Sunday, October 21, 2012
Cool Ass Cinema Presents: A Screenplay Not By Quentin Tarantino Part 3
CHAPTER 6: WHY DID IT TAKE SO LONG TO KILL BILL? OR, THE WHOLE BLOODY, BULLSHITTIN' AFFAIR
This KILL BILL section is too damn massive to be contained in a single piece so it's gonna be split into two volumes, haha!
But seriously, the exorcism of the demonic presence that is my love/hate relationship with Quentin Tarantino movies continues with the two KILL BILL films.
After seeing the man in interviews and witnessing some of his bizarre behavioral patterns, I began to become more and more disenchanted with this eccentric talent. Is it just me, or does it look like Q Man's mouth is actually being sucked back into his head?
Anyway, the announcement and filming of KILL BILL got me excited and curious to see the result considering T Bone frequently gushed about his love of HK kung fu movies. I was really anxious to see this one. Taking into account his technique of utilizing the conventions of the Blaxploitation genre in JACKIE BROWN (1997) and making that style uniquely his own, it had me curious as to his treatment of Chinese martial arts pictures.
And of course, QT's outboard motorboat mouth was loudly spinning how this was his big muthafuckin' EPIC. The news soon broke that the picture was too titanic to be a single feature and due its 4 hour running time, it would be split into two "volumes". I recall an article where one of the Weinstein's claimed this was gonna be the movie event to end all movie events. Possibly if somebody else was directing it.
So there I am sittin' in the theater and the Shaw logo comes up... big smile on my face. Movie begins and it's okay. Not bad for a revenge picture and I'm enjoying it, but something just doesn't feel right about this movie. There's so many themes, ideas and kitchen sinks being thrown at the screen at any given moment. Just some of the most random shit I've ever seen. There's no tone or stability to this thing. You expect erraticism in Hong Kong movies because they didn't have a hundred million to flush down the toilet to tell a decent story, so the more bat-shit crazy the better. KILL BILL wants to be THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE of kung fu-samurai movies... if only there were any martial arts disaster movies.
And Japanese Superstar, Shinichi "Sonny" Chiba is totally wasted here (more on my disdain for Chiba's usage in the next chapter). Tarantino often gushes about how huge of a fan of Chiba he is, but when he finally gets around to casting him in his movie, his big scene is a "comedic" tea house sequence which consists of arguing over hot Sake. It has all the meaningful impact you'd expect from a typical conversation in a Rob Zombie movie.
I remember when in a couple of scenes some words were bleeped out, you could hear most everybody in the theater going "HUH?!" And when the film switched to B/W during the House of Discolored Leaves sequence, a few folks got up to harass the projectionist thinking something went wrong with the movie! The former turned out to be some bizarre inside joke (see below) that the Great and Powerful Q thought was so fuckin' Kool. He boasted about how this was supposedly some big deal to be revealed in the second film. The latter was to secure an R rating, while I thought he was echoing the B/W tinting often given to the Chinese versions of the original films to avoid censorship.
"You think they've been hiding her name, but Bill's been saying it all along. Uma came up with the name Beatrix -- she worked for somebody with that name. And I came up with Kiddo. That's what I call women -- when I really like a girl, I call her 'kiddo.'"--With audiences eagerly awaiting the shocking secret behind the "KILL BILL Bleep", Tarantino finally unveiled this monumental revelation in April of 2004!
Till Tarantino finally came out with the meaning of this name game, the audience would be teased/annoyed with several intrusive 'bleeps' on the soundtrack of KILL BILL 1 and a portion of VOLUME 2. Turned out to be nothing more than an inconsequential inside joke; or a reference to the Trix cereal brand (silly rabbit, Trix are for kids) by way of Uma Thurman's characters name being Beatrix Kiddo of all things.
