Film Analysis – Kill Bill Vol. 1

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Kill Bill Volume 1 is the first part in a series of two movies that was written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. He never seems to tire of pointing out all the movies he's referenced, paid tribute to and been inspired by. In this film analysis, I will describe all the movies that have influenced him and show up in Kill Bill. I will also describe some of the cinematography and how it made the movie stand out. Quentin Tarantino’s movies have a very different, unique feel than the perceived “normal” movie. Kill Bill Vol. 1” is very intriguing. He borrows ideas and styles from his many influences which, in the end, results in something not necessarily unique, but fresh. Everything Tarantino has done has been done before; however, he mixes different genres and styles with his own to create a masterfully directed piece of art. In Kill Bill, he uses Martial Arts, Samurai, Spaghetti Western, and Secret Agent (along with many other sub-genres) to create one film (Wikipedia - Kill Bill).
The story of the movie follows the character Beatrix Kiddo known as “Black Mamba”, played by Uma Thurman, as she seeks revenge on a group of assassins, called the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, which attempted to murder her at her wedding and her former boss, Bill. She crosses them off a list one by one as she kills them. The list reads as follows: 1)O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) - Codename: Cottonmouth 2)Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) - Codename: Copperhead 3)Budd (Michael Bowen) 4)Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) 5)Bill (David Carradine)
The movie is mostly adapted from the movie Lady Snowblood, a 1973 Japanese film in which a woman kills off the gang who murdered her family. Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41, from Japan, and Thriller: En Grym Film, from Sweden also has the same central theme of wronged women seeking revenge. Scorpion is an escaped convict gunning for the cruel warden who locked her up. Thriller (so hardcore it was banned in Sweden) follows an innocent girl who is turned into a mutilated, heroin-addicted sex slave, and turns the tables on her captors (Rose).

