2) The Bride vs Gogo Yubari, Johnny Mo and the Crazy 88
- The Bride aka Beatrix Kiddo aka Black Mamba. Sporting a yellow track suit deliberately reminiscent of Bruce Lee’s in Game of Death. She was a mean biatch back in the previous fight, but here’s where we see just how deadly she really is. Played by Uma Thurman, with special stunts carried out by the excellent Zoe Bell.
- Armed with: a samurai sword specially made by Hattori Hanzo, the blacksmith whose blades are legendary even in the Bride’s circles.
- Gogo Yubari, a young Japanese woman whose cheery demeanor and schoolgirl outfit belie a murderous psychopathy. Played by Chiaki Kuriyama, who caught Tarantino’s eye in the cult film Battle Royale.
- Armed with: a flail (ball & chain) with a retractable razor blade.
- The Crazy 88, O-Ren Ishii’s personal army. There’s actually maybe 40 or 50 of them, not 88– as Bill says in the second volume, they just like to call themselves that, probably because it “sounded cool.” A bunch of hotheaded but not terribly skilled young men & women, all wearing fancy black suits and Kato (the Green Hornet’s sidekick, most famously played by Bruce Lee) masks. Played by various stunt folks.
- Armed with: mostly katana swords, probably pretty cheap ones. One has a sort of whip/strap and another has two tomahawks.
- Johnny Mo, field leader of the Crazy 88. He’s dressed similarly but is visibly older and completely bald. Played veteran Hong Kong martial arts star Gordon Liu. The character is a replacement for the script’s “Mr. Barrel,” an imposing fighter who takes the Bride up on her offer of standing down if she’ll pay him a favor later on.
- Armed with: what appears at first to be a wooden staff but turns out to be dual short samurai swords with wooden cane handles.
The Setup: Though it comes late in the movie, this is actually the second part of the Bride’s mission of vengeance. Which makes a twisted sort of sense: as the Bride’s ultimate target, yakuza boss O-Ren Ishii (more on her next time), is the most protected of her former colleagues, going after her first is a great way of getting through the hardest part immediately. But more importantly, it’s O-Ren who still retains the services of Sofie Fatale, the DiVAS’ old executive assistant. It’s Sofie who will help (voluntarily or otherwise) the Bride track down all her other targets.
This fight is also probably one of the greatest arguments for splitting the movie in two. In terms of duration, complexity and sheer spectacle, no fight in either movie comes close; it absolutely feels like a climax. It’s much better placed at the end of one volume rather than the middle of a single movie. Sitting through two more hours of dialogue & cameos after this monstrosity would set even the most patient of audiences to fidgeting. If you want to know how audiences will turn on you if you drag out a movie too long after what seems like it ought to be the climax, just ask Steven Spielberg. (Or maybe not, since he seemed unwilling to learn that lesson.)
The Bride follows Ishii’s procession to an upscale Tokyo restaurant known as the House of Blue Leaves (it sounds like a really cool name for a restaurant, but for all I know in Japan that’s about as inspired as “Applebee’s”), where she’s relaxing with Gogo and a handful of Crazy 88s. After seizing Sofie in the bathroom and holding her at swordpoint, Beatrix summons her foe out of a private upstairs booth by bellowing out her signature line: “O-REN ISHII! YOU AND I HAVE UNFINISHED BUSINESS!”
(She says it in Japanese and I’ll note that even as someone who barely speaks it, Uma Thurman’s pronunciation is terrible. Simply atrocious. She seemingly made little to no effort to study the rhythms of the language, and is just reciting funny words she learned from a piece of paper. I saw this in the theater with a friend of mine who speaks it fluently and his native Japanese girlfriend; they couldn’t stop laughing whenever Uma spoke.)
After a brief staredown between the two old comrades (punctuated by the obligatory “siren” moment in the Bride’s head), the heroine casually slashes off one of Sofie’s arms, leaving her to writhe and scream on the ground while arterial blood sprays from her new stump. Nasty, but it’s definitely one way to clear a restaurant. After the terrified crowd stampedes out, the Bride is alone with her enemies. Tough luck for them.
The Fight: It starts out simple enough. At Ishii’s direction, the six members of the Crazy 88 try to take on the Bride: first one at a time, then three, and finally the last remaining pair. She makes quick work of them all, her Hanzo blade humming as she does so.
This leaves only Gogo, and although the Bride tries to talk the youth out of dying today, the psycho adolescent just laughs at her, and readies her chain.
Sword vs flail is an unusual mash-up, but the choreography (a joint effort between Yuen Wo-Ping and Sonny Chiba, the famed Japanese martial arts star who also appears in the film as Hattori Hanzo) does a decent job of giving a sense of real back & forth here. Well, mostly “forth” because it’s Gogo who dominates, with her unpredictable and long-ranging weapon. The Bride tries to keep her sword up for a while but is eventually disarmed by the chain, and even takes a couple brutal blows to the chest from the swinging ball.
Yubari is enthused yet methodical, displaying astonishing precision & control of the weapon. A time or two she even kicks the ball in mid-swing to suddenly change its direction. The Bride can do little but jump out of her way, with Yubari chasing her and smashing tables in pursuit. In an echo/foreshadowing of the fight with Vernita, Kiddo grabs a table leg as a desperate means of defense, and swings it like a baseball bat to return the metal orb back to sender. Gogo dodges the volley but gets nailed in the back of the head when it ricochets off the wall behind her.
