Thursday, March 31, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Ichi the Killer

Tarantino makes bits of his movies look like bits in other peoples movies. He is not a plagiarist -- far from it. He wants to remind you of other movies because he is conversation with other filmmakers, often figuring how to trump them, even his buddies.

Special warning on this post: Ichi the Killer is famously one of the most violent movies ever made. The clips below reflect some of that.

a guy turns around and smokes a cigarette. he has big slits in his cheeks and the corners of his mouth are held together with piercing. When he blows the smoke out it comes out of the slits not his mouth.

A guy has a heel with a short blade in it. He does this fast move at this dude. The dude is shocked and says something brief. Then he unrealistically splits in two from head to crotch. You can see some of this here but be warned it is extremely violent:

In her fight in the House of the Blue Leaves with the Crazy 88s Thurman slices through a guys cheeks then immediately cuts a guy down the middle from head to crotch splitting him into two halves.

Ichi the Killer, directed by Takashi Miike, is a story of gang warfare. Ichi is a "murder savant" as my friend Tim puts it. He has a handler, who has him sort of brainwashed, and who sends him at targets, members of his old gang. Ichi can only get sexual satisfaction from sadism -- in one of the most crazy scenes the opening title rises from a pool of his ejaculate after he watches a woman get beaten and raped. Ichi kills a boss but it is cleaned up so it appears the boss disappears. The boss's right hand man Kakihara goes looking for him, by torturing lots of people, including people in his own gang. Kakihara is a very brutal sadist and a masochist who longs to be tortured as he tortures others. When he catches wind of Ichi he becomes very excited that this super killer could finally bring him the pain he wants. But their meeting is a total anti-climax as Ichi breaks down crying and Kakihara does not get the duel he wants. What happens after that does not make much sense (Kakihara hallucinates Ichi attacking him and kills himself, but then is alive later unhurt and someone hung the handler?). You watch it for the crazy killings.

The scenes above feature the first time we see Kakihara, as well as Ichi killing the guy who was beating and raping a woman. How he was able to inflict that wound with a blade in his heel that looks to be an inch long I really don't know, and it is part of what makes the scene funny. One of the things I don't like about Ichi is how it combines realistic violence such as women being beaten and raped, and this kind of wacky crazy violence. I want just wacky crazy violence thank you.

Tarantino really enjoys the films of Takashi Miike. I had not expected much of a connection to Kill Bill really -- Ichi is a violent film, Kill Bill is a violent film, and naturally there was going to be some coincidental overlap, as we have seen in past movies involving arm severing (Tenebre) and eyes bleeding (City of the Living Dead), both kinds of violence that show up in Kill Bill. But the Ichi connection turned out to be a real one, one that seems to me to be deliberate. The two most memorable things about Ichi the Killer are Kakihara's mouth slits and the dude that gets sliced in half top to bottom. So I don't think it is a coincidence that in the melee at the House of the Blue Leaves Thurman cuts a guy's cheeks open leaving him with slits in both (a very unusual and unexpected wound you would not expect in the scene), and then immediately and impossibly cuts a dude in half top to bottom. In a battle where she kills like 60 guys two examples of Ichi-trademark violence are right next to each other.

This re-incorporation of two images from Ichi takes a problem in Ichi and addresses it. Ichi is known almost exclusively for its violence. Tarantino takes what works in Ichi and gives it a context that works better than the non-voilent parts of Ichi. He gives it a story that makes more sense, with more human and believable characters. He takes what works in Ichi and leaves what does not work behind. He says "hey, I love me some splatter but wouldn't it be better if that splatter was a part of a movie that had more sympathetic characters, so you did not spend the non violent parts of the movie waiting to get back to the violence?" I think it is actually a very powerful revision, one that both celebrates Ichi and also demolishes it, which is kind of what I expect allusion to do when used properly.


There is to my eye another bit lifted from Ichi for the same reason:

A man in tortured -- his cheeks are pulled very hard away from his body by two people. The flesh is unrealistically stretched.

Thurman bites the lip of her rapist and the flesh is unrealistically stretched.

