I had a discussion this week about whether or not an excessive amount of tributes and homages within a film makes for a great movie or one worthy of derision. It all depends on how well remixed the source material is. When it comes to the two Kill Bill movies, the multiple references are so dense that there’s almost an art to how they come together. And the places they’re gathered from are so disparate and non-mainstream, the fact that they’ve coalesced into a Hollywood blockbuster is pretty amazing.
A woman in a wedding dress — who we come to know as the Bride and Black Mamba — lies wounded and possibly dying in a chapel in El Paso, Texas. She’s been attacked and left for dead by the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. With what may be her final breath, she tells Bill, their leader, that she’s pregnant with his child. He responds by shooting her in the head.
The film jumps forward four years and the Bride (Uma Thurman, who helped conceive this movie with writer/director Quentin Tarantino) has hunted down one of the Vipers: Copperhead/Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), who has now become a homemaker. Our heroine tries to give her target a break and offers to meet her to battle somewhere that her family isn’t in the crossfire. She responds by trying to shoot and kill the Bride, who dispatches her easily with a knife to the heart.
We go back now those four long years to when the Bride was in a coma. California Mountain Snake/Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah, perfection in this movie) whistles her way through the hallways of a hospital, dressed as a nurse with a matching eyepatch, ready to kill the Bride with a lethal injection. However, Bill decides to cancel the kill order as he finds it dishonorable.
The Bride wakes up, realizes she’s no longer with child and begins her mission of revenge by killing the hospital worker who’s been raping her while she was in a coma. She takes his truck and begins the long journey toward learning how to walk and fight again.
The first Viper who is on her kill list is Cottonmouth/O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) who has risen to become the leader of a huge clan of Tokyo Yakuza. As a child, O-Ren’s parents were murdered and she spent her early years getting her own revenge.
The Bride seeks to have a sword made by Hattori Hanzo (Sonny Chiba!), who has vowed to never forge a sword again. But after he learns that she wants revenge on his former student Bill, he makes one for her.
Tracking O-Ren to the House of Blue Leaves, the Bride — we don’t learn her name until the next movie, but you can see it on her plane ticket to Tokyo — wipes out O-Ren’s gang, the Crazy 88’s and her bodyguard, schoolgirl with a spiked yo-yo Gogo Yubari.
She then kills O-Ren and tortures her assistant Sofie Fatale to discover where Bill is. The film ends with Bill speaking to Sofie and asking if the Bride knows that their daughter is alive.
This film was Tarantino’s attempt to move from the talky fare he was known for and into the action cinema that he loves. The House of Blue Leaves battle took six weeks longer than expected, but that’s because it’s packed with traditional special effects and stuntwork instead of the CGI we’re now used to.
Obviously, Kill Bill is inspired by grindhouse cinema, drawing inspiration from the Shaw Brothers, Sergio Leone and Lucio Fulci amongst many others. We’ve gone in-depth to breakdown the actual films that it takes inspiration from in this article. Trust us — there are so many, sometimes multiple references within one shot!
According to Uma Thurman, Tarantino asked her to watch three movies to prepare: The Killer, Coffy and A Fistful of Dollars.
Originally intended as one movie, the four-hour runtime was considered too long for filmgoers, so this was split in two separate movies. It’s pretty astounding that after all the death and destruction in this film, The Bride only has one kill left in the sequel.
Kill Bill reminds me of the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Botique. There are hundreds of samples all over that album, which make it a much richer experience if you know where they all come from. But if you don’t, you can still dance to it.
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