Saturday, January 31, 2004

KILL BILL, Vol. 01

KILL BILL vol. 1
By Reymundo Salao
Oftentimes Disturbing

Have you noticed that the past three big films that has been showing since January were included in CNN’s Best Films of the Year? The Return of the King, which was a fantasy epic that is now rumored to win a landslide on the Academy awards, the Last Samurai, a Samurai epic, which was Tom Cruise’s “finest performance”. And now, KILL BILL. A bad mother##cker with a big sharp samurai sword. One of it’s tagline is “Speak softly, and carry a big sword” Cheesy? Well, just watch the film and prove yourself wrong.

Kill bill is like a homage to 70’s grindhouse films. It is a movie that knows it is a movie. It has its own universe and does not need to conform to the standards of reality. Neither it is trying to be under the category of sci-fi or fantasy, it is clearly just a homage to old action movies.

Many of the film’s elements were actually inspired from that of the many movies and television shows that Tarantino loved. For instance, many of the actions of the samurai elements were inspirations from a 70’s ninja TV series. The hero of the series is Hattori Hanzo, the same character in Kill Bill, who gave Black Mamba the samurai sword. There was also the concept of a group of female assassins, which was inspired from 70’s chick assassin flicks, which were the earliest templates from which the concept of Charlie’s Angels was copied from. Even the name of the group “Deadly Viper Assassination Squad” had that retro-feel, that no real-life assassination organization would name their group as cheesy as that, except on 70’s action flicks. It’s like when you watch a Chuck Norris movie from the 80’s or a Lito Lapid as a legendary-hero-kind-of-movie, you know that somehow, you love it with a weird sense of audience. Take those elements and stylize those cheesy aspects, give them more art and life. It seems that this is what Tarantino did in KILL BILL.

I loved the nostalgia that saturated the film. The intro logo sequence of the Shaw Brothers Production, which was actually a production outfit which released Kung-Fu films of the 70’s, was an ideal jumpstart that led me on to grin throughout the film with sheer enthusiasm. The black & white prologue of a beat-up Uma Thurman, was astounding. The simplicity of it was more impacting than a multi-million stunt sequence prologue from a Bond film.

Although the storyline had a simple plot, the dialogues were injected with a lot of chuckle-inducing wit and panache. The stress of the film lies in the coolness of its medieval-type-honor-vengeance-mission, when warriors must settle their issues with an honorable duel. This is one cliché that has a surprising impact.

The film reeks of macho action. But at the same time, hands it over to women empowerment. Girl power with a very sharp killing edge. Like is the spaghetti westerns that were made by Sergio Leone, Uma Thurman was Tarantino’s Clint Eastwood. The bad-ass who wouldn’t stop her one-way quest for revenge. He doesn’t only blow-off her enemies, he bangs their head in the door, he bites off their bloody lips, slashes off their limbs, cuts them to pieces, decapitates their heads, and even scalps them. Bloody? Yes, deliciously bloody. This is one movie; you’d want to force your 5th grade theology teacher to watch.

The music was a major element in this film as it marinates its essence with that nostalgic oldies action. All the music here was geniusly arranged that fit all sequences to a perfect tee. My friend even said that the film transforms the ugliest songs into supercool themes. Its as if some of the songs were that of Japan’s Imelda Papins. Almost all the tunes here were music from an era long forgotten. If you have seen Tarantino’s other films, you wouldn’t be as surprised, but you would still have your attention 200% on focus as you would surely enjoy how these songs become immortalized in this film before your senses.

KILL BILL was also included as one of the best films of 2003 according to CNN (it was released November 2003). No doubt about it, it is a masterpiece. Tarantino has outdobe himself once more. Tarantino achieves, in this movie, to make an obramaestra with absurd and obscure elements, and succeeds miraculously creating a product that is magnificent and groundbreaking. We can do no more, but wait for the sequel. I will surely rant more when the sequel comes.

Friday, January 30, 2004

The Films of Quentin Tarantino

by Reymundo Salao
Oftentimes Disturbing
The Guardian, January, 2004

I feel it would be a great sin of negligence for me not to make an article/review/feature story on Quentin Tarantino and his new film "KILL BILL". There are only a few filmmakers that I love with utmost bias: David Fincher (Se7en, Panic Room), Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects & the popular X-men movies), Guy Ritchie (Snatch, Lock, Stock, & 2 Smoking Barrels), Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead Trilogy) and Kevin Smith (Clerks, Mall Rats, Chasing Amy). I would have loved to include John Woo on this list but then when he made the ultra-ugly-garbage of a movie which is Mission: Impossible 2, I lost my respect for him. Tim Burton too, but he made that awful "Planet of the Apes" remake, which to my opinion insults the reputation of the original 1960s version of the film.

Quentin Tarantino is like the numero uno among my list of "to worship" filmmakers. He may not be as deep as Stanley Kubrick (2001:A Space Odyssey, The Shining) or Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now), he may not even be as far-fetched as David Lynch (Brazil, Twin Peaks, and Lost Highway-the film I really REALLY want to watch, but I guess local film distributors are too stupid to realize that people would love to watch a bizarre and mind-bending film sometimes even if it does not star some Hollywood jackass like Tom Cruise or J-Lo). No, Tarantino may not be up to the same caliber as these filmmakers, but Tarantino has his own planet of fans that "get" his style. After all, his style has proven to be appealing to all kinds of audiences.

