Thursday, April 28, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Ironside

John Milton quotes epic poetry and comments on the history of the genre in Paradise Lost, placing himself as the culmination of a tradition. Tarantino does the same thing in Kill Bill, except instead of quoting Homer he quotes, you know, like Ironside.

The siren wails as the opening theme music for Ironside. You can hear it here.

The same siren wails as she confronts Lucy Liu for the first time since getting out of a coma.

Ironside is a TV show in which Perry Mason plays a cop who gets shot and put in a wheelchair. I assumed that he was called Ironside because of the chair but it turns out, no, his name is just Ironside. So he get together a special task force of three people and ride around in a van and solve crimes. It is actually a lot like House, with the cranky with a heart of gold crippled team leader, a black guy and white guy and a white girl.

Tarantino ganks the siren theme song thing for the moment when Thurman sees her foes for the first time since getting out of her coma.

The shot and left for dead guy seeing revenge is the major link between Ironside and Thurman. But the standard thing Tarantino does when he juxtaposes Thurman with other heroes is to always point out how she is superior (except in the case of Bruce Lee). There is always a sort of a "Oh your guy can beat up ten guys? My girl can beat up 60." Mason is crippled and looking for revenge from being shot in the back. Thurman is walking around after being shot in the head. Mason needs a team of guys? Thurman needs no one.

As a side note like three years ago I saw a movie called Five Fingers of Death, a Shaw Brothers kung fu flick. When he confronted bad guys in that movie the movie stole the theme from Ironside which was used the way Tarantino used it. I am still working on getting that movie to see if there is more to say than this, but I just wanted to give a heads up.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Jason Powell's Invader: I Hardly Knew Her: Kickstarter!

Hey -- do you guys remember when Jason Powell blogged like a million free blogs about the X-Men for you guys and you guys read them and he never asked you for money or anything and just did it out of the kindness of his X-Men obsessed heart? Do you remember Jason Powell wrote a musical that I totally reviewed? Didn't you wish you could have been in New York to support him by going? Wouldn't you support him now given the chance?


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.

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.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Duel to the Death

I continue in my quest to save Tarantino from the eight people in the world who say he is not a real filmmaker but a rip-off artist. It is my point that a Tarantino allusion is like a John Milton allusion -- a quotation you are supposed to notice, with an aim toward increasing the power of the work it is embedded into.

[A ninja leaps up in a room and grabs the rafters with his hands and feet so someone will not see he is there. He is like pressed into the ceiling]

[Thurman does this movie when GoGo goes looking for her]

a guy is unrealistically split in half with a samurai sword, cut from head to crotch so he splits into two even halves.

Thurman cuts a guy into two equal parts in the same way.

Duel to the Death is a 1983 Hong Kong movie about a duel to the death between a Chinese fighter and a Japanese fighter that the countries set up every ten years because they totally hate each other or whatever. If there is one thing I have learned from watching these martial arts movies it is this: The Chinese and Japanese, however much our pan-Asian cuisine may suggest otherwise, are not pals. Our Chinese guy is a nice guy. The Japanese guy way more intense. The Japanese powers-that-be send a bunch of ninjas, working with some Chinese, to rig the fight so their guy will win and kidnap some dudes. Our guys team up as mismatched buddies to fight for the honor of this duel, which they both think should be fair. They beat the ninjas, and then fight each other, and both are mortally wounded in the end. It is one of the better martial arts movies I saw, unrealistic in a fun way.

In the first clip above you see the hide in the ceiling beings move, which also occurs in Kill Bill. The Japanese guy is looking for one of the ninjas. In the second clip you see a guy cut down the middle with a sword head to toe, a move that also features in Thurman's fight with the Crazy 88s. That is the Chinese guy getting a ninja.

There is of course a general thematic Kill Bill connection here as Japanese sword-fighting comes into conflict with Chinese sword fighting. You will recall that Lucy Liu's character's half-Chinese status is a problem with a Japanese boss and she cuts his head off. You will recall that Gordon Liu is Chinese leading a team of Japanese sword guys. And you will recall that because of the Game of Death allusion Thurman is an avatar for the Chinese Bruce Lee who is in Japan fighting Japanese sword guys. Duel to the Death justifies the martial arts mix-up/mash-up, and the cultural one as well.

The hide in the ceiling thing is pretty common I guess. I am not sure how common but I have seen it before I would think. It may be too common to really make a point about.

But the splitting the guy down the middle thing is more specific. With the Paradise Lost examples from the introduction to this project we saw Milton arranging allusions in a line, allowing them to comment on each other. Homer's use of the metaphor of the leaves for example is placed against Isaiah's use of the leaves, and of course for Milton the Greeks no matter how awesome always lose to BIBLICAL FUCKING TRUTH. The clip above, which I showed last time, alludes to Ichi The Killer.

Ichi cuts a guy into two parts from head to crotch.

I feel strongly that it does. When you place it in with the clip from Duel to the Death a commentary on the films emerges. Ichi's uber-violence is placed in a context -- a context that includes martial arts movies. Something of Ichi's originality is lost when it is placed against Duel to the Death. Yeah the dude getting split in half is shocking, Tarantino seems to say, but it is not like no one did that before. Get over it. Of course this takes from Tarantino's originality as well (if you know your Bloom this move is called Kenosis) -- but as this is a split second in Kill Bill, and a major set piece in Ichi, Tarantino can take the hit that Ichi takes less well. And of course the argument is made -- Duel to the Death is used to weaken Ichi so Kill Bill will overtake Ichi in terms of being a kickass uber-violent movie. Ichi is one of a handful of films competing for this particular prize and this is how Tarantino handles it.

Advantage Tarantino.


This is not really a part two but detritus. When I started this project I was looking for predecessors for Thurman's walk in the hot sun, and found one in Duel to the Death. But it is kind of silly -- a million movies do that. Trying to talk about that scene as an allusion is like saying Spawn's cape is an allusion to everyone who wears a cape. It is sort of true, but such a standard genre thing it is kind of outside the scope of this project. I could collect 30 clips of guys walking in the hot sun, but I am not really sure what that would get us.

Samurai walks in the big lens flair sun across the desert toward the camera.

Thurman does the same.