Thursday, April 21, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Fist of Fury

"Tarantino just steals from other peoples movies! That's bullshit." It's not bullshit and its not stealing -- it is allusion, in which one artist, John Milton in Paradise Lost for example, uses his work as a way of thinking though the whole genre again.

Bruce Lee fights a bunch of Japanese guys. He is surrounded by them, they make a circle, and he makes a flourish and they all flinch back collectively. You can watch it here:

Thurman is surrounded by Crazy 88s. They make a circle. She makes a flourish and they all flinch collectively. You can see it in the trailer

Bruce Lee fights a Japanese guy with a Samurai Sword and then exits into a garden. You can see it here:

Thurman fights guys indoors and goes into a Japanese garden.

Because of some wacky Three's Company style mix-ups the Bruce Lee movie clipped above is known by three titles: Fist of Fury and The Chinese Connection (and also The Iron Hand). The Chinese Connection was intended to be the new title of a different Bruce Lee movie, The Big Boss, to make it seem like the awesome Gene Hackman movie The French Connection (both are about drug connections), but something went wrong. Just to be extra confusing the Big Boss in the US was called Fists of Fury. The point is if you think you have seen all the Bruce Lee movies maybe you did not because the titles are super confusing to keep track of.

Fist of Fury is a Bruce Lee movie that takes place in the early 20th century. It takes place in an international settlement in Shanghai, which kind of confused the hell out of me. So even though Shanghai is a Chinese city, because of the weird politics, which I think have to do with the British taking over the world with the cunning use of flags, somehow the Japanese are a big deal there and can discriminate against the Chinese even though the city is in China. Anyway. Bruce Lee goes back to his martial arts school to marry his girl and finds the head teacher dead. Japanese students immediately show up and start insulting the Chinese. Lee goes to their school where he is super-cordial. Wait. No. He beats them all up single-handedly. The Japanese school retaliates and make Lee a wanted man. Lee goes on the run but also finds the guys who killed his master and hangs them, Spiderman style, from a lamp-post. The Japanese guys raid the Chinese school and kill dudes. Bruce Lee goes to the Boss's house for a showdown, where before he gets to the boss he fights a Russian Guy Mini Boss. In the end he turns himself in but then goes for a flying kick out the door and dies Butch and Sundance style.

In the first clip Lee is going over to the Japanese school to show them what he thinks of their insulting sign. In the second clip he is making his final assault on the bad guy compound.

As in Kill Bill (and Duel to the Death) in Fist of Fury there is a Chinese-Japanese rivalry being invoked. I went over the Chinese v Japanese thing in Kill Bill in the Duel to the Death post. Two more specific things stand out.

First the scene in which Lee is surrounded by Japanese fighters. They circle him, he makes a flourish, and they sort of all flinch. It is an overhead shot, and he is standing on squares, the practice mats I think. The scene in Kill Bill is very similar -- Thurman is surrounded by Japanese fighters there is an overhead shot, she is standing on squares (the lattice of the glass floor) she makes a stance and they all flinch. And if course the connection is stronger because she is dressed as Bruce Lee -- in Game of Death. I should have also let each clip run longer -- in both the heroes handle the large number of guys by getting down on the floor and going after the legs.

The second connection is much more weak I think. The space is similar. The fighting with lots of guys in the house with the big rooms before going to a very peaceful garden outside to fight one on one with a guy. (I should have gotten a better clip -- this clip is after the fight with the lots of guy but before the one on one fight with the Russian in the garden. I think I was trying to just get the transition, but I could have done better). The thing is the more I see these movies the more it seems like this kind of house setup with the garden is pretty standard, at least in movies, and of course so is the fight 100 guys, fight a mini-boss, then fight the boss structure. And the garden is a good place for a showdown. So maybe this is not as strong a connection as it could be. What does stand out to me is Bruce Lee vs a Japanese Swordsman. Thurman, Lee's avatar in the House of the Blue Leaves, of course also faces Japanese Swordsmen.

But the effect is that the House of Blue Leaves is permeated with the Bruce Lee -- Thurman is dressed as him, the scene reminds us of Bruce Lee fight scenes. Tarantino is not trying to overthrow Lee so much as he is trying to imbue his main character with Bruce Lee spirt as she starts her journey. Bruce Lee is like Virgil to her Dante, Obi-Wan to her Skywalker -- except Tarantino does not want the guiding spirit to be external. She embodies Lee, dressing as he dressed and walking where he walked, and fighting as he fought. With Lee only is there a bit of submission to the past -- but it is only temporary, as the Bride will leave Bruce Lee behind after the House of the Blue Leaves. He is but one master.

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