The Stamp of Feminism in Kill Bill 1 & 2

(spoilers ahead)

Tarantino tells the fun and crazy story of The Bride seeking revenge on ‘Bill’, who sent her into a coma with a bitter headshot on her wedding night. Talk about a wedding gone wrong. Despite this violent exposition, Tarantino still manages to beautifully break gender stereotypes with his acclaimed representation of women, particularly through protagonist Beatrix Kiddo, aka the Bride, and antagonists O-Ren Ishii and Vernita Green. This energetic film lends women the right amount of dominance and vulnerability in an industry where sexism still lurks in a plethora of Hollywood movies. Thank you, Quentin.

First off, Tarantino opens his film by introducing us to a disturbing scenario in which a bloody, dying Beatrix is pleading for her life and that of her child – Bill’s child. Mercilessly, he shoots her in the head and the screen abruptly fades to black. This opening is bold, pivotal, effective, yet so simple. It instantly underlines the authoritative and ominous presence of the male character “Bill”, whose silence epitomizes masculine, stereotypical features of brutality and impassiveness. Surprise.

However, the first time we witness Bill on-screen, played by the late David Carradine, is in a conversation with Beatrix at a porch chapel at the start of Volume II. Interestingly, this scene doesn’t portray Carradine as a relentless antagonist, but depicts a man who once deeply loved, and was deeply hurt. The black and white hue drowns the scene in both regret and a foreboding presence, as it is revealed how Beatrix left Bill for a used record store owner filled with the desire to lead a normal life. Nonetheless, Bill’s misery doesn’t justify his violent, repulsive actions towards her — let’s not forget that he subsequently sent the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad to mutilate her and turn her wedding into a blood bath. Bill made her pay a high, excruciating price for her desire to live a normal life. That’s exactly what makes Tarantino’s narrative more than just a plain act of revenge. Once you place Volume I and II next to each other, a storyboard unfolds which highlights the enviable physical capabilities and the emotional resilience of a single woman: a master feminist filmmaker at his finest.

Tarantino further underlines the personification of power through Lucy Liu’s O-Ren Ishii in the first volume. She portrays an elegant, fierce boss of the Yakuza who has since thrived from her revengeful and traumatic childhood, sporting both a red latex suit to a white kimono with everlasting finesse. Talk about character development. However, the true moment that calls for an applause is when we see the Yakuza council, who mainly consist of men, pathetically gasp and scream in fear as Ishii swiftly beheads one of the council members after labelling her a ‘bitch’ and criticizing her leadership due to her half-Japanese and half-Chinese-American heritage. Although the use of violence in this scene may reiterate to what extent women have to go to exert control and dominance upon others – especially upon men – the fact that she executes this objection with a sheer sense of grace and respect in an intimidating speech directed towards the remaining council members creates impressive power. Her refusal to speak Japanese only amplifies her authority within the scene. Captivated by her radiating superiority, Ishii’s character easily evokes feelings of awe that transcend into excitement; a rare, feminist moment of a film released sixteen years ago.

Another element that our beloved director mixed into his 106 minute long plea for respecting women’s rights and values is the idea of motherhood, a theme that drives much of our main character’s decisions and ambitions, including Vernita Green’s. While both Beatrix and Vernita are deadly assassins with blood on their hands, the single trait that intertwines these characters is the notion of being a mother. Their iron-fisted masks drop as soon as a child, even the mere thought of a child, is illustrated in front of them. They’re not just assassins, nor just mothers. They are women – real women – where a child becomes the focal point of their complex universe. Mr. Tarantino hereby emphasizes that being a mother doesn’t negate a women’s ability, nor their capacity or their determination. Motherhood isn’t a pasted label identifying their weakness. Rather, it is their greatest strength, anchoring their emotions and making them supreme beings who, unfortunately, do not get the recognition they deserve, or whose sacrifices are simply taken for granted.

Speaking of, once the Bride finally gets her long awaited revenge as Volume II concludes, this scene wasn’t illustrated in a blood-spattered, loud or exaggerated way (except maybe for the five-point-palm-exploding-heart technique), but it was simply the end of a narrative road; reminiscent of a heartfelt goodbye rather than the satisfaction of revenge. Although Kiddo’s beautiful, overpowering moment is juxtaposed when Bill, amidst giving his final compliments, calls her a ‘cunt’, Tarantino manages to make this term, as weird as it sounds, a loving and emotional goodbye. It becomes a moment of two people who finally accept their flaws and their mistakes. Giving in to her emotions, Beatrix laughs it off before her journey comes to a peaceful, gratifying end.

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