Thursday, December 23, 2010

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Master of the Flying Guillotine

I continue by look at stuff Tarantino was maybe thinking about when putting together Kill Bill. My idea is that he is not stealing this stuff. He is alluding to it as Milton alluded to epic poetry. To re-interpret and to surpass it.


[The opening. The master walks and this modern music plays. He flying leaps out of his house and takes out this sort of half sphere basket on a chain weapon -- the inside of the basket has spring blades. He circles it in the air a few times before throwing it at some practice dummies. The basket lands on their heads and when he pulls it the heads come off. You can see it here:


[In the House of the Blue Leaves GoGo swings her bladed ball weapon in a circle before throwing at Thurman.]


[In the fight with the Crazy 88s Lucy Liu gets away, and the same bit of music from Master plays for like a few seconds as she leaves]

The Master of the Flying Guillotine is a 1975 Chinese movie, a sequel to The One Armed Boxer. In the One Armed Boxer The Master's two disciples are killed. In the clip above The Master, who is also blind, has just learned of their deaths in the opening scene and breaks out the titular weapon. He heads out to get revenge, which he begins by just killing random one armed people. So even though he has the title role he is the clear bad guy. Just to give us lots of fun stuff to watch in act 2, The One Armed Boxer is attending a Martial Arts tournament, where lots of guys from different countries are fighting. And some of the martial arts involve basically super-powers. The dude from India has extendable arms, like 10 feet extendable (and I have this vivid memory of Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat, or some such arcade game where you could fight as an Indian dude with extendo arms). The whole movie just sort of stops in act 2 to pair up fighters we have never seen before for awesome and ridiculous duels. And then the Master fights the one armed guy, who can walk on walls and the ceiling by "controlling his breath," and is defeated by him.

This is one of the best movies I have seen thus far as part of the Kill Bill project, and I totally recommend it, if you don't mind frequent decapitation. If you enjoy frequent decapitation, then bonus for you.

I had heard for years that GoGo's weapon is from The Master of the Flying Guillotine. They both have spring loaded blades and are both on chains, so you get the great whooshing noise for the warm-up, and the throw-and-pull-back move. They are both weapons for bad guys. There is a bit of a link there. But the weapons are pretty different too, and I don't really think there is a huge link between Go-Go and the Master of the Flying Guillotine.

Undeniable however is the use of the music in the second Kill Bill clip above. That is the Master of the Flying Guillotine theme music, which you can hear in the Master clip above. The music is by the early 70s band NEU, who Wikipedia tells me is retrospectively considered a founder of Krautrock, and split off from Kraftwork. They ran out of money halfway through making their second album. To make up for the lack of material they remixed their earlier single called "Super" and Wikipedia tells me this is considered an early example of a remix. It was this remixed song, now called "Super 16," that was used in Master of the Flying Guillotine, and then in Kill Bill. But Master of the Flying Guillotine did not bother to license any of the music it used, including Super 16. Kill Bill of course did secure legal rights.

Some interesting material here:

1. As we often do with these allusions we again see reversal. Master of the Flying Guillotine is the story of a master getting revenge for the death of his disciples; Kill Bill is a disciple getting revenge on her master, though to be fair Bill mixes the role of Master (and not Thurman's only master) with Lover and Boss.

2. As we often do with these allusions we see displacement: the One Armed Boxer becomes the One Armed Sophie Fatale, who the bride dismembers in front of Lucy Liu.

3. Master of the Flying Guillotine reference justifies a Kill Bill sequel, as it features both a one armed martial arts expert AND a blind martial arts expert. It is not coincidence that Tarantino leaves the one armed Sophie and the blind Darryl Hannah around for a possible next installment -- Darryl Hannah even gets a question mark over her name in the second round of closing credits in volume 2, in stark contrast to the lines drawn through the other members of the VIPER squad. It is not so much that Tarantino is serious about another movie with these characters, but the idea that a martial arts movie is part of a franchise and that many stories can be told in that world is part of the tradition he joins here. So he is not going to just kill all the antagonists off cleanly.

4. The music is used to link Lucy Liu to the Master of the Flying Guillotine. They are both powerful deadly bad guys who will be fighting for the loss of a disciple.

5. Tarantino is often accused of stealing from other movies. But with this allusion he actually reverses a theft. Master of the Flying Guillotine stole the music. Tarantino pays for it. Nearly 30 years later NEU gets the check they should have gotten from The Master of the Flying Guillotine from Kill Bill.

6. Kill Bill is often defended and attacked on the ground that it is a kind of remix of other movies. So it is interesting that here Tarantino alludes to one of the earliest examples of a remix, a kind of stylistic forerunner in the pop culture landscape.

What makes these last two allusions especially interesting is that they feature the kind of "allusion chain" we saw with Milton. Milton alludes to Virgil and Homer THROUGH Dante in order to get us to read the figure of the leaves differently. Tarantino alludes to NEU THROUGH Master of the Flying Guillotine to position his remix to correct a mistake -- a theft -- in the earlier movie.


Christian O. said...

"(and I have this vivid memory of Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat, or some such arcade game where you could fight as an Indian dude with extendo arms)"

That would be Dhalsim from Street Fighter. He's an absolute monster to fight against, if your opponent is decent with him. Damn stretchy arms.

Geoff Klock said...