falters a bit. The crossbow goes off and enraged she takes her revenge.

This is one of Tarantino's favorite movies, and so he cast the same actress, Chiaki Kuriyama, as GoGo in Kill Bill. Again she appears in the schoolgirl uniform and like the kids in Battle Royale she has an unusual weapon (in the fight with Thurman a ball with a spring blade on a chain) that distinguishes her from others. In the the Kill Bill clip above she is introduced, in a scene that echoes her role in Battle Royale. This guy wants to have sex with her, and she stabs him, low, killing him. She "penetrates" him as she puts it to him as he dies. Tarantino goes for entrails rather than the crotch but the effect is very similar.

The effect here is similar to that of a shared comic book universe. Tarantino of course links some of his movies in this way with Michael Parks' sheriff, who appears as the same character in From Dusk Till Dawn (where he dies in the opening scene), Kill Bill, and Death Proof. This is not quite that -- Chiaki Kuriyama dies in Battle Royale in middle school and appears as 17 here. But the feeling persists that a character has come from Battle Royale and joined the story in Kill Bill. The shared comic book universe gives us another way to think about Tarantino and Influence. There is a sense in which Kill Bill works a bit like Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentleman. It thinks about influences by imagining different fictional characters in the same space, literally and metaphorically interacting.

Notice also that in Battle Royale Chiaki Kuriyama wears a yellow track suit, with black and white piping. This is of course similar to Thurman's track suit in The House of the Blue Leaves, and the ultimate origin of Thurman's outfit is Bruce Lee's outfit in his last film Game of Death, which we will get to. I don't suppose that Chiaki Kuriyama's track suit is an allusion to Bruce Lee? If it were we would have something very complex where Thurman is dressed as Bruce Lee via Battle Royale. She of course then goes on to fight guys in Bruce Lee's Kato masks AND GoGo who wore the Yellow track suit in Battle Royale which Thurman wears now. It really does feel like outfits are key to the way Tarantino figures influence, and how he signals his battles with influence. We will expand on this thought as we go.


There is one more small connection between Battle Royale and Kill Bill. In Battle Royale the guy who monitors the kids in the battle get a phone call from an estranged daughter.

[The bad guy from Battle Royale on the phone. You hear the voice of his daughter.]

You never see this daughter in the film. You only hear her voice. Tarantino cast her as the voice of a young O-Ren Ishi in the animated sequence.

[a clip of young O-Ren ishi talking in the animated portion of Kill Bill.]

In both films she exists only as a voice. In Battle Royale she comes into play in the sequel, which I have not yet seen, but is on the list. But the idea creates a link between Lucy Liu's character and GoGo: in the flashback Lucy Liu is a killer school girl like GoGo, and the justification for both positions comes from their links to Battle Royale, which is all about killer school girls.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: City of the Living Dead

I continue to rant like a mad man that Tarantino alludes to other movies in an interesting interpretive way -- the same way Milton alluded to epic poety.

[a priest stares at a woman in a car and her eyes begin to bleed, a trail of blood from each eyeball running down her cheek. You can see it here but be warned it is VERY gross:


[Thurman kills GoGo and her eyes bleed down her cheeks. You can see it at 3 minutes in here:

City of the Living Dead is a Lucio Fulci movie, an Italian horror movie that, like Scanners, is primarily built around the technical ability to make gross things happen to bodies. The plot is really beside the point, but the gist of it is that a priest has killed himself in a cemetery and opened the gates of hell. A psychic has a vision of this and joins with a newspaper guy to go to the town and stop it. They only have 48 hours because All Saint's day means it is too late. Horrible and gross things happen in the town, our guys manage to go underground and re-kill the undead priest. The plot really makes no sense.

The town of Dunwich, where the movie takes place is built on the remains of Salem, but I feel like Salem is not so much in the form of remains. I feel like there is a town of Salem. Though there is a time limit to save the world, characters causally stop for food and seem in no hurry. When they arrive the deadline has actually passed, but no one cares. Our psychic is buried alive in New York City, and our newspaper man gets her out with a pick-axe, nearly killing her. A scene shows someone being embalmed, making you wonder why that step was skipped before they buried our psychic. Also, it seems that the final scene in the movie was damaged and Fulchi just made due. Our heroes emerge from the crypt safely and this nice kid they were looking after runs up to them in the daytime backed by the police. It is all smiles and sunlight but then the psychic just looks disturbed and starts screaming off camera for no reason. The end. It is a pretty fun movie.

Tarantino actually name checks City of the Living Dead in the Kill Bill script apparently, though I have not seen it myself. He supposedly compares the bit where Thurman is buried alive to the scene in City of the Living Dead where the psychic is buried alive. They are both women buried alive, but there is not much more to the connection there. Thurman get's herself out, the psychic has a man get her out, so that is a kind of revision (my heroine can do more than yours). But there is not really a visual echo there so I let it be.

The scene above is the beginning of the movie's first gore set-piece. The undead priest appears where these two kids go to make out, stares hard, and the girl's eyes start bleeding. You will be thankful to know I cut here as it gets much much worse -- she vomits all her internal organs. The actress actually swallowed a plate of tripe and regurgitates it.

The Kill Bill link is not exactly a lock. If you want to show a character bleeding from the eyes, chances are that someone has done it before, and it is going to be hard not to make it look similar. Whether you were inspired to go with eye bleeding because you wanted to allude to the earlier movie is tough to prove.

I also do not know what to say about the Kill Bill link aside from The House of the Blue Leaves certainly alludes to a lot of diverse material, which makes me think this is an allusion too. It is a connection between martial arts gore and Italian horror gore, a connection not dissimilar to elsewhere where he connections Italian Spaghetti Westerns to Samurai movies. The only problem with this is that there IS a connection between Westerns and Samurai movies -- many Westerns are based off of Samurai movies. The martial arts Italian horror connection (which should totally be the name of a band) I don't really know what to do with. It does not seem like enough to say that the genres justify or reinforce each other.

It also does not make too much sense to say that Tarantino is really trying to outdo Fulci. Kill Bill is very violent, and the violence is often over the top, but it is in no way Fulci-esque, except maybe here. It does not feel like he is trying to say "Hey, Fulci, look how much better I can do your thing." He adds an aesthetic quality to Fulci maybe. In Fulci the eyes bleeding are gross and a prelude to one of the grossest things I have ever seen on film. In Tarantino the bleeding eyes are weird moment of beauty. Perhaps this is his revision on his source -- to make something aesthetic out of grindhouse's anti-aesthetic material. Now that I think about it that may be a way of looking at the whole Kill Bill project. Or he finds the beauty in Fulci that other lesser directors would pass by.

I could go crazy and make an argument similar to the one I made about Watchmen in my book: the return of the dead in The City of the Living Dead parallels the return of films past that "haunt" Tarantino's movie; the girl who vomits up her insides (in City of the Living Dead's first set piece) parallels Tarantino "purging" himself of his influences in the House of the Blue Leaves (Thurman's first battle chronologically). The fact that I am not 100% sold on the link is keeping me from developing this point in more detail.

On a side note: is The City of the Dead also referenced in X2?

[Lady Deathstrike's eyes bleed Adamantium tears because Wolverine has hit her with the injection gun. 3 minutes in here: ]