Thursday, March 03, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Kung Fu

Tarantino's Kill Bill often looks like other movies. Why? Because he wants to remind you of the past in order to re-write the past. Because when you get to re-write the past you get to control the future, and that is what Tarantino aims to do with his movie -- dominate the future of the action film.


[David Carradine kicking ass in Kung Fu: The TV show, which takes place in the old west. You can see an example here: ]

An even more famous allusion than Thurman in the Bruce Lee tracksuit -- David Carradine is the lead from the TV series Kung Fu. Like the Game of Death allusion this one seems minor but it is also crucial and there is more to it than first appears.

In Kung Fu Carradine plays a half American half Chinese guy who is trained by monks in China. When his master is killed and he kill the murderer in revenge he goes on the run -- to the American west, where he searches for his half brother, helping people along the way and moving along at the end of every episode.

The flute Bill plays when he is introduced in Kill Bill volume 2 is the one he used in Kung Fu, I am pretty sure. I read Carradine's Kill Bill diary, and I am pretty sure it is his flute. I have to re-check that.

Obviously, like Kung Fu, Kill Bill combines elements of Kung Fu and the Western.

Herbie Pilato's The Kung Fu Book of Caine: The Complete Guide to TV's First Mystical Eastern Western (1993) talks about the casting of Kung Fu

Before the filming of the Kung Fu TV movie began, there was some discussion as to whether or not an Asian actor should play Kwai Chang Caine. Bruce Lee was considered for the role. In 1971, Bruce Lee wasn't the cult film hero he later became for his roles in The Big Boss (1971), Fist of Fury (1972), Way of the Dragon (1972) and Enter the Dragon (1973). At that point he was best known as Kato on TV's Green Hornet (1966–1967) (Kung Fu guest actor Robert Ito reports that Lee hated the role of Kato because he "thought it was so subservient"). "In my eyes and in the eyes of Jerry Thorpe," says Harvey Frand, "David Carradine was always our first choice to play Caine. But there was some disagreement because the network was interested in a more muscular actor and the studio was interested in getting Bruce Lee." Frand says Lee wouldn't have really been appropriate for the series — despite the fact that he went on to considerable success in the martial arts film world. The Kung Fu show needed a serene person, and Carradine was more appropriate for the role. Ed Spielman agrees: "I liked David in the part. One of Japan's foremost Karate champions used to say that the only qualification that was needed to be trained in the martial arts was that you had to know how to dance. And on top of being an accomplished athlete and actor, David could dance." Nonetheless, grumbling from the Asian community would have made sense, given the fact that major roles for Asian actors were almost nonexistent. James Hong, an actor on the show and ex-president of the Association of Asian/Pacific American Artists (AAPAA) says that at the time Asian actors felt that "if they were going to do a so-called Asian hero on Kung Fu, then why don't they hire an Asian actor to play the lead? But then the show went on, we realized that it was a great source of employment for the Asian acting community." In fact, Hong says, Carradine had a good relationship with the Asian community. (pages 32–33, via Wikipedia)

It actually goes farther than this. Bruce Lee's widow claims in her memoirs that the IDEA for Kung-Fu was from Lee and that Warner Brothers stole it.

Then, just to make things super-complicated in Kung Fu: The Movie Bruce Lee's son plays Carradine's long lost son -- named Chung Wang (which is the name of Jackie Chan's character in Shanghai Noon). Then in Kung Fu: The Next Generation Brandon Lee plays Carradine's great great grandson. In Kung Fu: The Legend Continues Carradine plays his own grandson. Crazy incestuous Kung Fu casting.

When you put the Carradine and Lee connections together a subterranean plot emerges in the House of the Blue Leaves. We don't have every element yet but Thurman vs GoGo on her way to Bill becomes Lee fighting Chan (marketed as kind of weak sauce Bruce Lee) on his way to get revenge on Carradine for stealing his role in Kung Fu.



[Closing Credits of Kung Fu -- Carradine walks across the desert toward the camera with the sun huge behind him]


[Thurman walking across the desert toward the camera with the sun huge behind her.]

Probably not a reference. The sun beating down on a figure walking alone across a dusty landscape is pretty common in Westerns and also shows up in Samurai movies. But it is worth pointing out that the closing credits of Kung Fu echo this moment in Kill Bill.

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