Tarantino's early works include writing the story of the controversial film "Natural Born Killers" which was directed by Oliver Stone. It was a violent film in its most literal form. The story follows a couple out on a murderous rampage, and in their journey, interesting and enlightening points of view spring up, not to mention, letting people see the reflection of how ugly the system exists, how hostile and violence-loving our cultures have become, and how media glorifies that insatiable lust for violence.

Then came the finest film created under the classification of low-budget: "Reservoir Dogs", written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. A gangster parable of the criminal underworld. Tarantino's style employs a sense of B-movie nostalgia. Rough cuts, 70's music, actors from obscurity (the only ones recognizable on this film are Harvey Keitel and Michael Madsen). And along with all those aspects, inject the impressive storyline, to perfect the blend that opened the doors for Tarantino. "Reservoir Dogs" was literally a reservoir dog which barked loud enough to be heard by the entire film art community. Tarantino was on his way to godhood.

Just in time to welcome the era which I would refer to as kind of a modern renaissance era (the 90s was a decade when art was in its most raw and most prolific form ever: The music was grunge/alternative, which was the most artistic form on the expression of music, and the films and filmmakers which came out were milestones: Robert Rodriguez, Luc Besson, etc), Tarantino became a king as he released "Pulp Fiction" which created waves across the film globe (not so much with us, though, apparently many of our local brothers and sisters were more thrilled with Forrest Gump and that TGIS tagalog teen TV series, which seems to be a copycat of the "Friends" formula). "Pulp Fiction" redefined the norms of film. True, it was a gangster movie, but it had the appeal that keeps you in your seats with gusto. I was in my late teens, and it was then that I realized that you don't need big special effects, stunts, and famous actors & actresses to make a spectacular movie. All you need is a good storyline and a keen sense of style that adds the beauty of the film. Back then; Samuel Jackson was just an extra (If you watched Eddie Murphy's "Coming to America", he was the robber in the restaurant), an utter nobody. In Tagalog movie equivalence, he is rapist numero tres in a bad Caparas biopic. But "Pulp Fiction" gave him a lead role, which later made Sam Jackson one of the most famous movie actors in film history (he can now laugh at Eddie Murphy who's making flop films like "Daddy Day Care" and "Pluto Nash"). The film also pulled John Travolta from obscurity. It was a time that he was struggling in the movie world for a decent film job, his last role was in "Look Who's Talking" where he was destined to become a forgotten actor. But then, Tarantino used his nostalgic 70's appeal to add to the world of "Pulp Fiction". It was even better that he had a large belly at the time; it made him a character that is more the anti-hero. But then again, in the world of Tarantino films, all people share the trait of being an anti-hero jerk. Along with Travolta in this film are Bruce Willis, Christopher Walken, Ving Rhames, and Uma Thurman, who is now the lead character in Tarantino's "Kill Bill".

"Pulp Fiction" was a big series of underworld parables jumbled into one storyline, then intentionally cut the sequence in order to divide the parables from one to the other. Many of you may ask the question why he mixed the sequence of the parables. In my opinion, he designed it in a way, that the final parable was the most meaningful one (Sam Jackson's character Jules Whitfield decides to quit the criminal underworld and decides to "walk the Earth" as a bum). Like "Reservoir Dogs", Tarantino employed the nostalgic style of the 70's look. The music was superbly edited into the most appropriate sequences. The script was also magnificently laced with devilish wit. Tarantino makes every bit of dialogue, no matter how irrelevant it may be, irreverently precious ("If you yell at me, it makes me nervous, and if I get nervous, I get scared, and when mother##ckers get scared, that's when mother##ckers get shot" while pointing his gun at Tim Roth) .

After the hype of Pulp, Tarantino went back to writing, and wrote "From Dusk till Dawn", and turned it over to his "brother" Robert Rodriguez to direct. His storyline still had that underworld edge, but this time, it was injected with an oldies horror appeal, as it is revealed that the storyline wanders into being a vampire flick. Tarantino (who moonlights as an actor) even plays a lead part on this film. It was a bizarre experience just getting to appreciate "From Dusk". It was no doubt that I loved it, but it was like discovering how delicious spaghetti and shanghai rice can get to be, when mixed. It was spectacular, but it leaves you mumbling "Outlaws and Vampires? Wow! That was some weird trip!"

When his third film "Jackie Brown" came out, he didn't get much bravado from it. Understandably, people would expect it to catch up with the quality of his last work, which was a bit near impossible to do. But "Jackie Brown" had its beauty and charm that lives up to what a Tarantino film should be. Perhaps it was because "Jackie Brown" was a bit more feminine than Pulp, and the main storyline has some love story in it (at least, its not as mushy as most love stories). It was still Tarantino, just wrapped in a subtler packaging. It never gets old, because in the first place, it's nostalgia. It celebrates what is already old, stylizing it, making it (in the most cliché of terms) "cool".

(to be continued. With the KILL BILL vol.1 review.