Kill Bill (fight 4 of 4)

Hellooooooo nurse.

Her nerves are twisted.

4) The Bride vs Elle Driver

The Fighters:

  • The Bride, blah blah. She’s just been through some pretty nasty stuff, but, as always, is ready to throw down. Played by Uma Thurman, who possibly does her best work here. Well, second-best, after the reunion at the end.
    • Armed with: Nothing, actually. She doesn’t even have shoes. But she finds some handy implements soon enough.
  • Elle Driver aka California Mountain Snake, a one-eyed former member of the DiVAS. She & Beatrix clearly never got along, partially because they were rivals for Bill’s affection. In the script there’s some business where they realize that they’re a lot alike and they never had to hate each other, so they find some peaceful respect before their duel (which is more traditional); in the film, although she talks a little about the professional “respect” she has for the Bride, her actions & attitude imply that talk is all it was. This Elle is 100% Bitch. Played by Daryl Hannah, who savors every last hammy line like it’s a bite of Christmas dinner.
    • Armed with: The Bride’s Hattori Hanzo sword, “purchased” from Budd. But she never really gets to use it.

elle_driver03

[The pair’s names also make for a fun bit of synchronicity: “Elle” and “Bea” (short for Beatrix) are homophones for the simple letters “L” and “B.” Before the end of the fight the two address each other as such, indicating a clear familiarity. A nice touch.]

The Setup: After settling Vernita’s hash, the Bride set her sights on Budd, the only male member of the DiVAS and Bill’s brother. Despising himself for the murderous life he’d led, Budd was living a self-imposed punishment of poverty and alcoholism out in a trailer in the middle of nowhere. But he scraped together enough self-preservation to ambush the Bride, finally leaving her trapped in a coffin, buried alive.

Assuming she’d suffocate, Budd offered to sell her Hanzo sword to Elle for a million dollars. Elle took him up on it (after demanding that Budd make her “suffer to her last breath”) but, disgusted by how a great warrior like Beatrix was taken out by a scrub like Budd, she loaded the money bag with a real live Black Mamba snake, killing him painfully.

But unbeknownst to either of them, the Bride had, thanks to the cruel tutelage of her kung fu master Pai Mei, the ability to deliver effective punches three inches from her target. After an awesome flashback to said tutelage, the Bride smashed her way free of the coffin and out of the cold dirt, then headed straight back to her target. She arrives just as Elle opens the door, and greets her with a flying double kick.

Opening doors is very hazardous in the world of Kill Bill, kind of like Vince Vega going to the bathroom in Pulp Fiction.

The Fight: In a word: oof.

Yo ho.

If the fight with Vernita was mean, this one is brutal. Same principle– two powerful women face off fiercely in a domestic environment– but everything’s turned up to 11. Louder, crazier, nastier, harder. Never is it more apparent that these two hate, hate, HATE each other– maybe almost as much as Roger Ebert hated North, if such a thing were possible. Every blow and strike is sold with wincingly painful realism.

And despite being short it’s packed with variety. For most of the time, Elle is armed with the Bride’s katana, but due to either her opponent’s interference or the tight confines of the trailer, she’s never able to fully draw it and thus gain significant advantage. It happens enough times to be a running joke. Until the very end, the most it gets used is when it’s partially drawn and they take turns trying to push it into each other’s necks.

B uses a TV antenna as weapon and later hits L in the head with a lampshade. L stomps on B’s bare foot with high heel. B throws can of Budd’s tobacco spit (I believe) into L’s face, which makes her say “gross” in a way that makes her sound more like an annoyed teenager than a pissed off assassin. At one point they kick each other down at the same time and there is a split-screen camera showing them simultaneously recover.

The fight finally becomes fully hand-to-hand when the Bride disarms Elle with a foot stool. Driver runs up and tries a flying kick (she’s airborne for an absurdly long time) but the Bride sidesteps it, seizes her leg, and throws her through a wall into the bathroom. The bride then grabs her rival’s head and plunges it into Budd’s filthy toilet. Now THAT’S gross.

There’s gotta be a “Splash” joke in here somewhere….

Creatively, Elle hits the flusher in order to catch a few breathes, and escapes the Bride’s grip by elbowing her in the crotch. A few follow-up blows stun Beatrix long enough for Elle to run back to the living room and grab the dropped katana. Fortunately the Bride, glancing into a closet, sees Budd’s own Hanzo sword (an old gift from Bill that he’d lied about pawning). She grabs it and rises to meet Elle on the opposite end of the trailer’s hallway.

