Thursday, April 07, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Duel to the Death

I continue in my quest to save Tarantino from the eight people in the world who say he is not a real filmmaker but a rip-off artist. It is my point that a Tarantino allusion is like a John Milton allusion -- a quotation you are supposed to notice, with an aim toward increasing the power of the work it is embedded into.

[A ninja leaps up in a room and grabs the rafters with his hands and feet so someone will not see he is there. He is like pressed into the ceiling]

[Thurman does this movie when GoGo goes looking for her]

a guy is unrealistically split in half with a samurai sword, cut from head to crotch so he splits into two even halves.

Thurman cuts a guy into two equal parts in the same way.

Duel to the Death is a 1983 Hong Kong movie about a duel to the death between a Chinese fighter and a Japanese fighter that the countries set up every ten years because they totally hate each other or whatever. If there is one thing I have learned from watching these martial arts movies it is this: The Chinese and Japanese, however much our pan-Asian cuisine may suggest otherwise, are not pals. Our Chinese guy is a nice guy. The Japanese guy way more intense. The Japanese powers-that-be send a bunch of ninjas, working with some Chinese, to rig the fight so their guy will win and kidnap some dudes. Our guys team up as mismatched buddies to fight for the honor of this duel, which they both think should be fair. They beat the ninjas, and then fight each other, and both are mortally wounded in the end. It is one of the better martial arts movies I saw, unrealistic in a fun way.

In the first clip above you see the hide in the ceiling beings move, which also occurs in Kill Bill. The Japanese guy is looking for one of the ninjas. In the second clip you see a guy cut down the middle with a sword head to toe, a move that also features in Thurman's fight with the Crazy 88s. That is the Chinese guy getting a ninja.

There is of course a general thematic Kill Bill connection here as Japanese sword-fighting comes into conflict with Chinese sword fighting. You will recall that Lucy Liu's character's half-Chinese status is a problem with a Japanese boss and she cuts his head off. You will recall that Gordon Liu is Chinese leading a team of Japanese sword guys. And you will recall that because of the Game of Death allusion Thurman is an avatar for the Chinese Bruce Lee who is in Japan fighting Japanese sword guys. Duel to the Death justifies the martial arts mix-up/mash-up, and the cultural one as well.

The hide in the ceiling thing is pretty common I guess. I am not sure how common but I have seen it before I would think. It may be too common to really make a point about.

But the splitting the guy down the middle thing is more specific. With the Paradise Lost examples from the introduction to this project we saw Milton arranging allusions in a line, allowing them to comment on each other. Homer's use of the metaphor of the leaves for example is placed against Isaiah's use of the leaves, and of course for Milton the Greeks no matter how awesome always lose to BIBLICAL FUCKING TRUTH. The clip above, which I showed last time, alludes to Ichi The Killer.

Ichi cuts a guy into two parts from head to crotch.

I feel strongly that it does. When you place it in with the clip from Duel to the Death a commentary on the films emerges. Ichi's uber-violence is placed in a context -- a context that includes martial arts movies. Something of Ichi's originality is lost when it is placed against Duel to the Death. Yeah the dude getting split in half is shocking, Tarantino seems to say, but it is not like no one did that before. Get over it. Of course this takes from Tarantino's originality as well (if you know your Bloom this move is called Kenosis) -- but as this is a split second in Kill Bill, and a major set piece in Ichi, Tarantino can take the hit that Ichi takes less well. And of course the argument is made -- Duel to the Death is used to weaken Ichi so Kill Bill will overtake Ichi in terms of being a kickass uber-violent movie. Ichi is one of a handful of films competing for this particular prize and this is how Tarantino handles it.

Advantage Tarantino.


This is not really a part two but detritus. When I started this project I was looking for predecessors for Thurman's walk in the hot sun, and found one in Duel to the Death. But it is kind of silly -- a million movies do that. Trying to talk about that scene as an allusion is like saying Spawn's cape is an allusion to everyone who wears a cape. It is sort of true, but such a standard genre thing it is kind of outside the scope of this project. I could collect 30 clips of guys walking in the hot sun, but I am not really sure what that would get us.

Samurai walks in the big lens flair sun across the desert toward the camera.

Thurman does the same.

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