Tuesday, February 21, 2006

We Are Family: Ferocious Loyalty and KILL BILL's Slashed Chapter

In September of 2001, almost immediately after Harry Knowles announced on his very-orange Ain't It Cool News that he'd been hand-delivered the screenplay for Quentin Tarantino's next film, the Kill Bill script began circulating among fans. Available first by mail-order photocopy, and subsequently for free via the internet, the mammoth 222-page tome was the beautiful, rippling-muscled tiger of a film any Tarantino fan could want. Worth the wait, something to obsess over for a few years.

Do you hear what I hear?

The finished films were also worth the wait - and more. Not every lifetime is granted a movie like this. Even with a final running time so long the picture was sliced into two features, released a year apart, the script contains even more incidents, characters, and set-pieces that were removed in subsequent drafts. Most tantalizing of all for the die-hard, the 222-page draft contains two entire chapters of material not listed in the final Table of Contents.

Chapter 6 - "Can She Bake A Cherry Pie..." is a strange Reveal Scene for Bill, in which the king of all assassins busts up an illicit gambling party after its operator, L.F. Boyle, disrespects him. The scene is a lot of fun, and would've given David Carradine a lot of fine dialogue which I suspect he would've played as one long slow-burn, but even on first read one suspects it will be cut simply to maximize the impact of Bill's first meeting with The Bride.

The crown jewel of Bill's deleted pages is Chapter 5 - Yuki's Revenge.

[Curator's note!: I highly recommend you access the 222-page draft of Kill Bill and read at least "Yuki's Revenge" before proceeding!]

"Revenge is never a straight line. It's a forest. And like a forest it's easy to lose your way...to get lost... to forget where you came in..."
-Hattori Hanzo, Kill Bill

In short, "Yuki's Revenge" is a tear-ass action vignette in which The Bride is followed to Los Angeles by Go-Go Yubari's (Chiaki Kuriyama) sister Yuki, who was home sick (!) on the day of "Showdown at House of Blue Leaves." After carefully tracking The Bride with information from Bill himself, Yuki Yubari attacks immediately after The Bride finishes with Vernita Green and drives to her hotel. A massive (but mano-a-mano-scale) American action picture-style chase and gun-battle through the backyards of Hawthorne ensues, including the spectacular destruction of the Pussy Wagon, before Yuki is mowed down. Finally, The Bride is left to find a creative solution to her injuries, bleeding in the street, her body riddled with a surely fatal number of bullets.

The two biggest "sidetracks" in Kill Bill's 222-page draft are The Bride's entombment at Budd's hands, with its associated flashback chapter "The Cruel Tutelage of Pai Mei" (some critics never did comprehend that this episode is most pivotal of all!), and "Yuki's Revenge." "Yuki" is also the most expensive chapter on the page besides possibly "Blue Leaves," and certainly the easiest to remove almost entirely, without serious structure damage to the story of The Bride's rampage. All we lose in the process is some bravura narrative-twisting moments, fun pop culture references, further elaboration on themes that are still found elsewhere, and a great new character in the person of Yuki Yubari. Here, I'll be elaborating on how the holes from this script surgery were sutured, and the thematic variations found in "Yuki's Revenge"

Quentin Tarantino's films are full of narrative curlicues and crazy-straw asides that are frequently misunderstood as self indulgent at best and a clever, fun stylistic game at worst. Tarantino's juggled timelines aren't gimmicks, but routinely enrich the story. Scenes that look like unnecessary trips down side-streets are there for more than just color. Consider how careful chronology manipulation in Pulp Fiction resurrects a dead Vincent Vega to give him another shot at redemption (he still screws up). If the man's goony talk show personality casts any doubt, listen to his explanation on the True Romance DVD commentary, in which he charts the emotional and storytelling reasons for his original screenplay's fractured clock: Tarantino is a meticulous master craftsman. A good story is never a straight line.

Kou Shibasaki will penetrate YOU!
Casting rumors were that Shibasaki was to reunite
with her Battle Royale co-star Chiaki Kuriyma
as the sisters Yubari

A surprising moment even when reading "Yuki" occurs when we realize the Japanese assassin is stalking The Bride through a moment we've visited before: just as she steps out of Vernita's house. The ambush occurs at the Bride's hotel, moments later in terms of screen time. It made me recall the feeling I had during Pulp Fiction's "Bonnie Situation", the pure glee and astonishment of realizing the story had looped back on itself and we were back in the Hawthorne Diner from the opening scene. Similar to the Pulp Fiction scene, the revisited moment is completely transformed by context. When The Bride leaves Vernita's at the end of "2", the mood is relief, and grim accomplishment. When she leaves at the beginning of "Yuki's Revenge", the suspense is sharpened with knowledge that The Bride is exhausted from a grueling fight, and contemplative about her encounter with Vernita's daughter. Physically and emotionally, it's a bad time to get jumped,

In a subtle and totally unobtrusive way, Tarantino has chosen to leave the possibility or suggestion of the Yuki story in the finished cuts of both volumes of Kill Bill. Peter Jackson has made an argument that just because the Tom Bombadill sequence from the source novel doesn't appear in the narrative space of his Fellowship of the Ring film, it is not to be taken as evidence that the scene is eradicated from the fabric of the story. That sounds like a nerd-placating excuse to me, but Tarantino does him one better. The hints that point to "Yuki's Revenge" can be found at the beginning of Chapter One - "2": note the audible ice cream truck bells in Vernita's neighborhood. In the deleted pages, Yuki's final move to track The Bride is to disguise herself as an ice cream vendor. The ice cream truck itself can be spotted inching away from the Pussy Wagon, before they would have been destined to collide for the first and last time (see shocking frame grabs below!). It would have been a moment as giggly as Vincent Vega headed to the restroom in Pulp Fiction's opening, or Sigfried (David Proval) answering a non sequitur phone call about "big fucking needles" in Four Rooms: unrecognizable or unnoteworthy on first pass, delightful on the second. The way it's scripted, Yuki popping up in a Good Humor uniform is the punchline to a several page De Palma-esque split-screen sequence of the two women separately traveling across the world to one street north of Los Angeles, where one of them will die. Revenge, you see, is never a straight line.

Also remaining, but now mysterious, is Yuki's destruction of the Pussy Wagon, which now disappears halfway through the story with no explanation besides "the Pussy died." Uma Thurman indicated in a 2004 IGN FilmForce interview that in some unknown revised draft, the yellow beast was "supposed to have been blown up in the desert by Elle Driver at some stage." The truck's fate remains one of Kill Bill's strange mysteries, but greatly indicates a narrative gap best filled by Yuki Yubari's sub-machine gun.

IN SEARCH OF YUKI!: Click for image enhancement.
Breaking evidence from Exploding Kinetoscope

The character material hasn't been removed in full, either. The brief back story vignette on Go-Go, in which she drinks fervently at a cherry-blossom tinted bar and guts a leering businessman must have been too irresistible to cut. As scripted, the anecdote is Sophie Fatale's explanation of how Yuki will mourn for her sister. "She'll drink excessively. She'll start trouble. When she stops shedding tears, she'll start shedding blood." The new context for the scene enriches Go-Go's personality immeasurably, and Kuriyama's performance is full of such relish that she nearly steals all of Vol. 1. That's how strong even a 2 minute dose of "Yuki's Revenge" is.

Two running gags are lost with the chapter. Entirely cut from the film is a thread that Bill is a chemical mastermind, and invented his own truth serums (which The Bride uses on Sophie, and in the finished film, Bill uses on The Bride) and recreational drugs (one of which Yuki snorts before attacking). These inventions are named via subtitles, which is a very funny gag in the script, but would probably play out as too cartoony in the film. The joke does little more than build-up Bill's nefarious reputation and emphasize his manipulation of his employees' minds, even down to a chemical level.

Another motif, The Bride coping with increasingly severe personal injuries after each battle, has a fine set up in the transition between "Showdown at the House of Blue Leaves and "Yuki's Revenge". In a brief cutaway, Hattori Hanzo sews up the gash in his pupil's back as she recites a mantra reminding her to stay focused. One of "Yuki"'s purposes, after all, is to demonstrate some of the ways "Revenge is never a straight line": a supporting character so minor she hasn't had any screen time suddenly takes center stage and comes closer to taking out The Bride than O-Ren Ishii! The chapter is about the unforeseen but inevitable consequences of the quest.

There is not space here to delve into the implications of Kill Bill as a story of The Bride's ultimate redemption, but it is the central problem of interpreting the film. Does Kill Bill really make a case for slaughtering a hundred people to save your child as spiritual redemption?

In the dense forest of The Bride's revenge, she has to literally confront the specific personal vendettas of each of the Viper Squad, but metaphorically confront and comprehend the human traits, negative and positive, which drive her nemesies. [Sidebar food for thought: The film may have its cake and eat it too - The Bride learns not to live mired in violence and the moral problems with revenge, but indeed gets to kill everyone she's mad at and complete her vengeance. You may decide this negates a message of redemption, but I say it's the little epiphanies in life that matter.]

One of the prettiest ideas in Kill Bill is that The Bride is taking revenge on her colleagues, and thus is repeatedly confronted with mirrors of herself. Since The Bride's fellows aren't guilty of any crimes she hasn't committed, she's forced to confront that fellowship repeatedly, none so profoundly as when she lives out the film's title. But Yuki is one of the strangest of these mirrors.

We are Sisters, you and I...

Because what is Yuki's revenge itself, but a hell-bent mission to murder the assassin who took her family from her? Chronologically speaking, immediately after setting Vernita's daughter, Nikki, on a path that parallels her own, The Bride is ambushed by a physical manifestation of the same idea, in the form of Yuki Yubari. Yuki is also the most emotionally crazed of The Bride's enemies, and reminds/demonstrates what could happen should The Bride lose focus. When Yuki proves exceptionally difficult to kill, even The Bride has to give it up for her: "Goddamn, what a wildcat." In Yuki's Revenge, the forest path loops back on itself.

The Kindest Cut: Why YUKI'S REVENGE Had To Go

So if "Yuki" has all this going for it, and is so important, why is it "okay" that it's replaced in the final film by "Massacre at Two Pines" (expanding "Origin of O-Ren" pushes "Two Pines" to chapter 6, but they occupy the same spot in the narrative)? Besides being spectacularly expensive as written (Yuki chases The Bride down the street, blowing up automobiles with a machine gun), essentially Yuki provides a number of beautiful variations on themes to be found elsewhere in the script, or relocated to newly written, less extravagant scenes.

The Bride facing the truth of the unpredictable, never-ending cycle of horror produced by living a violent life, is conveyed perhaps more elegantly by her brief, quiet conversation with Nikki. Part of the reason to separate the end of "2" and the opening of "Yuki" was likely to preserve the sanctity this final moments with the child in the kitchen; eliminating "Yuki" entirely makes the statement more succinct.

Some of the most important work "Yuki's Revenge" does is relocated to the final scenes of the film, in Bill's pivotal new "Superman" speech. It's a complex speech, but besides it's first layer about denying one's own nature, even if that nature is destructive, Bill's oratory hints at dangers that will be roused by resisting your nature. We may flash on Mickey Knox telling his interviewer: "You can't get rid of your shadow, Wayne. No matter what you do, it's always there." Or as Yuki says, "You think you're safe! I say; Ha!"

Though Kill Bill has a spectacular Villains Gallery, I don't mean to imply that there's an easily drawn chart of Who's Good, Who's Bad, and Who's Wrong, Right or Misguided. The Bride's enemies and allies are all richly and sympathetically drawn, and it is important that their frailties and shortcomings are real and human. For random example, it is the ruthless ambition of O-Ren Ishii that The Bride must metaphorically learn to eliminate from herself, but O-Ren's courage, determination and unbelievable perserverance in a brutal world may be admired and learned from.

"Yuki" is again in part about how self-centered blindness leads inexorably to the involvement and damage of other people. Yuki Yubari has not personally affronted The Bride, but lost her sister, and part of the fun in the chapter is about how briefly intersecting lives can leave scars. In the grand scale, everyone loses loved ones; in the small scale, Yuki gets shot in the breast and screams "They're not fully developed yet, you fucking asshole! Now I'm always gonna have a dimple!"

The film is not so shallow to suggest death and injury are the only kinds of trouble that can be stirred. To complete her quest, The Bride rouses two men - Budd and Hattori Hanzo - both doing penance for their pasts, and demolishes their attempts at salvation, simply so she may feel vindicated. Budd (Michael Madsen) is perhaps ultimately undone by his own inability to purge his latent sadism, physical vices, and greed. But in his scenes of self-imposed exile which he allows himself to be humiliated as a strip club bouncer, and loss of self in alcoholism, we're clearly meant to sympathize with Budd. He may not be a monk, but he's racked with guilt and doing the best penance he knows. The Bride's mere proximity seems to draw his Viper venom back to the surface. When you go somewhere to find trouble, there's going to be trouble.

More heartbreaking is that The Bride twists Hanzo's arm with a sense of honor with deep roots in guilt, and convinces him to break his pacifist contract with God and Self. There is no room to show what consequence this has for Hanzo, but the timbre of Sonny Chiba's voice as he presents the sword of all swords should tell us everything.

I bring up these episodes, because had "Yuki's Revenge" been filmed, it ends with a hysterical comic variation on this serious theme:

The Bonnie Situation Redux

Several of Kill Bill's chapters end with The Bride nursing injuries; indeed, the movie takes a lot of joy in how much physical abuse the heroine is able to endure, and those rare moments when she breaks down are the more effective for it. At the end of "Yuki," she's so riddled with machine gun fire, that she must enlist the help of a reluctant and retired underworld nurse. In a delirious fan-service moment, The Bride calls Nurse Bonnie on the phone and pleads, woman-to-woman for help.

Some names have talismanic import for Tarantino, at which the rest of the world can only guess. Why, for example, characters named Marvin are always doomed to outrageous violent deaths (see Reservoir Dogs, Natural Born Killers and Pulp Fiction), I couldn't speculate. So when The Bride reveals that she's bleeding to death on "Dimmick Street" it's hard to make any note besides "Dimmick is Jimmie in Pulp Fiction's last name." So, er, there you go (there's not a Dimmick Street in Hawthorne). The nurse of Kill Bill is named Bonnie Owens, so she either kept her maiden name or wised up and got fuckin' divorced.

The scripted sequence ends with a comic mirror of Hanzo stitching up The Bride's back: Nurse Bonnie scolds The Bride and digs bullets out of the warrior's back, while the patient chugs an anesthetic bottle of Wild Turkey. Bonnie doesn't have to like it though, and resents that moment of Michael Corleone clarity: just when you think you're out, they call you from Dimmick Street.

And so ultimately the most important work of Yuki's Revenge is shifted into other moments of the film, and its sweetest grace notes dropped. Even fervent admirers must agree the sequence is exhausting and less illuminating than its replacement, "Massacre at Two Pines", which introduces a wealth of new ideas.

"Yuki's Revenge" is more than just a near-miss detour on The Bride's path to Bill. It's a reminder that she's building up bad karma as she goes. Yuki's an example of what The Bride may become if she wavers in her quest for revenge, but also if she continues her lifestyle: she'll end up another girl shot all to Hell. The most poetic injuries in Kill Bill carry with them disarming symbolic weight. It seems The Bride learns something vital about herself, with every step, as she gradually earns back her name and identity. Change happens inside, don't you know?

Maybe Bill will learn that when his heart literally breaks. The Bride will learn that deep in the ground, as she is metaphorically given a new life. As for Yuki's impossibly protracted death (and indeed, her Chapter lives on, in part!), well... you can't keep a good woman down, and you mustn't stand in the way of the ferocious, animal loyalty of family. As Bonnie admonishes the wounded Bride:

"You'll live to kill again."

Download the Kill Bill 222-page draft from The Tarantino Archives.


Anonymous said...

Really interesting. Just read the scene in the script.

I'm a bit confused: If Yuki attacks the Bride AFTER the Bride kills Vernita, does that mean the first scene with Vernita Green actually takes place AFTER the Bride kills Go-Go? Is this a script only thing or is this assumed in the finished film? Did I miss something in terms of that zig zagging chronology?


Chris Stangl said...

Hi Jordan,

I moved your comment to the relevant post;

To answer: It's true. "Chapter 1 - '2'" takes place after "Showdown at House of Blue Leaves." The chapter is called "2" because Vernita Green is #2 on The Bride's "Death List," listed right after #1: O-Ren Ishii. The cryptic title of the first chapter is explained in the final beat of the sequence, as The Bride sits in the Pussy Wagon and crosses Vernita off the list (you can see O-Ren's name already lined-through in the notebook).

Anonymous said...

Amazingly well thought out and written post. This would place fine in any issue of Video Watchdog !