Although the soundtrack has been silent until now, as they stand off and talk an odd, tribal music kicks in. It’s got ominous drums, horn riffs and ritualistic chanting (it’s an old Ennio Morricone tune)– completely over the top, fittingly.

The Bride asks Elle (“just between us girls” she says with faux-sweetness) what it was she said to Pai Mei that caused him to rip her eye out. Elle says it was that she called him a “miserable old fool,” and we see a brief flashback to the incident. But just as the audience processes the information that Elle trained under the same ancient kung fu master as the Bride (and was an inferior student), we’re hit with another whammy: Elle reveals that she murdered Pai Mei in retaliation, by poisoning his food. The Bride is visibly incensed– and so is the audience, because it wasn’t that long ago we saw the full-length flashback chapter showing Beatrix’s bond with the irascible old man. Then, they exchange what may well be the greatest dialogue in the history of motion pictures:

ELLE: “That’s right: I killed your master. And now I’m gonna kill you too… with your own sword, no less. Which, in the very immediate future, will become MY sword.”

BRIDE: “Bitch, you don’t have a future.”

Did I say in the history of motion pictures? Sorry, I meant in the history of THE SPOKEN WORD.

Levelling swords, they face off for what feels like an eternity (it’s a solid 30 seconds, I counted), as the music builds and builds and builds. You’d swear this isn’t a stand-off between two human women but between two tyrannosaurs. When the tension reaches a boiling point they charge in and lock blades, each pushing furiously at the other. After several alternating close-ups of both women’s faces, the Bride does something unexpected: she rips Elle’s other eye out.

Elle, now completely blind, goes bat guano crazy. She kicks and screams and cusses and falls to the ground, lashing out at everything in (her lack of) sight. The Bride watches, aloof & disgusted. She calmly drops Elle’s eyeball onto the carpet and, in a gruesome closeup, squishes it beneath her bare feet. No, THAT’S gross.

The Bride collects her sword and leaves Elle writhing in pain and fury. It’s an open question of whether or not she lives (a literal question mark, in the case of the end credits), but the camera is careful to show us the Black Mamba snake still lurking in the trailer. The miserable old fool sends his regards.

So much greatness here. While I miss the added dimension the script gave to Elle, there’s actually more than enough melancholy & regret in this story to go around, so it was a wise decision to make the character into a pure villain and have the audience straightforwardly cheering for her defeat. A few of the moves in the fight border on the silly (Elle’s extended jump kick springs to mind) but for the most part the choreography is very grounded and painful. The animosity at play here is truly palpable and the violence is uncompromising. Kill Bill volume 2 is notoriously scrimpy on action, but this scene is almost enough to make up for that bang/buck ratio.

[Note: I won’t be including the final showdown with Bill, as it’s simply far too short to properly grade, awesome or no. As stated earlier, the entire climactic sequence with Bill and B.B. works on an entirely different, and unexpected, level. Similarly you’ll notice I didn’t cover the training “fight” against Pai Mei from his flashback chapter; it’s also fairly short, not to mention one-sided and deliberately cheesy. So long, Kill Bill.]

Grade: A

Recommended Links: I can’t stop watching it.

I kept referring to that script this whole series like it was some kind of hard-to-find relic. Turns out it’s all online. Read it and ponder what might have been.

Coming Attractions: Mine nostrils do perceive the good sir Johnson’s prepared cuisine.

Verily, a jabroni you be.

Kill Bill (fight 1 of 4)

“Revenge is a dish best served cold.”

– old Klingon proverb

Kill Bill is an odd movie (or pair of movies), even by Quentin Tarantino standards. Made after a six-year absence, which itself followed quite a hot streak, it’s arguably the beginning point of the auteur’s (still ongoing) decadent & self-indulgent phase. Though that’s quite fitting, considering the whole point of the thing was for Tarantino to dive head-first into the sort of throwback genre filmmaking he had only paid glancing tributes to in the past. It’s a B-movie plot & premise made with A-level talent, and the resulting mix vacillates between brilliance & irritation– your mileage may vary.