She falls but the Bride can’t get there in time to finish her off before she recovers and activates the razor blade attachment on the flail. One swing slashes the heroine on the shoulder, and although another embeds the weapon in a wooden pillar, the chain wraps around the Bride’s neck. Gogo yanks it tight to keep her from escaping, and slowly pulls up the slack in order to choke her enemy to death. Fortunately, the Bride picks up her chunk of a table leg and slams it, exposed nails outward, in Yubari’s white sneaker. Her follow-up blow hits the deranged teen in the side of the head, taking her out for good.
[In the script, Gogo had a sister named Yuki who was not present at this showdown. The biggest departure the final product has from it is the deletion of an entire chapter called “Yuki’s Revenge” where Yuki nearly derails the Bride’s mission in her own quest for vengeance. It could have been a setpiece to rival this sequence, too; as described in the screenplay, an armed-to-the-teeth Yuki tears up half a suburban block (the scene immediately follows Vernita’s death) trying to kill her.]
Though it’s just the Bride and O-Ren Ishii now, it seems that a distress call she put out earlier has just paid off. Whole cars full of the remaining Crazy 88 rush in, led by Johnny Mo. The two adversaries share a moment of black humor, and an old joke that doesn’t become clear until you learn her name later on (“tricks are for kids,” get it?). Of course it wasn’t gonna be that easy, silly rabbit.
The small army quite literally has the Bride surrounded, swords drawn and ready for blood. There’s a tense stand-off in which the 88 are clearly wary of her, despite their superior numbers; the first time she moves even a little, the crowd lurches back as one. But the Bride isn’t going to let all the sword-bearing idiots in the world stop her revenge, so she gets to work.
There’s only one expression that aptly describes the Bride in the chaos that follows:
Homegirl goes nuts. There’s just no stopping a pissed off mama lion with a Hanzo sword. Imagine Neo during the Burly Brawl, but with a samurai sword, and no terrible computer graphics, and landing blows that actually look like they hurt… but even better than that. She’s constantly slicing, slashing and stabbing. She almost never stops moving, and with seemingly every other sword movement she takes down an opponent either fatally or by removing a limb. Between her dancing sword and her sick aerial moves (she flips about, clearly on wires), no one can touch her. Attempting to walk through the fight in sequence would be a fool’s errand, so let’s just call out some of the more memorable details:
– the middle of the floor is made of glass, allowing Tarantino to film from underneath
– there are at least three distinct music selections accompanying the battle: one cheesy, one dramatic & tense, and one silly fun (the song “Nobody But Me” by the Human Beinz)
– Johnny Mo constantly comes in & out of the fight, being separated from the Bride by multiple factors. The longest time he’s away is when the Bride snaps a bamboo pole at him which knocks him out for a few minutes
– this fight was deliberately done using old-fashioned techniques, without the aid of modern technology. There are veritable geysers of blood
– the theatrical release of the film switched to black & white for the majority of the fight. While this is stylistically interesting, it also had a practical purpose: Tarantino had learned a while back that the MPAA is, oddly enough, much less skittish about on-screen blood when the blood is not red. Unrated home releases later restored the scene to full color.
– The Bride’s acts of mayhem include:
- ripping one gangster’s eye out
- ripping another guy’s throat out
- chopping off numerous limbs & heads
- catching one thrown axe, dodging the other to let it hit someone behind her, and returning the first into the head of the thrower
- splitting one man in half down the middle
- slashing three necks with one swing
- jumping on one man’s shoulders to get the high ground briefly, and cutting the hands off the man she was perched on when he tries to stab her from below
- doing a form of “breakdance fighting” that would shame even Derek Zoolander when she spins around on her back and feet, slashing at her attackers’ legs the whole time
Eventually the orgy of violence winds down to just the Bride and less than ten remaining Crazy 88s (what were they thinking they could accomplish that the last forty or so couldn’t?), who she lets pursue her upstairs into a smaller room. For unstated reasons, one of the restaurant owners turns off the building’s lights, leaving the fight to take place in silhouette.
It’s cool, a nice little change. As the Bride dispatches the last handful in style, the owner turns the lights back on (again, inexplicably) just before the Bride takes out the last gangster standing: a frightened boy, probably not older than 17. She’d previously sliced his mask off and let him live out of mercy, but he came right back. So this time she breaks his sword into little pieces, then bends him over and literally spanks him with the flat side of the blade, sending him off to momma in tears.
Kiddo leaves the room to find a revived Johnny Mo, who goes after her ferociously. Their fight ends up on the second floor railing, with her frantically defending herself as he deftly balances on the thin surface while spinning his whole body so he can slash at her with alternating blades. But as soon as she finds an opening she leans and cuts off one of his legs, dropping him to a small indoor pond below (already filled with blood from another guy she’d killed and left in there).
Surveying the carnage she’s caused…
… the Bride makes a small speech:
“Those of you lucky enough to still have your lives, take them with you! But leave the limbs you have lost. They belong to me now.”
Which, uh, sure. Whatever you say, ma’am.
Whew. This is a real monster on every level. The execution is nearly flawless and the tempo changes just enough to keep things from being repetitive; all in all it’s a grand buffet of grisly fun. A shame Tarantino has largely shied away from straight-up action filmmaking ever since.
Coming Attractions: Lucy, I’m home!