In the Ichi clip Kakihara continues to investigate what happened to his boss through torture. Tarantino takes and uses the stretchy-flesh violence in Kill Bill for a rape scene, which something Ichi returns to again and again. I feel like you don't see stretchy-flesh violence that often. Except Tarantino's revision of Ichi is that the woman is able to save herself, something that does not happen in Ichi, where the woman who is saved by Ichi is immediately and non-sensically killed by Ichi. Tarantino is all about having his women be in the same position as other film characters but giving them lots of agency and control and general kick-assery.

In Kill Bill Tarantino gives Thurman access to the kind of extreme violence Kakihara and Ichi inflict, as well as the violence that was inflicted on Kakihara. She is the inheritor and controller of a great tradition of extreme violence as Tarantino is.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Tokyo Drifter

Tarantino studies 101. First lesson. Tarantino allusion are like Milton's allusions: they have a point. And the point of an artist is always the same. To be the best.

A guy is escaping through like the bowels of this building that is a club. Part of the ceiling above him is glass -- the glass of the club where you can see people dancing. You see the soles of their shoes. Here is the trailer:

Thurman walks toward Liu in the dance club and there is a shot of her shoes from the bottom.

Tokyo Drifter is about a yakuza gang that disbands. The other side tries to hire our guy but he refuses, and lives the life of a wanderer. Assassins get involved, our man's former boss to whom he has absolute loyalty betrays him, more assassins, our guy kills everybody, and lives the life of a wanderer, ditching even his girlfriend.

In the clip above our man is escaping the a club where he was held captive.

Tokyo Drifter is a fantastically stylish movie, wacky 60s pop art style. Looks like this, often:

One of the stylish points is that the the club our man is at, Japanese obviously, has a see through floor not unlike the floor of the Japanese club in Kill Bill.

There is even a team of sword-fighters running around a place that looks a lot like The House of the Blue Leaves, but there seem to often be spaces like that in Japanese movies. The abstract use of color is a bit like the Highlander-SamuraiFiction thing in Kill Bill, but not really. At one point our guy goes into a Cowboy style saloon, so you could draw another connection to Kill Bill which also features Japanese swords and Cowboy stuff, but it does not seem crazy significant. Also modern music and sword fights I guess.

Modern music and a bunch of sword fighters in a space that looks similar to the House of the Blue Leaves.

The connections are not super strong, but there you go. I know the director is a favorite of Tarantino's, but I don't have much specific to say. I would love to say something about the linkage between Tokyo Drifter and Alfred Hitchcock's The Lodger but I don't really have anything. They can't all be winners.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Lone Wolf And Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx

I continue my weekly look at movies that have influenced Kill Bill. It is my opinion that Tarantino positions his film in relation to these other films in canny ways.

[A samurai is attacked by three women and he quickly slashes at all three. When he puts the blade away they all three fall over dead. You can see it at 1:20 here ]

[Thurman faces off against three fighters at the House of the Blue Leaves. She strikes all three quickly and when she hits the hilt of her sword they all fall over dead. ]

[Samurai kills a guy getting his blood on the camera]

[Sophie Fatale's severed arm gets blood on the camera.]

Lone Wolf and Cub is a manga series as well as a series of movies about a disgraced samurai who used to be the Shogun's executioner. He was framed for treason and his pregnant wife murdered. But he was able to save the kid and now they travel together as he earns money as a freelance assassin, to eventually get revenge.

In the first clip above Lone Wolf is targeted for assassination by a clan of female assassins working for the guy who made it look like Lone Wolf was a traitor. In the second Lone Wolf carries out the assassination he was hired for.

Most of Baby Cary at the River Styx was used, along with some footage from Sword of Vengeance to make the American version Shogun Assassin. Shogun Assassin is the movie BB wants to watch with Thurman -- WAY to violent for a normal little girl as you can see. The intro from Shogun Assassin is also sampled at the beginning of Liquid Swords, the best of the Wu-Tang clan spin-offs, and one I think superior to Enter the Wu-Tang. Liquid Swords is produced by The RZA who did music for Kill Bill.

And of course Lone Wolf and Cub directly related to Kill Bill as it is about an assassin and child, which is what Thurman and BB are at the end. I have said that Master of the Flying Guillotine justifies Bill sequel as it features a blind killer and a one armed one, as Driver and Fatale are blind and one armed. Lone Wolf and Cub provides further justification for this point, as it features an assassin with a kid. And of course Tarantino has made the two males female as is his way.

