It’s just a vain aspiration to try to list all the Easter eggs and references in Quentin Tarantino Kill Bill. This martial arts yakuza revenge thriller is a patchwork of old school wuxia, samurai cinema, spaghetti westerns, Hollywood classics, the best blaxploitation and grindhouse movies. Tarantino said in 1994, “I steal every movie ever made”. He ended this thought by declaring: “Great artists steal, they don’t pay homage.” He even faced a lawsuit for plagiarism for Kill Billaccording to The Guardian.
Having worked in a video rental store, Quentin Tarantino had a unique opportunity to indulge his obsession with cinema. He looked at everything and remembered everything, later creating conscious postmodern work that would reflect his arrogant but undeniably immense knowledge of modern cinema, from renowned masterpieces to so-called “trash” films. Tarantino struggled from Kill Billprobably his most personal film, and countless times expressed his desire to film a third volume of the story.
After all, it gave us one of Tarantino’s best characters, the bride. Also known as the Black Mamba (or Beatrix Kiddo), the bride is a woman seeking revenge against a group of assassins who tried to kill her and her unborn child. The premise is simple, and the situations she finds herself in are often questionable and bordering on gross: a sleazy doctor trafficking comatose patients for sex, a white woman with a samurai sword slicing through yakuza left and right , strict but blood-wise kung fu masters and fountains. Nevertheless, it is a brilliant performance by Uma Thurman, which renders the bride with heartbreaking sympathy.
Due to a meticulous blending of genres, from stylized action films to chamber drama and absurdist comedy, Kill Bill remains a cult classic. So let’s focus on the most important films from which Tarantino drew inspiration to forge his hit.
Characters appropriated by Tarantino
It would be an oversimplification to say that Tarantino is simply borrowing characters, plot elements, or plans from other sources. Kill Bill creates its own sort of multiverse, where the stories of film and TV characters find their sequel or an alternate version.
Before her rampage in the House of Blue Leaves, Beatrix travels to Okinawa to obtain a sword from the legendary Hattori Hanzo. Sonny Chiba, who played the talkative and noble Hanzo, embodies an entire era of Japanese genre cinema. He had already played the legendary swordsman in Tarantino’s favorite series shadow warriors. The director imagined Hanzo in Kill Bill to be a distant descendant of Hanzo from shadow warriorsso it made sense that they were played by the same actor.
Tarantino also entices Chinese master Pai Mei from Hong Kong kung fu films. Pai Mei is usually portrayed as a villain for betraying the Shaolin monks. In Kill Billhe comes across as a stern master of Beatrix and Elle Driver.
Gogo Yubari (played by Chiaki Kuriyama) is a schoolgirl who acts as Ishii O-ren’s sadistic bodyguard. Yubari, a psychotic and bloodthirsty girl who hates men, is a spiritual reflection of Kuriyama’s character in the famous thriller battle royale. Ishii’s masked henchmen hint at the high school kids who form a gang in Fudoh: the next generation.
The bride herself echoes the main character of François Truffaut’s French film The bride wore black. Two brides seeking revenge cross out the names of their victims in their notebooks after they kill them. Machiavelli, alias of Tarantino’s fiancée, is a name borrowed from Navajo Joe.
The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, to which the bride belonged and which she proceeds to hunt, draws inspiration from the main characters of the Shaw Brothers The Five Deadly Venomsdown to their snake codenames.
One of the Deadly Vipers has earned a particularly prominent place in pop culture. A mega-recognizable split-screen scene, where Elle Driver walks like a whistling nurse with an eye patch, is a collective quote from several Brian de Palma films, including, Trained to killas well as the operating film Switchblade Sisters. Tarantino leaves several clues to his past, establishing a connection with Thriller: A Cruel Image.
The art of tribute
The staging of the House of Blue Leaves refers to Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades and black lizard. And, it would be criminal to overlook Uma Thurman’s iconic yellow costume which is a grateful nod to Bruce Lee in Game of death.
Blood gushing from wounds is an old-fashioned filming device. The bloody, grand and stylish action sequences of Kill Bill are choreographed based on a rich canon of martial arts films, like The 36th Shaolin Chamber and the classic wuxia One-armed swordsman. Stylistically, Kill BillThe design and aesthetics of relate to two films by Japanese director Seijun Suzuki. The first volume adopts a jazzy and caricatural atmosphere of Tokyo Wandererincluding go-go music and epic club fights. Kill Bill Vol.2on the other hand, draws its inspiration from the self-proclaimed surrealist universe of Marked to Killusing the high contrast black and white so well in the bride’s wedding day flashbacks.
Gogo’s unusual weapon in the form of a ball on a chain and with razor-sharp retractable blades is from the classic Hong Kong movie wuxia Flying Guillotine Master, which Tarantino has cited as one of his favorites. The blood flowing from his eyes is inspired by Fulci’s films. Tarantino has referred to Italian horror films more than once, city of the living dead, Seven notes in black, Dark red…
The death of Ishii O-Ren at the end of the first volume of Kill Bill is a nice quote from the Japanese movie finale Lady Snowblood. Yuki Kashima’s story of being born doomed to a life of violence and horror parallels O-Ren’s life of revenge for the murder of her parents and her rise to power. Both die in a serene winter garden, in the snow, splattered with blood, to the quiet sound of the poignant and romantic song flower of carnage.
Tarantino’s tapestry of Asian references isn’t just limited to Chinese and Japanese cinema. The idea for an anime fragment that would show O-Ren’s flashback comes from the Indian psychological thriller Alavandhan. Her monologue to the yakuza who killed her parents and whose stomach she cut out is from an Indian Tamil-language action thriller Saithan.
A picture of the bullet coming out of a gangster’s head is taken from Ichi the killer. death rides a horse inspired the scene where O-Ren watches his house burn (and some design elements of the gangsters). Here we can see how bits of Indian cinema are woven into a yakuza revenge thriller with references to spaghetti westerns. This episode is a perfect illustration of Tarantino’s postmodern cinema: he finds gems in the smallest moments, creating a cohesive new story from films of different genres, eras and cultures. Whether this is simple plagiarism or clever postmodernism is up to the viewer to decide.
Kill Bill Vol. 3 could still be Quentin Tarantino’s last movie
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