Thursday, April 14, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Tarantino steals from other movies, sure, but he has a GOOD REASON. He is using other movies to makes comments on the history of the film, the history of film leading up to his movie, which is retroactively figured as the best one in the new, Tarantino penned history of the worldwide action movie. Which is basically what Milton was doing when he quoted Dante and Virgil and Homer and the Bible right?

A woman dressed as a man fights in a tea shop with 15 guys for 2 minutes, making wire leaps to upper levels and at one point avoiding a dart with a red flag on it. Here is the fight:

Thurman avoids a dart with a red flag on it thrown by Lucy Liu

Thurman's fight with the crazy 88s. 50 guys. 8 minutes.

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon is about these two serious fighters with no time for love even though they love each other, and a young woman who wants to be a fighter and be with her non-parent-approved boyfriend. She knows martial arts because her woman in waiting is this major baddie our fighters are after. A stolen sword kicks the whole thing off, and it ends with our male fighter dead, never having loved, the baddie dead, and our young woman in some kind of magical ending that never made a ton of sense to me, but it seems sort of tragic and uplifting at the same time. There is a story that if you make a wish and jump of the cliff the wish will be granted, and our young woman jumps off. But this is a little confusing to me in a movie where people can basically fly, and also she asked someone else, the boyfriend, to make the wish (which I think was to be with her in the desert again), and we don't know what her wish, if any, was, and I don't think you can wish for yourself since I think your death is the price of the wish. I don't really remember this well enough to even be writing about it and there is no Kill Bill connection with this scene anyway so MOVING ON.

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was this big thing, maybe you heard. Won a ton of awards, highest grossing foreign film in America, got everyone interested in martial arts movies (it was the first one I ever saw, but I was not that impressed -- I DID NOT KNOW ENOUGH TO WATCH MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE). It was choreographed by the guy who choreographed the Matrix -- and who went on to choreograph Kill Bill.

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon seems to my untrained eye to be very Western, like a romance novel with martial arts in it. The whole "the most important thing is to shirk your responsibilities and follow your heart" thing does not seem at all like, say, Hero, which ends very PRO-STATE AND DUTY. I read a story once about how in China Bridges of Madison County was very well received. In America it was a tragedy about two people who had too much baggage to live their lives for love; the Chinese saw it as a moral and uplifting movie about two people who put aside personal feelings for each other to return to their duty. I don't really know enough about this to make definitive statements, but Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon just rings a little strange to me, and maybe this is why.

To start with the dart. In Kill Bill it seems like Lucy Liu has some samurai spider sense thing -- she senses danger even though there is no real evidence of danger and throws a dart with a red flag in the direction of the danger she senses. That same kind of red flag dart thing appears in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon in the big tea shop battle, but there it seems more like a weapon. Maybe it was supposed to be a weapon for Lucy Liu as well and she just missed because the Bride leapt to the ceiling, because she has her own spider sense? I am not so sure what to do with this connection, if that is what it is.

In Crouching Tiger our young woman character runs away, dresses like a boy and gets into a fight at a 2 level tea shop with a bunch of guys. In Kill Bill Thurman dresses like a boy (Bruce Lee) and gets into a fight at a two level Japanese club thing with a bunch of guys. And both films feature that wire-fu thing where characters can make these lighter than air impossible leaps. That is of course a whole genre of movies, and we have already seen it in Duel to the Death for example, and Master of the Flying Guillotine. But because this is the only part of Kill Bill where Thurman does wire-fu and the setting looks so much like the Crouching Tiger tea shop, and Crouching Tiger was a big movie that introduced the wire-fu thing to American audiences, and the choreographer is the same on both films, it makes me think this is the link.

The fight scenes are similar, and my sense of it is that Tarantino is pumping up the volume on Crouching Tiger, making a similar 15 minute sequence where Crouching Tiger had a scene of less than 2 minutes. Tarantino says "lighter than air yeah, but also crazy bloodshed." He says "girl dressed as boy has fight with a bunch of guys in a two level club -- I can do that better."

There is a moment in the Crouching Tiger scene above where she cuts a guy in the mouth, an unusually violent moment in the movie and a uniquely violent moment in the scene -- no one else really bleeds I don't think or expresses pain beyond "Ooof! I just got hit." Tarantino of course also includes a violent mouth slice, one that he clearly connects to one of the most violent movies ever -- Ichi the Killer, as we have seen. Crouching Tiger was embraced by American audiences as a lovely date film because it has martial arts for the guys, but for the girls it not too violent and has a solid story of tragic love -- this is the classic formula for financial success in Hollywood: appeal to at least two of the four big groups: young men, old men, young women, old women. Tarantino juxtaposes this audience pleasing award winning classy film with a film that basically appeals to no one: Ichi the Killer is such a sadistic movie even I had trouble with it and I watch violent movies all the time. The point of the juxtaposition? Placed in Kill Bill we see that Kill Bill rises above both -- Kill Bill hits Crouching Tiger for a lack of blood and Ichi for a lack of human characters. Kill Bill of course has both -- in part because it has taken from both.


Jill E. Duffy said...

Crouching Tiger is one of the most beautiful movies ever made. I literally shed a few tears every time I watch the choreography. Geoff, do you think that Kill Bill is choreographed with as much graceful movement? I've only seen KB Part I once, so it's hard for me to remember.

"lighter than air yeah, but also crazy bloodshed" -- In the longer writing that you're doing for this project, it would be interesting to see a characterization of the different movies in some kind of chart.

Geoff Klock said...

I think Kill Bill has movements like that but it does not sustain them for as long as Crouching Tiger does -- because it is a kind of remix so that Crouching is just an element among many.

I am going to be thinking about this chart now.