Wednesday, February 24, 2021

CANON OF FILM: "KILL BILL: VOLUME 1"

KILL BILL: VOLUME 1 (2003)

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino, based on the character "The Bride" created by Q&U

 

Among the Youtube reaction videos, and videos in general I've been watching lately, I've been watching others talking about and discovering Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill" films. One of the ones I saw was James Rolfe's video on his Cinemassacre site where he talks about his fan edit he did of the movie. I'm not terribly big on fan edits in general; I think unless you're trying to make a point or, try to get a job as a trailer editor they're kinda pointless, but he mentioned this idea of wanting to make a more concise, single cut of the two movies and I tried to watch it. Then, I gave up half way through, because it's stupid; why would you want these movies to be edited down into one two, 2 1/2 hour film? Honestly, I think he's missing the point of the movie, and its a point that I think a lot of people, both people who love and hate Tarantino completely miss, Tarantino is a book nerd. 

Seriously, how do people miss this? I guess we've focused so much on the fact that he's a movie buff, who became a legendary film director, and yes, there's a lot of film references in all his films and you can have a lot of fun trying to seek them out, (Hell, Vanity Fair did a pretty good Youtube video on them; I'll post it on the bottom; I gotta get around to "Lady Snowblood") but in focusing in on that part of him, we completely dismissed and ignored the fact that he's a literary buff, which I think honestly is the most important aspect of his work. People were always so impressed and amazed with his willingness to challenge the traditional structure and tell stories in seemingly random orders and/or from multiple points of view that enough people were inquisitive enough to understand why he does that, but he's explained it before. He said that he wants movie to have the same storytelling freedoms that books have, and he's right. Books can go anywhere and do anything; one of my favorite pulp novels Rupert Holmes's "Where the Truth Lies" (Which was adapted into an underrated Atom Egoyan film) amazes me in how it manages to has use multiple first person perspectives, told in many different formats and through several different characters, and  seemingly nobody has much complaint or criticisms about that. In hindsight, it's all over his movies. In 1994, he amazed everybody with "Pulp Fiction"; it was so unique and original to film that I've heard some claim that he's been living off that film and its structure ever since, but that's such bullshit for many reasons, among one that's not talked about is that, if "Pulp Fiction" was a book instead of a movie, it probably wouldn't look that weird sitting next to, say Thomas Pynchon's "The Crying of Lot 49" or something of that sort. He followed that up, with his only technical adaptation from a novel, "Jackie Brown", which was based on Elmore Leonard's "Rum Punch". 

Then he did "Kill Bill", his most epic and novel films he's done yet. There's a reason they're separated into, volumes, not parts; like a novel separated across multiple books, telling the same story. It wasn't intentional; the studio made him cut the movie into multiple parts but naming them volumes was genius. So was separating the film into chapters. Honestly, I can't watch this movie in particular without thinking about how it would read, and I think he meant it that way. I mean, it's a classic epic revenge tale, why wouldn't this make a wonderously, fun, bloody novel; it made arguably his most iconic film. I don't know why we don't think of the "Kill Bill" movies as among his very best sometimes, but arguably there's more iconic images and scenes in these films then any others he's made. 

"...Volume 1" definitely has the best pre-credits opening scene of all-time as we meet, The Bride (Uma Thurman, who came up with the character along with Quentin.) as she's beaten up, breathing for her life and lauded over by an unseen Bill (David Carradine) as he prepares his final literal shotgun blow to her head, right as she desperately announces, "It's your baby!" If that doesn't shock you into this film then there's nothing in Tarantino's arsenal of storytelling tools that will. We then, jump ahead to her fight with Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), the 2nd of the victims on her hitlist she intends to kill. It's funny, until this movie, violence wasn't actually as prevalent in his films as people used to think. "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction" were endlessly criticized as violent at the time, but in hindsight, those movies were fairly tame; the sparks of violence were often so sudden that they could be hidden or cut through well-timed camera and editing tricks, or easy to overlook on future viewings because of how well the comedy in his dialogue takes over, but "Kill Bill: Vol. 1", we actually realize him to be an incredible action director. The battle with Green, in a distressingly primary-colored suburban house, is just the appetizer. Everything from the Bride's outfit choices to the car she ends up taking after getting out of her coma and fighting her way out of the hospital, is just deliciously infection eye candy. Up until now, while his films were always fantastical in their stories, they always felt like they could exist in a relatively modern real world, but since "Kill BIll", he's insisted on creating these stylized worlds full of such wonderful colors and images; it's not realistic, it's surrealistic. More importantly, it's Tarantino-istic. 

There's several underrated aspects of his films and "Kill Bill" in particular, like how it's Tarantino's most memorable and best use of music with The RZA's music supervision, but the production design has to be up there. It's also in the characters. Even though we know she's about to die by the end of the movie, he devotes a whole chapter to the story of O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), the first official victim of The Bride. For this sequence, he got Katsuji Morishita to animate the chapter, partly because it was too bloody to get any clearance to shoot it live-action without slipping into an NC-17 rating, but also because her background had to be told in a hyper-realistic way. It's great buildup, we know how difficult this woman is to kill, and we want to see how she did it, and boy do we see how she did it. Clad in a Bruce Lee yellow jumpsuit, armed with Hattori Honzo (Sonny Chiba, sorta reprising his role in "Shadow Warriors") steel and shot partly in black and white with splatterings of red, we get some expertly choreographed and iconic fight sequences. 

It's in how memorable that his movies always feel that I think his cinema buff nature shines through. All his movies on some level feel more prescient and almost always seem more memorable then other similar films. This is in how he visually uses his old favorite movies and probably comic books influences to create characters and images that just stay with us. Look at how much we remember Gogo Yubari (Chiaki Kuriyama) a fairly minor henchwoman of O-Ren, but you can find a lot of people on Youtube just watching that fight between her and The Bride. Of course, she, like many in this film, feel like an amalgamation of several other characters that we may have seen somewhere before, but can't entirely put our finger on them. Tarantino is a master of iconography, maybe the master of it, whether it's in how he costumes his characters or how he allows them to act in the biggest ways possible, or even sometimes just in the casting of parts; Tarantino can take what may look great on the page, but can take that and create something iconically beautiful visually. It's almost like he's striving to take the image of the characters we might have of them as we read them in a book, and trying to transform them to the screen.  

"Kill Bill Volume 1" was the first time we realized just how much bigger he can make his films feels. He's untethered and unfiltered; sure he can always go back to those worlds of small time crooks that feel more reminiscent of cheap exploitation films from the '60s and '70s, but Tarantino with no budget limits and no rules can truly be a bloody genius. This was the first time he truly had that option and he went for broke and anything that tries to mitigate that fact is a disservice to all his later-period films, and especially to both volumes of "Kill Bill". "Volume 1" is more or less our Samurai introduction that sets up our Western dual of "Volume 2", but doesn't diminish "Volume 1". At the time when it was released, you could probably argue that it doesn't hold up as well on its own but I vehemently disagree now. For comparison, I seem to be the only one who still continues to despise Gareth Evans's "The Raid" films, and essentially those are just one long, blood-filled action scenes as well, but I still contend they're just choreography reels at best and unused video games levels at worst as they just want numb you to death with gratuitous violence. Tarantino understands that violence is a shock to the norms of everything else going on and is used that way. When somebody runs across a dinner table and chops off another's head, it should recognized and acknowledged for the suddenness that it is. That's how storytelling through violence works and not just a real-life version of pressing a power move combination. Even as the Crazy 88's get sliced and diced, there's meaning and power to it because we know everything beforehand and because we need to see how skilled she truly is, and how determined she is to get her revenge. 

  

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