The allusions in the clips above are both very arguable. As in Kill Bill three opponents are struck and then fall when the sword is hit (put back in the saber in Lone Wolf). Tarantino has reversed the genders of the characters involved, which is what he always does (and there are female Crazy 88s -- they are just not victims of this move).

Blood on the camera is not unique in cinema, but I grabbed it anyway, just because Lone Wolf and Cub obviously important to Kill Bill thematically.

If we do want to say this is an allusion, than it is a simple one -- part of that "establish that you have done your research thing" that is so pervasive in the House of the Blue Leaves.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Tenebre

My project of following Tarantino's allusions to other movies in Kill Bill rolls along. Tarantino's action movie surveys the history of trash cinema as Milton surveys the history of epic poetry -- through quotation, which is then interpreted.

Special note on this one. Normally I don't care about spoiling movies from the 80s but Tenebre is particularly awesome and has a particularly big secret, a secret revealed in the clip below, and in the discussion. And Tenebre only has a very arguable Kill Bill link. It is a hyper violent Italian crime movie in the DePalma mode. If you don't care move ahead, but I wanted to give you the chance to see Tenebre spoiler free.

Also I have never warned about the extreme violence in these clips I put up. Perhaps I should? I guess I assume if you are watching clips that relate to Kill Bill you expect to see violence, right? But extreme violence below.

[A woman gets her armed severed by a hatchet and blood sprays everywhere.]

[a detective looks around an empty room. He sees a handkerchief on the ground. When he bends down to pick it up we see that someone is standing DIRECTLY behind him and that he was blocking our view of that guy 100%. The guy kills him with an axe.]

Sophie Fatale is directly in front of Thurman, blocking Liu's ability to see her. She moves to the side and cuts her arm off.]

Tenebre is the story of a series of gruesome murders taking place in Italy. The murders mirror the murders in a popular novel and the novelist, who is visiting Italy, gets in on the investigation. It is directed by Dario Argento, who has been called the Hitchcock of Italy, though he seems to be more Brian DePalma to my eye, in part because DePalma uses some of his tricks -- including the trick in the second clip above, as you may remember from Raising Cain. These horrific Italian crime movies are called Giallos (Italian for "yellow" -- it refers to the color of the pulp books that inspire the genre). I did not expect to like them but they are awesome. Tarantino converted me to a fan of this whole genre.

The first clip comes at the end of the movie. The novelist's ex-wife is murdered by someone we don't see. In the movie the guy committing the murders is a journalist obsessed with the novel -- but when the journalist is killed brutally we are left in the dark as to who the killer could be. In the big twist it turns out our killer is the novelist himself, our hero. The journalist did kill lots of people because of the novel, but our novelist killed him and decided to keep going, killing his ex-wife and agent for sleeping together. Moments after he kills his ex-wife the detective arrives at the house and he fakes killing himself in front of the detective. When the detective steps out and returns he finds the body gone and then our novelist (magically) appears behind him.

The Kill Bill link is very debatable. A woman with a severed arm -- in both movies hacked off for reason of revenge. You have to think that is going to be sort of similar to another woman with a severed arm. The crazy excess blood spray. (I do not really know why I call it excessive. I have no idea how much you would bleed if your arm were chopped off. Probably a lot). I was going to not include it at all, except the reveal of our novelist behind the detective is an Argento trademark in the same scene with the severed arm, and the Bride reveals herself to Lucy Liu in a sort of similar way (emerging from behind a figure who blocks our view) just before taking her arm off. It's probably nothing, but I wanted to have it here for consideration.

If I wanted to make a thing out of it I would say that Tarantino revises the scene by having a character (rather than the audience) witness the "emerge from behind" effect.

It is notable that the City of the Living Dead allusion and the Tenebre allusion are both pretty weak. The whole Italian horror thing may just be a coincidence, based in the fact that all three directors are trying to be hyper-violent, and are coming up with similar stuff.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Kung Fu

Tarantino's Kill Bill often looks like other movies. Why? Because he wants to remind you of the past in order to re-write the past. Because when you get to re-write the past you get to control the future, and that is what Tarantino aims to do with his movie -- dominate the future of the action film.


