Thursday, May 19, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Green Hornet

Quentin Tarantino has a point when he has bits of his movies look like other movies. He is remixing images with purpose, giving new life to things dead, reminding us of what is important, and making his story larger by connecting it to stories past -- while also revising those stories relationships to each other. John Milton did this is Paradise Lost with Virgil Homer and Dante and Tarantino does it with Bruce Lee, and Navajo Joe and Lady Snowblood.

You can here the song here:

Thurman's plane lands and the theme to the Green Hornet plays.

The Crazy 88s have masks like the one Kato wore in the Green Hornet. You can see this in the trailer:

This post is going to be a kind of placeholder. Though you are reading this in May I am writing in in January, just after the release of the Green Hornet movie. I cannot understand why the Green Hornet television show with Bruce Lee is not easily available on DVD. This is a bit worse than it normally would be because in addition to not being able to show you clips, I also have not seen the show. I would have skipped this one, but I think at least one connection is clear enough that I can talk about it without all the facts.

My sense is that The Green Hornet, the one from the 60s, is about a crime fighter whose sidekick is played by Bruce Lee. The sidekick's name in Kato.

Tarantino obviously intends to invoke the Green Hornet. The theme song for the show plays as Thurman lands, and the Crazy 88s all wear Kato masks. And of course when Thurman lands in Tokyo she becomes a kind of superhero -- a masked and costumed avenger taking down the bad guys.

A bit of an aside about the song. Flight of the Bumblebee by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov originates in an opera from 1900. It is the music that is played as the prince is changed into a bumblebee to fly away and visit his father, who does not know he is alive. It is hard to imagine Tarantino quoting an opera through the Green Hornet TV show but that is exactly what he seems to be doing, as otherwise we will have to dismiss as coincidence that the big reveal at the end of the House of Blue Leaves sequence is that Thurman's daughter is still alive, though she does not know this.

The main point I want to make here is that obviously Bruce Lee is too awesome to be anyone's sidekick, and the reason he is a sidekick is obvious. There was a perception that people did not want to see an Asian guy in a lead role, but sidekick was ok. Lee found the role demeaning. He was so popular in Hong Kong the show was marketed there as The Kato Show, and even in America there was a TV series tie in coloring book called Kato's Revenge Featuring the Green Hornet. (Wikipedia is awesome).

The reason this link is so important I am putting it up with no clip and no experience of the show is that it completes a picture we have been putting together. Thurman is the avatar for Bruce Lee' spirit, as symbolized by the fact that she is dressed as Ultimate Bruce Lee, the Bruce Lee of Game of Death. As Lee, she fights many of the things that impinge on Bruce Lee's purity: fighters dressed as Kato the crummy sidekick; weak sauce Bruce Lee inheritor Jackie Chan as embodied by GoGo (who does the move Chan does in Shanghai Noon, a kind of total sell out movie). Thurman-as-Lee fights through settings and situations similar to those in Lee's movies (surrounded by the team of Japanese guys, fighting a Japanese Swordman, fighting in the garden -- as in Fists of Fury).

Thurman is linked to Lee because they share the same goal: the Takedown of David Carradine. She wants him because he shot her in the head. Lee wants him because he stole the lead role in Kung-Fu the television series from him, and maybe the idea for the show as well. And along the way all of film history -- from classic Samurai movies to Spaghetti Westerns to Italian Horror movies surround them, as they should. Because Lee DIED and CARRADINE GOT THE PART AND WAS TOTALLY SUCCESSFUL, and JACKIE CHAN IS FAMOUS, and LEE WAS KATO. If you imagine The House of the Blue Leaves as a kind of time travel story then what you are seeing is that in trying to go back and change film history to make Lee the winer (and of course to go back and change film history to make it into a ramp up to Kill Bill) THURMAN AND TARANTINO HAVE BROKEN TIME ITSELF and FILM CLIPS FROM MOVIES PAST ARE SHREDDED AND REARRANGED. This is the allegory of the House of the Blue Leaves.

Why does Tarantino need Lee to win? Because he needs Lee's power to defeat his own major influence -- Lady Snowblood. But that is for another day.

1 comment:

Jon Hastings said...

Just a quick aside on the Green Hornet TV show: it's not great, a campy, sub-Batman thing. However, Lee seems to have done a lot of the fight choreography and every episode seems to have at least one really terrific fight sequence that is of astoundingly higher quality than everything else around it. Definitely worth tracking down just for that.