Monday, February 22, 2010

Strange Samurai

We finally watched Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill: Vol. 1 . I felt that I needed to watch more of the precursors, so we would get more of the tributes and in-jokes. I finally gave up, and we just watched it.

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 stars Uma Thurman as "the Bride", who survived the massacre of a wedding in a coma. When she recovers, she is pissed and sets out to take vengeance on the people responsible. These are a secret band of five assassins known as the Deadly Viper Assassin Squad, and their leader, Bill.

But the plot isn't so important as the style. This style, Tarantino's specialty, has 2 components:
  • Loving, sincere tributes to great action movies and styles
  • Self-referential, post-modern in-jokes and tricks
Some might say that these are the same thing, but I see a distinction. For example:
  • Loving, sincere: The film claims to be in "Shaw-arama", a tribute to the Shaw Bros. 1970 vintage kung fu films. It was in fact shot partly at their Hong Kong studio
  • Tricky jokes: The film is in five parts, and there are five assassins to be killed. But the parts and the assassins don't match up.
I love both sides of his personality, so I enjoyed this greatly. He also has a lot of fun with casting. I still have trouble seeing Thurman as an action star - she looks so delicate and pale. But I've got to drop my preconceptions for this role. She gets to fight all kinds of great foes, including Darryl Hannah - Pris from Blade Runner - and Lucy Liu. About halfway along, the movie shifts to Japan, and we get to hang with JJ Sonny Chiba.

All of the music (as far as I can tell) is from classic action films or TV shows, including the theme from Ironsides, the Flight of the Bumblebee, and a panpipe tune. Yes, he even makes you love Zamfir. Oh, there was some original music - a Japanese, all-girl surf-thrash trio, called the 5, 6, 7, 8s. How cool is that.

Note, however, that this is a very, very violent movie (another Tarantino specialty). Probably the most horrible scene happens early on, when the Bride kills a woman in front of her little daughter. She tells the daughter that when she grows up, she can find her and kill her.

Which, strangely enough, is one of the first scenes in Afro Samurai: Season 1 - Little Afro's father is killed, and the killer makes the same speech. The show is about Afro Samurai taking him up on the suggestion.

In this anime series, Afro Samurai is an Afro-Japanese samurai (with a big Afro), voiced by Samuel Jackson. He is the number 2 swordsman, and only the number 2 can challenge number 1 - who killed his father to take that position (voice: Ron Perlman). Of course, everyone can challenge him to try to win the headband that comes with the number.

There's a lot of stylish violence, some back story about Afro's childhood in a martial arts school, and a manga milieu with samurai, robots, and a jive-ass prankster called Ninja Ninja that only Afro can see. It's a lot of fun, and a great double bill with Kill Bill.
  • Both films are the first volume or season
  • Both are revenge stories influenced by samurai, martial arts, blaxploitation and westerns
  • Oh yeah, and the RZA worked on both soundtracks

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