Adding to the movies’ schizophrenia is the late-in-the-game decision to split it the story in half, making two films out of what was intended to be one. The idea, “suggested” by the studio, was almost certainly financial, but QT tried to cover for it by claiming that one three-hour action movie is boring, whereas two 90-minute movies is more appropriate and “ambitious.” Of course, both movies well exceed their 90-minute run time, with 111 minutes for Volume 1 and 136 minutes for #2. The first feels abrupt and action-packed while the second is far more talky and laconic– a clear sign of its obviously longer production/post-production time, with many pointless scenes inserted apparently just so Tarantino could give minutes-long monologues to some of his favorite character actors.

(This also resulted in silly decisions like coyly keeping the titular Bill’s face off-camera for the whole of the first film. I mean, really– are we supposed to not know what David Carradine looks like?)

Still, when the film works, it really works, especially during those action scenes. Much praise is due to Tarantino who, despite his reputation for violence, had never really done any sort of “action” film before, but a lot is also thanks to star Uma Thurman as well. Not all of her performance works perfectly in the movie, but she most certainly puts her game face on when it comes fightin’ time. This girl can beat some ass.

[Administrative note: I’m treating this movie as one big movie, which theoretically it ought to be– a shame Tarantino’s “The Whole Bloody Affair” edit never got a wide American release, I’d buy that on Bluray in a heartbeat. Also the movie does take place out of chronological order, so if any of you wants to get cute by arguing which fight really does come “first,” know that I am, as always, writing up the fights in the order the audience seems them happen in.]

[Second administrative note: After hearing rave reviews about the movie’s epic script online, I purchased (for an amount of money I’m too ashamed to disclose) a copy of the script via eBay, about a year before Volume 1 came out. It is largely the same as the finished story, with a few significant changes and one entire (cool, but superfluous) chapter removed. I will comment on the differences when appropriate.]

1) The Bride vs Vernita Green

The Fighters:

  • The Bride, aka (spoiler) Beatrix Kiddo aka Black Mamba. A veteran assassin and deadly warrior out for revenge against the former colleagues who betrayed her. Her real name is amusingly bleeped out (like a curse word on TV) every time it’s mentioned until very late in the second movie; this is done apparently so that she is mostly only thought of as the archetypical “Bride” figure (it’s even how she’s named in the script), as well as set up the punchline to a joke that every time Bill addressed her as “kiddo” in flashbacks, it wasn’t merely an affectionate nickname. Played by Uma Thurman, who originally developed the character with Tarantino.
    • Armed with: she brings a hunting knife with her, but doesn’t draw it until Vernita produces her own blade.
  • Vernita Green aka Jeannie Bell aka Copperhead. A member of the Bride’s former team, who has since left the crime business for domestic bliss under the “Bell” alias. A husband (not seen) and young child have not made her any less lethal. Played by Vivica A. Fox.
    • Armed with: nothing to start but, as mentioned, later produces a knife, as well as some other handy implements.

The Setup: For an undisclosed number of years, the Bride and Vernita were, along with several other (mostly female) killers, members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (DiVAS, get it? It’s a “real” version of the “Fox Force Five” TV show Thurman’s character from Pulp Fiction had starred in the pilot for), led by the titular Bill. The group’s snake theme led to each having the code name of a killer serpent, hence “Black Mamba” and “Copperhead.” (Vernita later grouses that SHE should have been Black Mamba, presumably because she was the only black member of the team, but maybe Bill thought that would be too on-the-nose.)

For reasons that are gradually revealed (long story short: Beatrix, Bill’s lover, discovered she was pregnant, and went into hiding to keep her child safe from Bill’s criminal life. Under a fake name she got engaged to a shlubby but nice & ordinary man… and Bill, upon tracking her down, assumed that she had betrayed him), Bill brought the entirety of the DiVAS to bear his wrath on the Bride’s wedding rehearsal day, killing her fiancee & new friends. Bill himself put a bullet in her head, leaving her for dead in her own wedding dress. She miraculously survived and awakens from a four-year coma to find her baby gone — she assumes dead, but the baby had actually been delivered safely and taken by Bill. After recovering and arming herself suitably, she embarks on a “rip-roaring rampage of revenge” to take down the folks who wronged her, one by one.

First we see her target Vernita Green, living in an idyllic suburb. At home alone, she answers the doorbell and, from her dialogue, she seems to think it’s a friend of hers come to visit. It isn’t.

