Everybody else talked about how great a movie Snowpiercer was, I was the only one with the nerve to admit that I had some concerns about its general lack of female characters; and that's just the tip of the iceberg. That's not even getting into my more controversial criticisms of Ghostbusters and Sean Connery's Bond films in the ways they treat their female characters, or the fact that I seem to have some sort of quota in place when it comes to television programming, also for strong female leads. I've even had to deal with a mountain of angry IMDB users because I criticized the movies Black Sea and Alien Outpost for choosing to have an all-male cast when there was no reason it was necessary.
How is it, then, that it took me this long to see the popular two-part film featuring one of the most iconic action heroines in cinematic history? The Bride ranks as one of the biggest names among action girls, right up there with Sarah Connor, Ellen Ripley, Lara Croft, Xena, and Black Widow; and yet somehow I had failed to see Kill Bill before now. I should be ashamed of myself. It therefore made a perfect choice for my 2015 Blindspot List. Even more fitting is that I am doing this one now, seeing as I actually share my birthday (March 27) with Quentin Tarantino.
Uma Thurman stars as (*censored*), a former assassin who was also the victim of a massacre at her wedding, of which she was the only survivor. Four years later, this woman, known only as "The Bride" wakes up from a coma and, after dealing with a perverted orderly named Buck (Michael Bowen), begins planning her revenge against the people responsible for the massacre, led by a mysterious man simply known as "Bill". Tarantino's trademarks are all over this one, with the story being presented in anything but chronological order (similar to Pulp Fiction) and the frequent use of blood as a spectacle.
There is a lot I can see influenced Tarantino in the production of Kill Bill. The most obvious influence is the old Japanese samurai films such as those of Akira Kurosawa, but there are also elements of the martial arts film. More specifically, it appears to draw on the Wuxia style (also commonly nicknamed "Wi-Fu"), where the fight scenes are stylized and presented more as a dance, as is especially evident in the Bride's confrontation with Lucy Liu. There is also definitely a bit of the western mixed in for good measure, complete with desert landscapes and a cowboy character in the form of Michael Madsen as Budd.
This blending of different genres is also reflected in the various soundtracks employed by Tarantino, composed by RZA. Throughout the film, we get several pieces of music that fit a variety of different genres which normally would not be seen together. This includes tracks that sound like they would belong in a 70's blacksploitation movie, ones that should be in a martial arts film, and ones that actually sound like something Ennio Morricone would have composed for a Sergio Leone western (though Tarantino also uses the actual theme from A Fistful of Dollars in one scene). These changes in soundtrack create very different tones, fitting to the different environments encountered over the course of both installments.
Even the Bride herself has some elements of several prior action heroines before her. While she may be played by a Caucasian actress, her character arc is in some ways reminiscent of the heroines featured in 70's blacksploitation movies (to which Tarantino paid homage directly in his previous film, Jackie Brown), such as Foxy Brown. Much like the Bride, Foxy Brown (and many other heroines of blacksploitation cinema) is a woman who single-handedly takes on an entire gang in revenge for the murder of her boyfriend.
The Bride has something similar, where she keeps on going even when it is obvious that she is in excruciating agony (as one can expect from getting slashed multiple times and bashed in the head by a spiked ball on a chain). She is tough but she has those odd moments that allow us to see that she is still human. She has emotions and weaknesses just like everyone else (she doe seem genuinely scared when Budd tries to bury her alive). Her maternal instincts displayed in Vol. 2 also call to mind Sarah Connor as well as Ellen Ripley in Aliens.
If there is one thing Kill Bill can't be accused of being short on, it's strong female characters. In addition to the Bride herself, both films produce an interesting selection of equally tough female antagonists. In fact the women in Kill Bill arguably bring out the most interesting fight scenes while the few male villains are mostly dispatched quickly. In Vol. 1 we have a brief but... interesting confrontation with Vivia A. Fox as Vernita Green (which is disrupted by her daughter arriving from school, forcing her and the Bride to hide the fact that they were just trying to kill each other a moment ago), but the real treat is when the Bride starts going after O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) and her assortment of eccentric characters.
O-Ren herself is quite a remarkable character. Not only is she talented with a sword, but she is also smart (she manages to take command of several Japanese crime syndicates) and still has a strange sense of nobility to her work. It's also not hard to fall in love with her personal bodyguard, Gogo (), a psychotic schoolgirl who likes to fling around a spiked ball on a chain in a disturbingly playful fashion. Also on board is her lawyer, Sophie Fatale (Julie Dreyfus), who is competent and tough in her own right, at least until she has her arm sliced clean off. Even the so-called "Crazy 88" (apparently there aren't actually 88 of them, the name just sounded cool) is of mixed gender if you look closely. In Vol. 2 we get another female villain, Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), a one-eyed assassin who doesn't take crap from anyone male or female.
I've seen some great films come from Tarantino, and even the ones I didn't like (Inglorious Basterds) generally had something redeeming about them. This one continues show Tarantino's brilliance, as he never fails to amaze the viewer with a variety of crazy action scenes, characters, situations, and environments making every piece of the film seem a unique experience. The nonlinear structure also adds a strange sort of charm to the film, if in a disorienting kind of way similar to Pulp Fiction. I think there is a very good reason the Bride is often ranked as one of the greatest action heroines, because she is. She's right up there with Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley in terms of her competence and emotional depth. How have I not already seen this one?