"There's another movie, Chang Chay, who was literally like the John Ford of old school martial art films at Shaw Brothers did a film called VENGEANCE!...sort of his version of POINT BLANK...and there's a scene where this guy, uh, where the um...uh, um, uh...Tai Lung who was in THE KILLER, uh, is murdered, but the thing is, before he's murdered, he fights like a hundred guys, and they even have in a sequence in it, in the American prints, where at a certain point it gets so bloody, it goes to black and white! You know, and, uh, I was like 'wow, that's really cooool', alright! I actually saw the actual Chinese version of it, and they never go to black and white!"--QT rambling on incessantly and showing off his Untruth Fist Style, taught to him by Ric Meyers, master of martial malarkey. While Chang CHEH did direct VENGEANCE! (1970), TI Lung was not in THE KILLER (1989).
The major problem I have with KILL BILL (aside from bizarre music choices and obligatory Tarantinoesque close ups of feet) is that Tarantino totally failed at re-establishing the kung fu film as a viable commodity in the American mainstream marketplace. Granted, those movies will never enjoy the sort of popularity they had during the 1970s. Even that early in the game and despite their popularity and curiosity factor, those films were snickered at for their off cue dubbing; which will never perfectly sync, anyways. The Chinese language is a tonal one; at the end of sentences, their mouths are often open whereas ours are not.
Tarantino had an opportunity to bring some new-found respectability to a genre that had long lingered in the minds of the mainstream as films with poverty row production values, lousy photography, bad actors, bad dubbing, bad everything. CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON was a fluke and doesn't really count since it wasn't technically a martial arts film. It was a love story that happened to have martial arts-swordplay sequences accentuating the dramatics surrounding them. But it was a huge success and pushed long standing misconceptions of Asian films out of the lime-light, albeit temporarily.
By comparison, Sergio Leone deeply loved the American western; so much so that he took the genres conventions and created a loving tribute to it with the sprawling majesty of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968); a stunningly gorgeous movie that resembles a canvas of visuals come to life. You could watch it without sound and still understand what the film is about. But then that begs the question of why someone would do such a thing and miss out on the operatic excellence of Ella Dell'Orso's magnificent vocals; but I digress.
Tarantino didn't do this. Instead, he took aspects of those films (the dubbed imported versions, mind you. The originals are the polar opposite of what we ended up with on our own cinema and television screens) that he was fond of, threw them all in a blender and created this wily, erratic, self-absorbed concoction. Traces of Q's pop cultured, referential ego surfaced in PULP FICTION, but it ran buck fuck wild in both BILL's. Q Baby's treatment of HK's most recognized style of genre export did nothing to entice new fans, nor enamor older, casual fans into believing they were anything any different from their memories; simple entertainment for un-sophisticated tastes to only be remembered fondly for temporary lapses of nostalgia.
To be fair, I still like things about KILL BILL. Uma Thurman pushes her emotional range to the limit and creates a memorable performance in a mostly unbalanced movie. Some of the shots are extraordinary in their attention to detail. The fight choreography is exciting, although action scenes (particularly the finale) are slightly undone by bizarre musical choices. Why must there be beach music during the battle with the Crazy 88s?! The inclusion of a disco song for the sword fight between Thurman and Liu is just awkward. The song is great, it's just a jarring selection for a samurai/martial arts fight. Some find Dario Argento's fascination with heavy metal music in his horror films perplexing, but it's nowhere near as out of place as T Bone's iPod playlist here. I do like the soundtrack, it just doesn't always fit what's transpiring onscreen. No other director could get away with this kind of musical rambunctiousness. Because they're not KOOOOL, man.
The floodgates of arrogance and self-parody weren't opened, they were blown up with KILL BILL, reaching critical levels when that Titanic floating refuse, G****HOUSE, came out and sank mightily a few years down the road. But that, is another story. Next up, it's the even more jarring KILL BILL VOLUME 2, a 2 1/2 hour bore-fest where people do lots and lots of talking. There's more weird, intrusive musical cues, different genre styles mashed together and a climax that is less slam-bang than it is touchingly poignant; which drastically clashes with the already tonally uneven first picture. From here on out, QT's movies are the cinematic equivalent of a Gary Busey coke binge lorded over by Drew Barrymore and Robert Downey, Jr.
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART MUTHAFUCKIN' FOUR