The Fight: Vernita opens the door and after a quick glare in which we hear the Bride’s “revenge theme” playing on the soundtrack (the film’s audio cue signal that the Bride has set eyes on her latest target of revenge. It’s an obnoxious but weirdly funny musical bit with a blaring siren featured prominently. Taken from the TV show Ironside), followed by a punch to the face.

From there it just goes nuts. Vernita may be retired and she may not be driven by revenge like the Bride, but she does have a family to live for, so she fights back ferociously. She’s not shy about using her own home as a weapon, however, and the domestic tranquility transforms quite rapidly into a war zone.

The two throw each other through glass and into walls. The Bride kicks Vernita in the crotch (!) and drops her through her own coffee table. Vernita grabs one of those broken table legs and uses it to bash Kiddo in the calf. The Bride nearly chokes out Vernita, until the latter stops her by grabbing a fireplace poker and whacking her in the head with it.

Soon enough the fight goes into the kitchen, where Vernita ran to get a knife. The Bride barely dodges her initial lunges and deflects more by seizing a frying pan. After some creative use of the kitchen table, the Bride matches her by whipping out her own blade.

“This is even worse than the time I let those Mormons in”

With both combatants solidly armed, the two slowly move back to the living room in a tense stand-off, tentatively searching for an opening in the knowledge that one wrong move will bring death. The stalemate drags on as the audience sees, through the bay window the two ladies are on either side of, the approach of a school bus, which lets off a little girl who trots obliviously towards the house. As the reality of this sinks in, Vernita pleads silently not to continue this in front of her daughter. The Bride acquiesces, and both hide their blades just as “Jeannie’s” daughter Nikki comes through the front door.

The choreography has a definite martial arts feel to it, but not in any extravagant way. It’s quick, mean, even desperate. Tarantino makes a few aesthetic concessions, such as overt “whoosh” sound effects whenever either lady gets flipped through the air, but there’s an overall sense of this fight’s realness– it feels like it could really happen. Especially considering how the two combatants look after not too long: bruised, battered, bloody, sweaty and tired. It’s in this state that Nikki finds them.

Nope, nothing suspicious at all.

Vernita bluffs the girl’s initial hesitation away (“This is an old friend of mine I haven’t seen in a while,” she says with forced sweetness. It’s technically true), and makes her leave. Tension deflated, the two head for coffee in the kitchen.

After some discussion they agree to finish their duel elsewhere, later that night. In the original script there’s some discussion over how the Bride deliberately chose to make this a fight rather than a hit; she could have easily taken out Vernita at a distance with a sniper rifle or a bomb, but she had enough respect for her old comrade to give her a fighting chance. It’s not brought up here.

And in any case, Vernita shows no similar restraint in return. Hiding a gun inside a children’s cereal box (called “Kabooms,” of course), she takes a shot at the Bride that misses, which the heroine responds to by throwing her knife straight into Vernita’s heart. She slumps to the floor and dies within seconds.

The real kicker comes in the denouement: as Beatrix pulls the knife from her opponent’s chest, she turns to find  four-year-old Nikki standing behind her, looking right at her mother’s corpse and too shocked to speak. The Bride, cold as ice, tells Nikki that although she didn’t want Nikki to see this, her mother nonetheless “had it comin'” and if Nikki grows up and wants payback, she can look Beatrix up. Harsh.

(There’s also another, smaller kick after that: when the Bride goes back to her car, she crosses Vernita’s name off her kill list… and we see that it’s the second name getting crossed off. The plot, she thickens.)

As we’ve discussed here numerous times, the main job of the opening fight scene is to set the tone, or, as is the case here, the baseline. As mentioned earlier it’s an interesting mix of the fantastic and the grittily realistic, just as the movie itself largely is. But things will certainly get more ridiculous from here on out, and it was wise of Tarantino to start out with what’s arguably the most grounded encounter.

The fight pulls no punches. And neither, as we learn at the end, does the Bride: her cold-blooded behavior proves that her single-minded quest for revenge will have human consequences, and neither is she a very healthy person. This isn’t about right and wrong so much as it is about unfinished business.

As a side note, Tarantino has said repeatedly that he plans to make a third movie many years from now about Nikki’s own quest for revenge against the Bride. But then, Tarantino says a lot of things.

Grade: B+

Coming Attractions: An unfair fight.

Totally unfair. They don’t stand a chance.