Narrative analysis of Kill Bill: Vol .1
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 is directed by Quinten
Tarantino (2003). Being Tarantino’s 4th film subsequently after Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994), and Jackie Brown (1997). Kill Bill: Vol.1 was also succeeded by a sequel; Kill Bill: Vol 2 (2004),
however I intend to primarily focus on the first Kill Bill and analyse the
narrative structure and argue that the non-linear narrative style and ensured
resolution still holds entertainment value.
opening sequence opens with the quote “Revenge is a dish best served cold” it
remains black and white, close up to the blood covered Bride (Uma Thurman)
which instantly aligns us to the protagonist as we are sympathetic for her
suffering and understand her motivation of revenge as shown in Figure 1. This
becomes the driving force of the narrative as well as a constant reminder that
she won’t be
stopped until she kills Bill.
next scene titled “Chapter One” portrayed by misleading lighting suggests a
better time for the Bride, before the attempt on her life contrasting against the
black and white filter of the previous scene.
we are deceived by Tarantino who has given us a glimpse to the events after the
ending of the film, confirming that the Bride will survive after the events of
film. This is signified by
ticking Copperhead AKA Vernita
Green (Vivica A. Fox) off the list
and having previously killed Cottonmouth AKA O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu). When the
door opens and we see the home owner, the camera zooms into an extreme close up
of the Brides eyes and super-imposed with the memory of her attempted murder (Fig
2). The tight framing of her eyes would indicate the reality of the time and
space of events as being after the wedding attack, and not before.
Ultimately Kill Bill is a two-part
Revenge saga. Tarantino uses pastiches notably from Hong Kong cinema and…
however Tarantino radically transforms the core revenge narrative.
Specifically, in Kill Bill, the
protagonist ability to win against all odds is reversed the pattern where the
revenger dies as a consequence of her vendetta. The Febula exists separate to
the Syuzhet across the two films as the use of flashbacks influence our understanding
of events and makes us as the audience reflect on events and characters.
Kill Bill also remains abstract and
distorted to Tzvetan Todorov’s 3 act structure. The equilibrium at the
beginning of the plot could be considered to be the wedding rehearsal which
isn’t shown until the second film. A flashback to an equilibrium where the
Bride is ready to be united with her husband and be happy. However as seen in
the very first shot, the disequilibrium of her becoming a murder victim and her
transformation into a victorious revenger which is also not a result in the end
of the first film but the second.
Tarantino also offers a Modular narrative (Cameron, 2008). The episodic
narrative of Kill Bill as the film is
divided into chapters (example shown in Fig 3) reminiscent to the chapters in a
book which separates events and assists in pacing the story, this would suggest
that Tarantino wants to palpitate the idea that he is trying to tell a story.
use of split screen in Kill Bill is a
stylistic choice by Tarantino that also makes his work unique. The scene where the Bride is in hospital as
shown in Figure 4 as an assassin later known as Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah)
attempts to poison her using lethal injection. The juxtaposition between the
two shots side by side offers a non-verbalised insight into who is the intended
victim and who is the killer is. This is suggested by the ominous whistling by
Elle Driver which originated from Twisted
Nerve (1968) which along with her infiltrating nurse costume.
According to Cameron in his 2008 book on Modular narratives; I’d agree
when he suggests that films such as Kill
Bill that use modular narratives “aggressively foreground the relationship
between time and narrative making temporal codes” and this is important to an audience’s
Using Film theorist Gerard Genette (1980) as another way of analysing
Kill Bill, there are 3 ways of analysing narrative in film. The first being the
fibula, the story can be summarised in being fantasy revenge where the Bride
has been murdered by her former lover and boss Bill. Yet she survives and goes
on a revenging rampage to kill the Deadly
Viper Assassination Squad including Bill. Comparing this to the narrative
discourse or the plot. The order of events isn’t chronological and interlace
together with the second film for the full narrative. The frequency of these
flashbacks is only present when the Bride chooses to recollect a memory or tell
the audience a story. That links into the idea that the Bride is telling the
story as a narrator, having a strong influence on the story itself and even
having the ability to bleep her name out when speaking to Vivian Greens
The “Hand of the Narrator” used by Film theorist Tom Gunning (2004)
could also be used to look for the “marks of enunciation”. There are 3 main
marks. The first being pro filmic. Meaning anything in front of the camera. I
would argue that the hiding the identity of Bill until the second film adds to
his threat to our protagonist and projects the idea that he is unreachable. The
shooting of Kill Bill suggests that
the bride is portrayed as a victim of her own murder, Tarantino lights the
bride flatteringly and can be seen to show his fondness for the actor which was
no secret. The editing such as using the split screen and the super- imposition
of the Bride’s murderers further suggests that the bride is in a Hong Kong
action movie where this kind of editing is conventional.
