A few weeks ago, after partying on a Saturday night, I decided to break out my laptop and write my Sunday post… at 4AM. What came out was this, an alcohol-fueled confession about my lack of being bullied my entire geeky life. Reading the article, after dealing with my “no longer in my early 20s,” all-day hangover, I realized that I might have something on my hands here: a column of my geeky confessions… things I’ve been afraid to admit in person. I can do it here, where I have a semi-fragile internet force-field around me. All I have in person is my self-esteem, and that’s no good force-field-wise.
Now, to see if I can do this sober.
This week’s geek confession: Kill Bill. I’m not a fan. I didn’t like it.
Before you all gather your pitchforks, let me just say that I don’t, by any stretch of the imagination, dislike Quentin Tarantino films. In fact, I like them quite a bit. My particular enjoyment of them comes from the glances we see into the dark parts of humanity – not like Chuck Palahniuk dark, but dark nonetheless. Revenge, lust, hatred, and other base desires are conveyed beautifully. For example, shooting up Hitler in Inglorious Basterds, I couldn’t help but say, “Fuck yeah!” the first time I watched it. The “Stuck in Middle with You” scene in Reservoir Dogs, still one of my favorites. Also, Keitel’s “Let’s get a taco,” line has become a personal mantra. I just got the chance to catch up with Django Unchained (another “Screw the oppressor!” film), and I enjoyed that immensely.
Kill Bill though, I dunno. I won’t even say that it’s a bad film. I don’t think it was bad at all. I just didn’t like it. And really, I think it’s because of the way I grew up.
Let me explain. I am an Asian-American man, Filipino-American to be exact. That will make sense in a minute, I promise. My dad was one of those guys that watched nothing but action films. Charles Bronson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Michael Dudikoff, JCVD, these were names that littered our closet full of Betamax tapes. But so, too, did the names Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Gordon Liu, and Sho Kosugi. And those were the action films that really spoke to me. I loved martial arts films. Heck, I loved martial arts. So, when Sidekicks (the 1986 TV series, not that film that happened) came out, and starred Ernie Reyes Jr., a young Filipino-American kid with the same bowl cut as me, I was ecstatic. I wanted to be a rounder version of Ernie Reyes Jr. So, my mom enrolled me in Karate classes, which I did for a few years. That entire time, I was consuming tons of Martial Arts everyting. I watched every martial arts film I could get my hands on. Jeff Speakman, Cynthia Rothrock, Michelle Krasnoo, Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Brandon Lee. Everything. By the time WMAC masters started up, I was training in backyards with my friends. We were into Jeet Kune Do concepts, rooted in Filipino Martial Arts. I continued that with formal classes into my first year of college. Long story short, I’m no martial arts expert, but I have enough knowledge to know what good form looks like.
It was because of this experience, albeit admittedly at a low level, that Kill Bill fell short for me.
I’ll cite two areas, the use of campy Asian action film tropes, specifically the over-the-top dismemberment and blood spray stuff, and, also related to that, the martial arts performances. Both of these things in Kill Bill just didn’t sit right with me. A big thing for Tarantino’s films (I guess films in general) is that whenever I watch them, I like to be completely immersed in what’s happening on screen. So, when something pulls me straight out of a moment, it tends to ruin the film. Every point in the two-parter that I felt sucked out of the moment, it was because of one of these two points.
I admittedly, love me a good gore-fest. I’ve said many times to people that I’m a fan of a good giblet spray. I’m a particular fan of the toxic soup bad buy car collision in Robocop and the alien gun gibs in District 9. Also, when shit hit the fan in the Lone Wolf and Cub films, and mayhem was let loose, thumbs up. However, there was just something about the way it was handled in Kill Bill that felt like Tarantino chose homage to Asian action films over the film’s integrity as a whole. I’ll point to this scene in particular, the O-Ren beheading of a Yakuza boss:
Just the way the blood sprays out of the body, it makes me *sigh* in a bad way. I understand that yes, that’s the way it might have been presented in the Lone Wolf and Cub series, but that was the 1970s. And I understand that maybe it was paying homage to films of that time and genre. But, it just stands in such stark contrast to the rest of the film, and the rest of the cooler deaths (like O-Ren or Ellie Driver’s even). There’s a certain level of realism in the film (which is less realistic than reality, of course) but that… it felt a little world-breaking to me.
Secondly, the fight scenes. I’m sorry. I can just tell. I know you probably worked your ass off for weeks, trying to make your martial arts passable on screen. But it just looks bad. I can see the lack of follow through, the absence of full-body coordination, the improper use of even just punch mechanics. It’s not just Kill Bill. Lord knows there’s been quite a few instances of fights being created (and destroyed for that matter) in the editing room. *ahembatmanbeginsahem* *ahemmatrixahem* And it’s not all the actors in the film that have this problem, but it’s prevalent enough, especially in a movie that relies so heavily on martial arts. Every time I see a haphazard swing of a sword and think, “That stroke wouldn’t have cut anything, and might have just broken the blade in two,” it just pulls me out of the moment. I’m not completely unforgiving with regards to this, as I’ve seen films where I know the actor isn’t a martial artist, and I think,”Oh wow, they move really well for a someone that has never trained.” And yes, for the most part, those weeks of training before principle photography might just enable you to pull it off for the untrained eye, for people that have never set foot in a dojo/dojang/wu guan/etc. But, to some of us in the relative know, it’s transparent.
Finally, when you put your lead, with probably the most questionable martial arts skills, in wardrobe that calls back to Bruce Lee, arguably one of the greatest martial artists of our time, in his final film… well, let’s just say it didn’t sit easy with me.
That’s just the world of film, though. Filmmakers are expert filmmakers. Any knowledge that they may have outside of that world is incidental. Anyone that has any level of expertise in anything can pick apart subjects that fall under that expertise until all that’s left is bone, especially when it’s presented on screen, all vulnerabilities exposed. I’m sure doctors and nurses dislike the operating room protocol in Grey’s Anatomy. I’ve heard expert archers pick apart Hawkeye’s form in Avengers. Soldiers probably laugh at The Rock. Well, that shows how many military movies I watch. I really had to search for that one. I’m sure robotics experts (and anyone with passing physics/biomechanical knowledge) called bullshit during Pacific Rim. That’s fine. I still loved it.
Anyway… What I’m saying is that Kill Bill happened to fall into one of my personal expertise niches. As such, it got picked apart. Sorry, Kill Bill. I didn’t like you. Don’t feel bad, though, I enjoy your brothers and sisters much more than you.
Like saying that would comfort anyone, right Earl?
Please don’t kill me.