Tarantino-ish: Essential Viewing for Quentin Tarantino Lovers

Quentin Tarantino is a popular director. Whether it’s due to his brilliance in his filmmaking techniques or his quirkiness as a person or the fact that he seems to bring a certain unique quality to his movies remains to be decided by each individual who has the opportunity to view the director’s material. From his cult classic Reservoir Dogs to the more recent endeavor Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino has found a way to continue to make his filmmaking efforts fresh and interesting with each new project.

It is also known by many a film buff, that Tarantino, for how unique his films are, pulls material from a vast amount of other films, and perhaps his most evident influence in respect to the content in his movies are in fact other films. Whether the director takes from Samurai films and Spaghetti Westerns with the likes of the Kill Bill movies, or from the Blaxploitation genre with films like Jackie Brown or the film set to release on Christmas day, Django Unchained, Tarantino is constantly pulling from different sources and making references to films of the past, so many in fact that it would be difficult to imagine an audience that would be able to catch every detail of the director’s films that revels in the history of cinema.

This is why, to this writer, it seems fitting to suggest that there are so many films out there that need to be viewed in order to more fully be able to appreciate what the director brings to the table. Most of the time, when discussions of Tarantino come up, they often start and end with the films that he himself directs and creates. However, there are boundless numbers of films that could be discussed that are essential for fans of the director to go out and experience. I would like to recommend three different films to watch for all of the fans of the quirky director. These films may or may not be familiar to the reader, but I feel they are very good representation of films (or at least as close as one can get using only three films) that are either very closely knitted to Tarantino’s style or are actually heavy influences of his work.

Now, I could obviously use pretty much anything Akira Kurosawa ever made in this list (the same thing could be said with just about every director after Kurosawa), but I’m not going to include any of his films. I will say that the three upcoming films in this list are of a very different variety, but all three should be films that, if the viewer is a fan of Quentin Tarantino’s films, should enjoy immensely.

So, without further ado…

3. The Killing

Any other films you can imagine being influenced by The Killing based on this photo? TDK Anyone?

Reservoir Dogs would not exist if it weren’t for what is arguably Stanley Kubrick’s first great film. One could even argue that Reservoir Dogs is a remake of sorts of this film. The structure and story are essentially the same, with a heist being presented in both films in a non-chronological storytelling strategy. The nonlinear storytelling of this film is a familiar technique for most, if not all, Tarantino films, and this film used the technique before the director was even born. The Killing weaves in and out of a racetrack heist in which it tells how the heist was planned and how it occurred through the point of view of different characters involved in the crime.

Not only is the structure of the film similar to what Tarantino often does, but also the use of violence mixed with offbeat humor is something that is clearly evident in the filmmaking from the oddball director. There are some deeply incompetent criminals in The Killing that are very similar to many of the characters that appear in Tarantino films.

The film doesn’t just provide a history of a technique Tarantino uses frequently. It also uses that technique to near perfection (as with much of Stanley Kubrick’s Work). This film is well-crafted and the characters are interesting, even if they are mostly one-note characters. Kubrick really made a wonderful heist film with this effort, and Tarantino fans should absolutely fall in love with this movie, especially if you consider Reservoir Dogs to be Tarantino’s best film (for the record, I do not).

2. The Graduate

While this American classic isn’t necessarily a film that is likely to be oft thought of when discussing Quentin Tarantino’s influences, one can simply watch the beginning of Jackie Brown to realize that Tarantino more than likely has a great appreciation for one of the all-time great films in American cinema. While this movie is often referenced in many different comedies, mostly with jokes about an older woman attempting to seduce a younger man, I can’t remember seeing a film that pays homage to The Graduate quite like Jackie Brown does with the opening sequence as both opening scenes reflect each other, almost exactly.

The difference between the two sequences is the color scheme. In The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman makes his way across the airport with a plain white brick background behind his profiled image as Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” plays. With Jackie Brown (which by the way I find to be one of the more re-watchable of Tarantino’s films the more I watch it), the same side view of the title character is used, with Jackie making her way through the airport with a multicolored brick background and Bobby Womack’s “Across 110th Street” as the musical choice (Bobby Womack was an artist with whom Pam Grier used to share a connection, which adds a little bit more meaning to the song selection).

Not only does Quentin Tarantino take directly from The Graduate in this particular scene, but the content and style of director Mike Nichols’ film is much more similar to that of Tarantino’s than one would initially consider at first glance. The content is somewhat risqué for 1967 and the offbeat humor of the film and famous soundtrack fit right in with some of the characteristics of so many Tarantino films that people around the world have come to love (admittedly the soundtrack is a bit of a stretch because Tarantino uses more of an eclectic mix in his films instead of using one group to do the music).

The use of The Graduate in the opening sequence of Jackie Brown is a near perfect example of how Tarantino can take from past films, and not just cheesy films but truly great films, and meld something that has already been done into something different and great in so much of a contrasting manner.

1. Chungking Express

Last, but certainly not least (well, maybe least but this happens to be one of my personal favorite films to revisit from time to time so I’m rolling with the clichéd expression here) is Wong Kar Wai’s brilliant little piece of filmmaking that is divided into two different stories, both involving police officers, and both involving unconventional romantic stories. In fact, they are so unconventional they exude a reminiscent tone that is apparent in the Tarantino scribed True Romance.

The 1994 film was actually distributed through Quentin Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder company under Miramax, so there’s your direct connection with the director this piece is about. It is currently part of the Criterion Collection (right now it is out of print) due to it’s interesting shooting style, where Wong Kar-Wai seemingly puts the background in fast motion and the foreground in slow-motion simultaneously during parts of the film, creating an interesting choppiness, and its oddly captivating romance.

This film very much shows a resemblance to many of Tarantino’s projects. This film does have the split storytelling style of the director (although this film is a bit more chronological and doesn’t go back an forth between stories, but rather tells a complete story, then starts the next one). The biggest difference in the film between Chungking Express and Tarantino films could actually be seen as the greatest similarity. Where Tarantino films tend to be almost obsessed with foreign cinema and other cultures (the Samurai films come to mind with Kill Bill and French cinema with Inglorious Basterds), Chungking Express seems to be obsessed with America.

The film oozes of typical American tropes, taking heavily from the film noir genre in the first of the two stories, and mixing in the romance that so many American films necessitize (I’m not sure that’s a word) as the first female character is an Asian woman who wears a Blonde wig. There is also some interesting music chosen in this film, with an Asian version of the incomparable “Dreams” from none other than the Cranberries (oh 90’s music) and there is a relentlessly continued playing of “California Dreamin’” from The Mamas & the Papas.

This is certainly a worthy film to take a look at if one is considered to be a fan of Quentin Tarantino. It’s even worth watching for someone who hates Quentin Tarantino, as long as subtitles are acceptable to the audience choosing to give it a shot.

Quentin Tarantino is a wonderful director who is influenced by so many great works of art that he has gathered enough of an encyclopedia of visuals to be able to create masterpieces of creativity with his filmmaking efforts, while bringing a form of dialogue that is very much a unique aspect of his films. Watching the three aforementioned films will help to expand upon ones film experience and could very well help to give a more enriched experience while either revisiting Quentin Tarantino’s films, or if you happen to be introducing yourself to a great director for the first time.


Now, with the positive early reviews of the directors newest, and highly anticipated film, Django Unchained, it appears that Quentin Tarantino is giving film lovers a Christmas present this year. If one is looking to delve into other films that could make the new film a better experience without revisiting the older films that Tarantino himself directed (Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, etc.) then it might just be worth your while to try these out. Of course the director uses so many different influences, one may be bound to run into something Tarantino-ish while watching just about anything.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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I'm Kevin Licht, a graduate from the University of Missouri with a bachelor's degree in English and a minor emphasis in Film Studies. When I'm not working I watch and write

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  1. Starcreeper

    The Graduate is awesome dude!

  2. Rosanne

    Lightbulb just went off over my head reading #2. I can’t beleive I hadn’t connected the opening of The Graduate and Jackie Brown!

  3. Amanda Duke

    Wong Kar Wai is a legendary director, great choice to add Chungking Express! Have you heard about The Grandmasters (Wai’s next movie)? It is about Yip Man, Bruce Lee’s teacher. If you see the trailer for it, you can tell that it is Tarantino’s blood.

  4. jacki brown needs needs more love, very underrated!

  5. Amanda Duke

    I haven’t watched any of these! Thank you for the recommendations, I shall hunt them down and watch. Will be a good dose of Tarantino until Django hits the screen…

  6. David Tatlow

    Great mention for The Graduate here, very interesting comparisons indeed!

    Chungking Express is fantastic. Despite it being outside of mainstream cinema, it has a real legacy that has translated (you’ll see the pun shortly) into Western films like Lost in Translation and, yes, some of QT’s work. Hell, I’d bet there are dozens of boy-meets-girl scenarios that were conceived because of Chungking’s second half. I love a lot of Wong Kar Wai’s work, and Chungking Express is possibly my favourite of his.

    The idiosyncratic music that you make reference to is pure QT. I actually have a Bluray edition of Chungking Express with an intro for the film by Tarantino (I’m not sure if this is on any other edition, but it’s a fun little extra). You can see how much he loves Wong Kar Wai, even though he was speaking relatively early on in Wong’s career. Thanks for a good read!

  7. Mike G

    Chungking Express continues to be in my top 5 favorite movies ever! Fell in love with it the second I saw it back when I was about 17 years old. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve seen that damn film. I know it’s one of Tarantino’s favorites.

  8. HariMackinnon

    Wong Kar Wai is an excellent choice! I’ve always thought he and Tarantino had something similar about them and couldn’t put my finger on it but you articulated it perfectly here. Also I would never have figure The Graduate to be one of Tarantino’s reference points, I might have to finally getting around to checking that one out.

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