With over $60,000 spent on swords and other knives, and a synopsis that pitted a deadly assassin against her former employer and his most dangerous assets, the inevitability of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill being a gore-tastic romp was surely on the radar of the MPAA. However, with all of the bloodshed Tarantino was ready to unleash with his epic kung-fu movie, he had to make some allowances to get the picture shown at all.
Released in 2003, the first instalment of Kill Bill saw Tarantino really enact his creative vision as he not only paid homage to the movies which had littered his adolescence but provided a set of new cinematic values to operate with. Kill Bill opened the door in so many ways, least of all because of the powerful female characters at the heart of the screenplay.
Uma Thurman stars as The Bride, who, in her quest to gain the ultimate revenge on the titular Bill, must take out all of his trained assassins, the majority of which are female. The tale unfolds as The Bride continues to take down each member of the Deadly Force 5, with each member of the party given their own special volume for Thurman to kick their ass in. Perhaps the most thrilling of these is when The Bride meets O-Ren Ishii.
Played by Lucy Liu, O-Ren left the clutches of Bill to pursue her own dreams of running Japan’s famous Yakuza mob. Managing to achieve her status despite her Chinese and American upbringing (something she negates with a whip of her sword), O-Ren is protected by her marauding gang of katana-wielding miscreants known as the Crazy 88. For The Bride to take out O-Ren, she first needed to destroy the Crazy 88 and, thus, begins one of the bloodiest sequences in Tarantino history.
The Bride is equipped for battle, sporting an iconic yellow jumpsuit and her Hattori Hanzo sword and facing off against a hoard of Yakuza, ready to cut her in half. Of course, the fight goes as expected, and The Bride paints The House of the Blue Leaves in a noted shade of crimson before finally catching up with O-Ren. However, if you watched this anywhere but Japan, you wouldn’t have seen the human claret you’d expect but rather a sort of murky grey as Tarantino switched to black and white for the scene.
It was a ballsy move. Not only had the entire film been rich in colour before that moment but, to deny the audience that satisfying scene in all its glory was a big risk. Of course, with all his guile, Tarantino pulled it off, even if it did derive from the requirement of the MPPA. He pulled it off because it fitted so nicely within the film’s rhetoric.
Positioned as a tribute to the kung-fu movies Tarantino binge don as a kid, when met with the issue of too much blood in the Crazy 88 scene, Tarantino once again looked to his influences for guidance. In the seventies and eighties, US television would switch to black and white to tone down the gore and allow the movie to be played out without censorship. Considering Tarantino once said: “Violence is one of the most fun things to watch,” it seems strange he would allow even such small concessions to be made.
It would appear that the director was happy to let this slide because of the direct correlation it had to those original kung-fu movies and his source of inspiration. For anyone worried about the violence of Kill Bill, Tarantino had some reassuring words: “Sure, Kill Bill‘s a violent movie. But it’s a Tarantino movie. You don’t go to see Metallica and ask the f*s to turn the music down.”
Watch the Crazy 88 scene from Kill Bill: Volume One in full colour below.