Kill Bill: Volume 1
December 7, 2001
Starring: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Daryl Hannah, Michael Madsen, Vivica A. Fox, Lucy Liu, Michael Jai White, Chia Hui Liu, Chiaki Kuriyama, Sonny Chiba, Larry Bishop, Laura Cayouette, Julie Dreyfus, Samuel L. Jackson, Caitlin Keats, Kazuki Kitamura, Jun Kunimura, Julie Manase, Chris Nelson, Kenji Ohba, Stevo Polyi, Shana Stein, Bo Svenson, Quentin Tarantino, Venessia Valentino, ,
It’s been a long time coming (six years to be exact) but celebrated auteur of all things pop culture Quentin Tarantino is back with this dazzling first part of a revenge tale that blends together nearly every genre he’s waxed lyrical about in interviews and his movies.
When Jackie Brown was released in 1997 QT confused both his core audience and critics alike with a much subtler piece of work than his previous efforts Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. While still retaining some of the snappy dialogue, which had become his trademark, Jackie Brown was a more mature piece of work that relied more on characterisation and story than shock value.
So in 2003 along comes Kill Bill Vol 1, a pet project of It’s that was bred from a late night bar conversation between the director and Uma Thurman during the shoot of Pulp Fiction in 1994. While not as influential or powerful as Fiction this, his 4th major film, is a pulse pounding, visceral treat that one can only sit back and admire for the sheer audacity of both concept and theme. While plot and characterisation are not at the forebear of this segment his tremendous motion picture is still a major achievement and fine return to his roots.
Kill Bill Vol 1 tells the tale of The Bride (Uma Thurman) who awakes from a four-year coma following a massacre on her wedding day that only she survived. Heavily pregnant at the time the Bride wakes up with only one thing on her mind – revenge. We learn that The Bride was one of five assassins that made up the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, a group of brutal, unforgiving killers employed and ruled by the sinister Bill (David Carradine). It’s not explained (at least in this instalment) why her fellow contract killers or indeed Bill attempted to her wipe her out all we know is The Bride has woken up and she is not happy. Having made her death list of five she hightails it to Pasadena where she finds Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) a former member of the Vipers and one of the perpetrators of the wedding day bloodbath. This sequence is quick and brutal with Tarantino’s camera revelling in splashing ferocity across our screens. It’s sets up the nature of the picture extremely well highlighting the fact that The Bride will stop at nothing to get her revenge – even if it means murdering a mother before the eyes of her child.
Moving swiftly on The Bride then heads to Japan where she convinces a celebrated but retired Samurai sword maker (Sonny Chiba) to make her the ultimate weapon so she can ‘exterminate some vermin’. The vermin in question is O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) another member of the Vipers and now head of the Japanese Yakuza.
The Bride provides a voiceover throughout the movie and introduces a startlingly violent slice of Japanese Anime to tell the back-story of O-Ren Ishii. It’s a bold move to include this segment in a mainstream Western movie but it pays off providing the character of O-Ren a level of pathos and dimension unfortunately not afforded to some of the other supporting characters.
The much publicised showdown in the House of Blue Leaves between The Bride and Ishii’s henchman, the aptly titled Crazy 88, is as over the top and bloody as one has been led to believe but it’s also a visual arresting, adrenalin fuelled sequence that combines masterful choreography, editing and direction. Added to which the decision to film the lengthy sequence in black and white allows the audience some leeway when it comes to the various removal of heads, arms and legs. This instalments final showdown, set in a traditional Japanese snow garden at the top of the restaurant see’s Thurman’s Bride and Lucy Liu’s O-Ren engage in a almost poetic battle where you feel their mutal respect for each other as warriors. It’s quite breathtaking.
Suffice to say Miramax’s decision to split Kill Bill into two volumes actually works despite grumblings that it’s a shrewd marketing ploy to milk the cash cow for all it’s worth. You can see QT is paying affectionate homage to a series of genres that, perhaps, would not blend as well as one entity. The 70’s exploitation / Samurai themes blend well but one feels adding in the others hinted at throughout the picture would have been overly ambitious even for Tarantino. Instead we are left with a clanger of a plot twist and the prospect of The Bride polishing off the last members of the Viper’s – Elle Driver (Hannah), Bud (Michael Madsen) and Bill (David Carradine) himself in an altogether different concoction.
Thurman is terrific throughout and commands the screen with her strong physical and emotional presence. She ranges from wounded animal to ferocious killing machine with utter conviction. One scene, in particular, where she wakes in hospital to discover she is no longer with child truly pierces the heart as much as her howls of anguish pierce the ears. If every star gets her or his one iconic role in their career then this is one Thurman will be remembered for.
The supporting cast are a rather a mixed bag with Lucy Liu leaving the biggest impression utilising her sometimes expressionless face and small frame to render O-Ren quite terrifying. Both her and Thurman create something special in their final scene together that suggests, without the use of lots of dialogue, a convincing history between the characters.
Of course this is not perfect – most of Tarantino’s snappy, pop culture dialogue has been jettisoned in favour of grand set pieces and cool soundtrack filler. Aficionados of his may feel slightly cheated but on the plus side the lack of dialogue actual lends weight and an air of intrigue to proceedings.
The much hyped and, it has to be said, inordinate amount of violence may well alienate some of the audience but it’s so over the top and tongue in cheek (and clearly deliberately so) that you really should take it in the spirit it was intended. If you do take this stance from the first half by the time The Bride reaches The House of Blue Leaves you’ll be hooked on both the story and style that it won’t be an issue.
Kill Bill 1 is a truly exhilarating experience so if it was Tarantino and Miramax’s intention to leave you gasping for more than they have succeeded admirably.