Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Lady Snowblood and Beatrix Kiddo (of Kill Bill)

Quentin Tarantino patterned Beatrix Kiddo (played by Uma Thurman) after the Japanese Comic-book (manga) heroine, Lady Snowblood. Lady Snowblood’s quest, as an assassin, is similar to that of Beatrix Kiddo’s in Kill Bill. Lady Snowblood is out to get those who killed her family. Beatrix Kiddo is out to get those who killed her prospective family.

Lady Snowblood is a tragic figure whereas Beatrix Kiddo never is. Lady Snowblood’s enemies are mean and nasty. The same is true of Kiddo’s enemies, but the latter are also funny. Daryl Hannah as Elle Drive, the California Mountain Snake; Lucy Liu as O-Ren Ishii, Cottonmouth; Michael Madsen as Budd, the Sidewinder, as well as a host of other amusing characters are defeated by Beatrix Kiddo, the Black Mamba on her way to kill Bill.

Both Lady Snowblood and Beatrix Kiddo, with superhuman energy, kill countless attackers. Lady Snowblood is slightly more human in that she becomes attached to people. Bill prevents Beatrix from becoming attached to anyone until she finally kills him; then she has an attachment – with B.B., the daughter she didn’t know she had.

Tarantino’s two films are fun to watch. We are used to his switching back and forth in time from having gotten used to Pulp Fiction. And perhaps he does it better in Kill Bill. In Pulp Fiction, we end up back at the beginning seeing the irony of it, but in Kill Bill we go beyond the beginning. True, we return to the massacre of the “bride” (Beatrix) and her entourage, learning more and more each time we go back, but eventually we get past that. She kills other members of Bill’s assassin squad, individuals who seem comic-book super-heroes in their own right, until there is only Bill left, and then she learns that her daughter B.B. is alive. Bill (played by David Carradine) inspires sympathy at the end. He has cared for their daughter and told her only good things about her mother, Beatrix, as though he knows she will defeat him in the end and doesn’t want to spoil B.B.’s future relationship with her, but that is not enough to save him – and by this time he doesn’t want to be saved unless he can defeat Beatrix, fair and square according to his assassin’s code.

And Beatrix, though seemingly sensitive to the good things Bill has done while she was in a coma, is past being able to forgive him. And even if Tarantino wanted an alternate ending where Bill survives, he could hardly do that given the title he established in the first film. Beatrix goes ahead and Kill’s Bill – right after Bill describes her as a comic-book superhero like superman.


Why are we interested in female super-heroines in these modern times? Is this interest a product of the 19th Amendment (1920) which gave women the right to vote, and the automobile; which allowed women to go any place they liked by themselves in relative safety? The Wonder Woman character first appeared in All Star Comics in December 1941, a time when American women were rolling up their sleeves to help the American war effort. Since then, the female superheroes have proliferated – with very little interest in making them realistic.

And if there is an attempt at realism, as in the French Nikita (played by Anne Parillaud), or the America remake with Bridget Fonda, we discover we aren’t as interested in the them as we are in the comic-book superhero played by Peta Wilson in the TV series. Anne and Bridget are sort of whiny and though they seem on the way to superhero status, they give it up in order to be normal, which they have had little experience in being. Peta, on the other hand, settles into it. She masters it, and becomes better than everyone else – to the point that in the last episode she is the one in charge. Well, that was a disappointment: giving up her superhero status to be the boss.

The favorite denouement involves giving up life as an assassin or superhero to become normal – as though this is the directors’ reward to these characters for not being completely evil – at least in the West. Lady Snowblood in Japan never becomes completely normal, but Beatrix Kiddo, and at least the first two Nikitas do. So does Charly Baltimore in The Long Kiss Goodnight. Charly (played by Geena Davis) is shot in the head and loses her memory, believing she really is her cover identity, the school-teacher, Samantha Caine. By the end of the movie, after she has defeated all her enemies with Charly’s super-hero abilities, she chooses to become the “normal” Samantha – giving up the exciting life of a CIA assassin for the mundane normal life of a small-town school teacher with a boring husband, a child a house, etc. which is the American dream.

Perhaps this is the final explanation: she can do it. She can be a super-hero. She can fight as well as anyone, but after she has proved herself, she deserves her reward; which is to settle down to a quiet existence as wife and mother. The men who write these stories can’t think of anything better to reward them with. Back in Japan they fancy the noble death, but here in America we fancy the American dream. Don’t try and talk us out of it – it is what we want for the women we admire.

No comments: