image courtesy of IMDB
Year of release: 2003
Kill Bill: Vol. 1
Uma Thurman. Image courtesy of IMDB.
Among Hong Kong film fans, Quentin Tarantino certainly has his share of detractors because of what many people see as Tarantino's "ripping off" of Ringo Lam's City on Fire for his debut Reservoir Dogs. One particularly irate fanboy went so far as to spam newsgroups and message boards, trying to get people to boycott Tarantino's latest, Kill Bill. If that guy (or anyone else) actually does boycott this film, they're missing out. Not only is Kill Bill Tarantino's best movie to date, it's by far the best picture of the year. Eschewing many of his gimmicks and pop-culture references that dulled his previous work Jackie Brown, Tarantino has turned in a surprisingly mature work that's still gleeful in its' liberal use of profantity and bloodshed.
Tarantino is still a "movie geek" at heart though, and at the beginning the Shaw Brothers logo pops up, followed by a scratchy annoucement that our main feature is starting -- all a nod to the "old-school" kung fu movies of the 1970's. However, this is pretty much the only "cute, hey-look-at-me" reference in the movie, though a couple of bits such as a box of Kaboom cereal and an advertisement for Red Apple cigarettes (both little tidbits from his previous works) pop up from time to time. The next scene is one of the most intense and gritty Tarantino has ever made and rivets the viewer, setting up the story proper.
Daryl Hannah, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen and Lucy Liu (left to right). Image courtesy of IMDB.
Like the classic kung fu movies Kill Bill gets its' inspiration from, the film tells a tale of revenge. Uma Thurman plays a character (referred to only as "The Bride") who is left for dead after a group of her former associates in the assassination buisness slaughter her wedding party. Waking up after being in a coma for four years, The Bride springs out of her "prison" in a hospital (where she was subjected to rape) and sets out to set things "right" (as much as can be so in Tarantino's twisted view of the world), aided by a powerful sword created by a legendary master played by the iconic Sonny Chiba, who of course was referenced in the Tarantino-scripted True Romance, so Kill Bill almost marks a completion of the cimematic circle for the director, who is now working with the Asian stars he idolized as a clerk at a video store.
At any rate, even though the plot is simple stuff, Tarantino puts his usual "chapter/flashback" style into the mix, which makes things a bit more complicated -- and somewhat bloated to an extent. While I enjoyed the anime sequence that explains Lucy Liu's character, it really isn't necessary to the story proper. It is an excellent sequence (I'm not normally an anime fan at all, but I will admit that "The Origin of O-Ren Ishii" is pretty goddamn good), but even Tarantino has said in interviews that he had the short created just because he thought it would be cool. But for the most part, Kill Bill is Tarantino's most focused film since Reservoir Dogs. Even though the movie runs close to two hours, it feels like a fraction of that. This is one of those rare movies that had me grinning from ear-to-ear during the running time, and afterwards, I wanted more. Unlike Matrix Reloaded, the ending here actually brings at least some resolution to the story and sets up the next "volume" nicely.
Lucy Liu and Uma Thurman. Image courtesy of IMDB.
And, oh yeah, you might have heard that there's some bloody fights in here. Yep, there's actually quite a bit of claret and gibs -- in fact, I'm really surprised that all the flying limbs didn't earn Kill Bill a NC-17 rating. But I'm glad it didn't. It's really about time Hollywood stops pandering to the teenybopper crowd and produces action films that actually have some blood and guts in them, both figuratively and literally. Beyond the gore factor, Yuen-Woo Ping's fight direction adds just enough "oomph" without going overboard with wire and/or computer trickery (though Thurman is obviously doubled for some of the more acrobatic and dangerous bits) and Sally Menke's editing is some of the best I've seen in US-produced action sequences for quite some time. You can actually see what's going on in the fights here, unlike too many recent movies, where all you see is a bunch of two-second long clips of someone's face.
It might have taken Quentin Tarantino years and years to finally deliver a new film, but the wait was worth it. Kill Bill marks a return to greatness for the former "enfant terrible" and is much needed shot in the arm in this year's (for the most part) anemic sea of generic PG-13 fluff. Even though I really don't like the idea of splitting the initial product into two movies (a practice which sadly seems to be becoming more common now), the gimmick seems to have worked, because I can't wait to see the next installment. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go check the film out again and experience the delight only a scalping of Lucy Liu can deliver.
Sonny Chiba and Uma Thurman. Image courtesy of IMDB.