[David Carradine kicking ass in Kung Fu: The TV show, which takes place in the old west. You can see an example here: ]

An even more famous allusion than Thurman in the Bruce Lee tracksuit -- David Carradine is the lead from the TV series Kung Fu. Like the Game of Death allusion this one seems minor but it is also crucial and there is more to it than first appears.

In Kung Fu Carradine plays a half American half Chinese guy who is trained by monks in China. When his master is killed and he kill the murderer in revenge he goes on the run -- to the American west, where he searches for his half brother, helping people along the way and moving along at the end of every episode.

The flute Bill plays when he is introduced in Kill Bill volume 2 is the one he used in Kung Fu, I am pretty sure. I read Carradine's Kill Bill diary, and I am pretty sure it is his flute. I have to re-check that.

Obviously, like Kung Fu, Kill Bill combines elements of Kung Fu and the Western.

Herbie Pilato's The Kung Fu Book of Caine: The Complete Guide to TV's First Mystical Eastern Western (1993) talks about the casting of Kung Fu

Before the filming of the Kung Fu TV movie began, there was some discussion as to whether or not an Asian actor should play Kwai Chang Caine. Bruce Lee was considered for the role. In 1971, Bruce Lee wasn't the cult film hero he later became for his roles in The Big Boss (1971), Fist of Fury (1972), Way of the Dragon (1972) and Enter the Dragon (1973). At that point he was best known as Kato on TV's Green Hornet (1966–1967) (Kung Fu guest actor Robert Ito reports that Lee hated the role of Kato because he "thought it was so subservient"). "In my eyes and in the eyes of Jerry Thorpe," says Harvey Frand, "David Carradine was always our first choice to play Caine. But there was some disagreement because the network was interested in a more muscular actor and the studio was interested in getting Bruce Lee." Frand says Lee wouldn't have really been appropriate for the series — despite the fact that he went on to considerable success in the martial arts film world. The Kung Fu show needed a serene person, and Carradine was more appropriate for the role. Ed Spielman agrees: "I liked David in the part. One of Japan's foremost Karate champions used to say that the only qualification that was needed to be trained in the martial arts was that you had to know how to dance. And on top of being an accomplished athlete and actor, David could dance." Nonetheless, grumbling from the Asian community would have made sense, given the fact that major roles for Asian actors were almost nonexistent. James Hong, an actor on the show and ex-president of the Association of Asian/Pacific American Artists (AAPAA) says that at the time Asian actors felt that "if they were going to do a so-called Asian hero on Kung Fu, then why don't they hire an Asian actor to play the lead? But then the show went on, we realized that it was a great source of employment for the Asian acting community." In fact, Hong says, Carradine had a good relationship with the Asian community. (pages 32–33, via Wikipedia)

It actually goes farther than this. Bruce Lee's widow claims in her memoirs that the IDEA for Kung-Fu was from Lee and that Warner Brothers stole it.

Then, just to make things super-complicated in Kung Fu: The Movie Bruce Lee's son plays Carradine's long lost son -- named Chung Wang (which is the name of Jackie Chan's character in Shanghai Noon). Then in Kung Fu: The Next Generation Brandon Lee plays Carradine's great great grandson. In Kung Fu: The Legend Continues Carradine plays his own grandson. Crazy incestuous Kung Fu casting.

When you put the Carradine and Lee connections together a subterranean plot emerges in the House of the Blue Leaves. We don't have every element yet but Thurman vs GoGo on her way to Bill becomes Lee fighting Chan (marketed as kind of weak sauce Bruce Lee) on his way to get revenge on Carradine for stealing his role in Kung Fu.



[Closing Credits of Kung Fu -- Carradine walks across the desert toward the camera with the sun huge behind him]


[Thurman walking across the desert toward the camera with the sun huge behind her.]

Probably not a reference. The sun beating down on a figure walking alone across a dusty landscape is pretty common in Westerns and also shows up in Samurai movies. But it is worth pointing out that the closing credits of Kung Fu echo this moment in Kill Bill.