Bill stars Uma Thurman as “The Bride” in revenge for her old Boss former
lover Bill (David Carradine) who attempted to assassinate her. Uma Thurman’s
character completely undermines all the stereotypes of women. To summarise
article called “women and news” it said that Some of the violence committed
against the women characters has an unnervingly voyeuristic feel to it. it
further suggests it may be a depiction of his own sexual fantasies. Further
arguing that Tarantino is sexist, the LA Times suggests that, “women in Tarantino films are shown wearing
sexually revealing clothing, and further that Tarantino would be anti-feminist.
However, I would argue for
Tarantino being a feminist film maker. It has been reported that Tarantino
halted production on Kill Bill
because Uma Thurman was recovering from a pregnancy. He also came up with the
idea for Kill Bill whilst working
with Thurman on Pulp Fiction and was insistent
that he filmed with only Thurman as the lead. Quinten was raised by his mother
alone, which could be a link to the way he views women. In the world of Kill Bill, it is
clearly not like our own, it portrays women as being the dominant sex, being
the ones who do all the killing and ultimately defeating the oppressive,
overshadowing male figure. Further suggesting that Tarantino is a feminist film
maker would be in an interview he embraces the title the online community has
given him and particularly makes the example of the Brides hero journey and her
conflict with so called “warrior women” and “true bitter warriors” and suggests
he drew inspiration from Hong Kong cinema and Japanese movies which have
“pop-culture heroes” who are similarly on vengeance journeys. Tarantino also
accompanies his influence on cinema as suggesting after Kill Bill there was a
“plethora” of female centralised films.
Kill Bill reproduces the “orientalist” images of Japanese people
yet set some new sets of stereotypes. The men are seen as fantastical, sadistic
killers, and masters of samurai wisdom as seen by the “Crazy 88”. While the
women have a mysterious exotic allure as shown by O-Ren Ishii and her bodyguard
Gogo Yubari (Chiaki Kuriyama). However, the dislodgement of the Japanese “Orientalist”
images is shown through the hierarchy of the Japanese
mafia which is led by O-Ren a woman. This
is reflectively challenged by one of the mafia
leaders named Boss Tanaka (Jun Kunimura) who rejects her leadership for being a
Japanese-Chinese-American woman. Which is swiftly followed by his decapitation
as shown in figure 5.
Propp’s (1928, 1968) character functions are apparent in Kill Bill and the
narrative functions… the hero archetype is clearly the Bride, even though she
is on a rampage of revenge, we are sympathetic to her suffering and loss and it
is the equilibrium of the second film where she is reunited with her daughter.
The clear choice for the donor should be Hanzo who provides the Bride with the
only sword he has made since his retirement 26 years ago and is said to be the
greatest sword in the world. He could also be considered to be the helper which
in the fibula of the narrative could be tied with Pai Mai (Chia-Hui Liu) of the
second film. The villains would be the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad and the
main villain would be Bill. The princess of the narrative could be considered
the daughter of the Bride yet the Bride isn’t aware she is alive until the
Flashbacks play an
important part in Tarantino’s work. Filming in an anachronic order adds weight
to each scene. The most memorable flashback narrated by the Bride herself is
the origin of O-Ren Ishii. The style of Japanese anime as shown in figure 6 is
used to represent Japan and its unique culture. The animation was produced in
collaboration with “Production I. G” who had previously worked on Ghost in the shell (1995) and Blood: The Last Vampire (2000).
Tarantino expressed interest to work with them and met the production team in
person to profess his idea. Tarantino even acted out the choreography of the
animation. The production took over a year just for the animated sequence and
had a sizable impact on the films budget. The inspiration for the animated
scene came from the Tamil language film “Aalavandhan”
(2001) where the hand drawn, expressive style resonated with
Tarantino and shows the level of detail he wanted to express
within these flashback scenes. The overall impact of a scene such as this adds
to the sympathy we feel not just for the hero, but also the villain. The
narration by the Bride and the parallelism O-Ren has to the Bride being
hell-bent on revenge really impacts the overall climactic confrontation between
the two in the final battle in the snowy Japanese garden, as shown in figure 7
as they have both suffered and are both fighting for a new equilibrium.
To conclude, the narrative structure of Kill Bill remains iconic in its structure being able to create a
gripping and strongly aligned narrative following the Bride even if the outcome
is revealed early on in the films fibula.
However, the events before therefore become more centralised and more gripping
to an audience as we become more aware of the characters motivations,
struggles, conflicts, and destiny. The representation of characters within the
film contradict the images presented to us previously specifically women and
helps to influence cinema and culture. Kill
Bill offers incredible storytelling and action sequences that remain
consistent throughout its duration. Kill
Bill therefore manages to offer great entertainment value with its
exceptional story telling style, narrative structure, and cinematic effects.
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