The name of the group in Kill Bill, the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, is inspired by the movie The Doll Squad. They also wear similar outfits to the girls in The Doll Squad (The Quentin Tarantino Archives). The opening credit sequence features the Shaw Brothers logo which has the letters “SB” encased within a crest symbol. This iconic symbol is from Hong Kong’s cinematic history - movies produced during the late-1950s to the mid-1980s. I thought nothing of this logo until I read that the Shaw Brothers inspired Tarantino’s style (Chan). The entire movie does make me feel like it was right out of the 70’s but with some modern twists.
The opening scene shows Beatrix lying comatose in a hospital bed silhouetted against a background of the window of her room. The lighting of her was obviously very high contrast, low-key lighting. This scene is homage to Citizen Kane (The Quentin Tarantino Archives). The movie then continues somewhere in the middle of the first part where Beatrix is facing off against Vernita Green at Vernita’s house. Five minutes into the film Beatrix and Vernita head off into an extremely intense fight that demolishes the living room. The sound effects are very interesting. They overlay sound onto every movement.
I hear many swoosh sounds coming from the knives during their fight. Also, similar swoosh sounds come from them jumping. In my opinion this type of sound amplifies the action. This type of sound effects was very popular in Chinese cinema in the 1970’s. The 1978 movie The Five Venoms, a Shaw Brothers film, was an inspiration for these sound effects (The Quentin Tarantino Archives). After the fight Beatrix pulls out a list of people that she intends to kill to show the audience who she has killed so far, and who is left. This is typical Quentin Tarantino. This shows his preference of a non-linear storyline.
The story then jumps back approximately sixth months into the past to show what happened to Beatrix and how she recovered from an intense shootout in a small chapel where she lost her unborn baby and almost her life. This scene would be linked to the sub-genre called “Spaghetti Western”. One of the shots of the police officer driving to the chapel shows the dashboard lined with sunglasses (16:52). This is the same as the opening scene of the original Gone in 60 Seconds from 1974 (The Quentin Tarantino Archives). During her recovery in the hospital room, Elle Driver approaches in a nurse’s uniform with a patch on her eye.
She has been ordered by Bill to kill Beatrix with a syringe filled with poison. When Bill finds out that she is comatose, he orders her to just let her be as they think she won’t recover. Her walk down the hospital aisle contained a split-screen sequence with Mamba in her bed. This comes from the 1977 movie Black Sunday (The Quentin Tarantino Archives). The character played by Martha Keller in Black Sunday goes into a hospital and disguises herself as a nurse to kill Robert Shaw's character with a poisoned syringe. The look of her character (nurse outfit with patch that has hospital red cross on it) is a little out of the ordinary.
Alfred Hitchcock's movie Marnie has the exact same nurse-walking-down-corridor scene (Rose). The story then jumps four years to where Beatrix comes out of her coma. It happens right after an extreme close-up of a fly biting her arm. It probably wasn’t a coincidence but the viewer may think that the fly was the reason she woke up. She quickly remembers that she was shot and a flashback shows in slow-motion the bullet coming at her (25:08). Her escape out of the hospital is via a male nurse’s truck. This is after a few important details. First, she kills the orderly who was renting her out like a prostitute while she was in a coma.
Second, her escaped was slowed by the fact that her legs were not awake yet. The escape vehicle owned by the orderly was quite vivid. It has the name “Pussy Wagon” painted on the back of the bright yellow and pink truck. The term “Pussy Wagon” came from a lyric in the song “Greased Lightnin’” from the 1979 movie Grease (The Quentin Tarantino Archives). There was also 70’s style music being played during her escape via wheelchair. Once in the truck, there was a close-up of her toes. She talked to them, persuading them to move. While she waited for her toes to wake up, one of the most memorable parts of the movie occurred.
It was the introduction of the character O-Ren Ishii. This introduction was done in Japanese Anime. O-Ren Ishii was an orphan whose parents were killed by gangsters and who eventually took revenge, becoming an assassin. After the attack on the wedding, she has since become the leader of the Tokyo underworld. The animation sequence made the scene much more dramatic. The anime allows the audience to see the immense pain the characters felt as they were fighting. The faces would become distorted and the skin would sort of come off of their faces to magnify the effect it has on the audience. The most shocking was how the blood loss was portrayed.
The blood sprayed out of her parents was like spraying water out of a garden hose. I think showing this in animation reduced the gore value. Also, heads and limbs went flying across the room. I think all of this prepared me for the rest of the movie. It just made it easier to watch and not as gruesome. The fictional value was raised which made it more entertainment than reality (36:00-44:00). After thirteen hours of story time Beatrix finally regains the ability to move her toes and the rest of her legs. The movie regains some linearity as she now travels to Okinawa to obtain her weapon of choice, the samurai sword.
Here she meets up with Hattori Hanzo who is portrayed as the greatest swordsmith of all time. Beatrix convinces him to make her a sword. There is some great camera work in this scene. A few times you can see her reflection in the sword. I think this shows the viewer the quality of a Hattori Hanzo sword. She also cuts a baseball in half after he throws it at her which also shows the high quality level. This scene is referenced from the movie Samurai Reincarnation from 1981. There is also a memorable line from this movie. Hattori Hanzo tells this to Beatrix as he gives her the sword.
This is also a direct reference from Samurai Reincarnation. "If, on your journey, you should encounter god, god will be cut". Other references to the movie are the Japanese atmosphere and flute music (46:00) (The Quentin Tarantino Archives). The last main scene is the showdown at “The House of Blue Leaves” in Tokyo. This is where O-Ren Ishii is located at. As Beatrix travels to Tokyo, the music is fast paced. This tells me that she is in a hurry to get there. Also, the sky has a bright orange color. This is homage to the movie Goke: Body Snatcher from Hell (1968) (1:04:39) (The Quentin Tarantino Archives).
When she arrives in Tokyo, she travels by motorcycle on her way to the House of Blue Leaves. Her outfit is a yellow jumpsuit. This yellow track-suit is a direct homage to the one worn by Bruce Lee in Game of Death (1978), the last and unfinished Bruce Lee movie (The Quentin Tarantino Archives). Once she arrives, a very noticeable long take occurs. This take lasts over a minute (1:11:20-1:12:50). During this take, you get to see the inside of the restaurant and get a good feel for the layout. The long take includes bot forward and backward tracking and also a bird’s eye view of the restroom.
This style of shot makes me feel like I’m inside the scene. The overall shot seems to be conducted in a clockwise rotation around the room. After this long shot, the main fight sequence of the movie occurs against O-Ren Ishii and her clan of sword-wielding Tokyo gangsters. The last main fight scene has an incredible amount of blood that sprays everywhere. It is similar to the earlier animated scene but 100x more frequent. I think it is much gorier because it isn’t animated. But, I think the earlier animation made this scene much more acceptable as entertainment. Beatrix takes on at least 100 people with ease.
The many-on-one fight at the House of Blue Leaves references the Bruce Lee film Fists of Fury at several parts, including the surrounding mob's fear when Beatrix strikes a fighting stance (The Quentin Tarantino Archives). Also, Beatrix eventually dives to the floor and attacks her opponents' legs. One noticeable part of the fight sequence is when Beatrix pulls one of her attacker’s eyes out of his head. The picture instantly turns to black and white. The high contrast picture stands out even more. There is a lot of shadowing. The blood that is spraying out of her opponents bodies as she cuts off limbs sprays in a bright color of white.
I think this added style to the scene makes Beatrix look even more invincible. She then finally blinks, sound effect included, and the picture turns back to color (1:23:10-1:26:50). She easily takes out everyone except one person. The last attacker looks pretty scared. Most of the movie does have a comedic overtone to it but I did laugh a little bit more when she bent the last guy over and pked him on the butt while saying “Go Home to Your Mother”. I think this quote was another example of her feeling invincible. The last action sequence now takes place in an outside setting outside the restaurant with a showdown with O-Ren Ishii.
Everything is covered in snow. This white landscape is another direct homage to Lady Snowblood. Beatrix eventually finishes off O-Ren Ishii who was actually the first target on Beatrix’s revenge list. Since there is only two on the list that have been eliminated, I know that there is a sequel that will tell the rest of the story. Even though the movie title is “Kill Bill", you never see Bill's face. The movie does end with his voice though which makes me want to see the sequel even more. It’s definitely a little cliffhanger and I want to know what will happen next. Bill last words are “is she aware that her daughter is still alive? I didn’t see that coming. Quentin did an excellent job keeping me entertained and at the edge of my seat. I also appreciated the cinematography in this movie. I do appreciate movies even more know while looking at how a movie is made rather than just watching the storyline unfold. Quentin Tarantino did an excellent job on taking me for a thrill ride. He used many different genres and styles in his movie which made it very unique. He was able to combine all his influences from the 70’s and update and combine them into one fantastic movie. The cinematography was outstanding. I understand even more how important cinematography is to a film.
Chan, K. (n.d.). The Shaw-Tarantino Connection: Rolling Thunder Pictures and the Exploitation Aesthetics of Cool. Retrieved April 18, 2011, from Rose, S. (n.d.). Retrieved April 18, 2011, from The Guardian: The Quentin Tarantino Archives. (n.d.). Retrieved April 18, 2011, from Wikipedia - Kill Bill. (n.d.). Retrieved April 18, 2011, from Wikipedia - Quentin Tarantino. (n.d.). Retrieved April 18, 2011, from

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