Scene is Believing: Kill Bill Vol.1

“Revenge is a dish best served cold” – only Quentin Tarantino would attribute that quote to Star Trek’s Klingons in his introduction to Kill Bill Vol.I, rather than the original Pashtun. That gives you an idea of how his movies, the dialogue and situations within, are “movie movies”. An interesting quote from Stanley Kubrick in the introduction to “Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds: A Manipulation Of Metacinema” edited by Robert Von Dassanowsky suggests a surprising superficial commonality to their work also: “We’re not interested in photographing the reality. We’re interested in photographing the photograph of the reality.” With the three stage fight between The Bride (Uma Thurman) against Gogo Yubari, the Crazy 88 and former comrade in arms O-Ren Ishii at The House Of Blue Leaves, Tarantino displays an incredible sureness of hand in directing his first major action scene, rife with references and homages to other films to be enjoyed and dissected by those in the know, or simply for the uninitiated to boggle at in giddy wonder.

The genesis of Kill Bill arose from on set discussions between Tarantino and Uma Thurman while making Pulp Fiction. They conceived the idea of “The Bride” out for revenge against her former cohorts, the DIVAS (Deadly Viper Assassination Squad). At this point in Kill Bill Vol.I, The Bride has acquired a Hattori Hanzo sword from the legendary swordsmith, and has travelled to Tokyo, to the House Of Blue Leaves nightclub, to avenge herself upon Lucy Liu’s O-Ren Ishii. So begins a spectacular sequence, with nods to several different Asian films and studio styles.

Tarantino stated at the time “I want it to be to Kung-Fu fights what the Apocalypse Now “Ride Of The Valkyries” scene was to battle scenes.” Like Christopher Nolan, he too refused to farm out the stunt work to a second unit: “You’re doing an action movie, why would you hire somebody else to do the action? So I was like “Enough of this shit! It may suck, but it’ll be mine!””

When The Bride first enters the club and the patrons flee, she faces O-Ren’s psychotic teenage school girl bodyguard, Gogo Yubari (Chiaku Kuriyami). Gogo’s weapon of choice is a steel, razor edged ball on a long chain that she whips and snaps at The Bride. At one point she embeds it in a wooden post, the chain tightening around The Bride’s neck. This strange weapon is reminiscent of the bizarre armouries of villains from the Shaw Brothers Kung Fu films, such as the hooked sword of The One-armed Swordsman, or the metal claws of The Avenging Eagle. Tarantino saw this segment as a live action anime.

The “one against many” fight with the black suited and masked Johnny Mo (Gordon Liu) and The Crazy 88 is a Zatoichi – like, Japanese style, everyone wielding Samurai blades. The most bloody and cartoonish segment, it features eye-ball plucking, limbs hacked off, decapitation and one Yakuza split in two like a tree. Geysers of blood erupt. The camera glides and swoops in between close-ups, The Bride performs impossible wire-assisted leaps. Comic, swishing sound effects are added. Although gory, it is so heightened and ridiculous, one laughs in admiration as much as grimaces.

The finale, when The Bride pulls back silk screen doors and enters a snowy, serene Japanese garden, is more like an old Samurai film, and homages Lady Snowblood. O-Ren waits, be-robed and composed. A water feature repeatedly filling and clunking down marks time as they size each other up, each move and step crucial to the outcome. The water feature is also reminiscent of the creaking weathervane during the near wordless opening to Once Upon A Time In The West, as the killers await Harmonica’s train. Bruce Lee’s Fists Of Fury also features a similarly set fight. Lee’s jumpsuit from Game Of Death is also a major inspiration for The Bride’s look.

The script painstakingly outlines the style of each fight, down to individual moves (” A Shaw Brothers snap zoom – a spaghetti western flashback”) and when exactly “the squirting, spewing geysers of blood”  turn “from crimson red to oil black.” Tarantino replicated the old Kung-Fu movie methods, filling condoms with fake blood to burst on cue. The Crazy 88 fight required 100 gallons of the stuff. His crew were American, Australian, Japanese and Chinese, several languages being spoken during filming on the sets in the Beijing Film Studio. Oscar winning cinematographer Bob Richardson (Platoon, JFK, Wall Street) was, like QT’S long time editor Sally Menke (now sadly passed away) brought up to speed on his Samurai / Kung Fu inspirations. Yuen Wo-Ping, wire-master on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Matrix, choreographed, along with Sonny Chiba, renowned in Asian cinema, who also performed.

I would have members of the fight team show me what we were doing. While they’re doing it, Woo-Ping is watching, Bob Richardson is watching, I’m watching them. When it’s all over I say “Camera here, here, here and here. Woo-Ping, what do you think?” Shots were tweaked or discarded if different, better options arose on the day. Tarantino would leave his editor Sally Menke to get on with her job in the editing room: “She’s so fucking good (she was Oscar nominated for Pulp Fiction and Inglorious Basterds) that I don’t want her to know any more that’s in my head. If I told her what I want, she would do it while I was shooting, and I’d have nothing to contribute later. So I kept her in the dark so I could be part of the process.”

Ultimately, like Orson Welles with “the biggest train set in the world” on Citizen Kane, Quentin Tarantino pretty much does as he pleases with his films. Of Kill Bill, his ultimate fan tribute, he said “I’m making this film for me. Everyone else is along for the ride.”

Originally posted 2013-01-06 11:06:33. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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