Girls in Capes

Women, men & minorities in geek culture and pop culture

Kill Bill and Quentin Tarantino’s Love Letter to Asian Cinema

It’s no surprise that Quentin Tarantino, the director of Pulp Fiction (1994), Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2 (2003 and 2004), and Django Unchained (2012), has a huge respect for Asian cinema, in particular samurai films and martial arts films.  Before he created Kill Bill, he already referenced films such as these in Pulp Fiction.  The Ezekiel verse recited by Jules Winfield is lifted from Karate Kiba (also known as The Bodyguard), a film from the 1970s starring Sonny Chiba in the main role.  Years later, he would be cast as Hattori Hanzo in Kill Bill Vol. 1.  His first film, Reservoir Dogs (1992), would borrow many plot elements from City on Fire (1987), a Hong Kong film by Ringo Lam that starred ChowYun-fat.  These references will prepare audiences for Tarantino’s fourth film.

The films tell the story of The Bride (played by Uma Thurman), a woman who was brutally beaten and left for dead during her wedding rehearsal by her former boss (played by the late David Carradine) and his cronies.  After being in a coma for four years, she wakes up and vows revenge.

lady-snowblood-movie-poster-1973-1020464652The film Lady Snowblood (1973) was a huge influence for Volume 1.  The character O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) is loosely based on the protagonist of Snowblood. Both characters lost their family as a result of tragic circumstances and vowed revenge on the people who committed the act.  The snowy landscape that was featured in the climatic battle between The Bride and O-Ren in Volume 1 is similar to scenes from the 1973 film.  It also uses Snowblood’s theme, “Shura No Hana”, after the battle.

Although Volume 2 borrows many elements and references from Westerns, the scenes of The Bride’s training from Pai Mei (played by Gordon Liu) is an ode to films produced by the Shaw Brothers Studios, a huge producer of Hong Kong films. The character of Pai Mei takes after the character of the same name from a film under the studio titled Shaolin Abbot (1979).

One needs to look no further for connections to martial arts films than the outfit The Bride wears during the infamous fight with the Crazy 88’s, the henchmen of O-Ren Ishii.  Her outfit is based on the costume Bruce Lee wears in Game of Death (1973).  The allusions to Bruce Lee do not stop there.  The masks worn by the Crazy 88’s reference Kato, a character Bruce Lee played in the Green Hornet series.  The film also includes the series theme song, which is featured during The Bride’s trip to Tokyo. Also, the way The Bride is surrounded is very reminiscent of how Lee’s character is surrounded in Fists of Fury (1972).

Chiaki Kuriyama as Go-Go Yubari in a Kill Bill Japan promotion.

Chiaki Kuriyama as Go-Go Yubari in a Kill Bill Japan promotion.

Both films feature actors that were in films that influenced Tarantino. As stated before, Sonny Chiba, who was one of the first martial arts stars, has a role in Volume 1 as Hattori Hanzo, Bill’s former mentor and the man who forges The Bride’s sword.  Chiaki Kuriyama, who plays Gogo Yubari, one of O-Ren’s bodyguards, was in Battle Royale (2000), a film that Quentin Tarantino cites as his favorite film that was released since his directing debut.  Tarantino includes a scene of Gogo taking out a businessman in an unorthodox fashion that echoes the demise of Kuriyama’s victim in BR.   Gordon Liu, an actor that was featured in many Shaw Brothers films, played Pai Mei in Volume 2 as well as Johnny Mo, O-Ren’s other bodyguard, in Volume 1.

With their use of slick editing, amazing choreography, and great performances, both films received critical praise and won audiences over.  Tarantino is rumored to make a third Kill Bill film that will start shooting in 2014.  If he does go on with the project, I’m sure he will incorporate references and motifs from Asian films that have shaped and continue to shape him as a filmmaker.

Janelle Smith is a TV & Film writer at Girls in Capes.  She is a junior at Ohio State University majoring in film studies and minoring in studio art.

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About The Little Adventures of a Film Studies Grad

I graduated from Ohio State University in fall 2014 with a Bachelor's degree in film studies. I hope to have a career in directing and writing animated films or television. For now, I might use this blog to mainly do reviews on Japanese films, and perhaps an anime series from time to time.

One comment on “Kill Bill and Quentin Tarantino’s Love Letter to Asian Cinema

  1. Pingback: Top 10 #RAWResome Blog Posts {Apr. 14 – 20} | julie chicklitasaurus

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