Kill Bill: Vol 1

October 20th, 2003 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

Written and Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A Fox, Daryl Hannah, Michael Madsen, David Carradine

Return of the king? No, that’s not for a few months yet. But you could be forgiven for thinking the advent of Kill Bill signals a return to the throne of cult cooldom for the reigning King of fanboys everywhere.

And there’s another similarity between Peter Jackson’s magnum opus and what even the opening credits call ‘Quentin Tarantino’s fourth film’ — they’re the most successful fantasy directors in the world right now.

Because while Jackson’s vision of Middle Earth deals with the hobbits, elves, horseback soldiers, orcs and magic Tolkein envisioned to give rise to the fantasy genre, Tarantino’s is no less fantastical- paying homage to larger than life violence from the sort of things he loves; spaghetti westerns, exploitation flicks, samurai and yakuza bloodbaths, and bad-ass superfly Harlem 70’s action heroes.

For that reason, anyone who complains about the excessive amount of violence in Kill Bill is completely missing the point. When the film’s hero, The Bride (Uma Thurman), slices off limbs like a hedge trimmer in the centrepiece nightclub battle, blood literally showers (complete with sound effect spraying) from hacked off stumps. Similar depictions of gore in the movie make you realise Tarantino is referencing (and worshipping) the otherworldly, comic-book splatter of the cult Asian movies that influenced him.

In fact, it seems that every frame seems like a labour of love for Tarantino; every character, name, vehicle, fight, blood-sprouting bad guy and word of dialogue lifted straight from the yellowing cult section of an inner city video shop and given garish new life by big studio backing.

However, it’s that constant Tarantino’s-mental-back-catalogue referencing that takes away the one thing he blazed onto the world stage with; originality.

Pulp Fiction was something we’d never seen before. Some of us had seen the aesthetic (it included some of the cultural nods that comprise Kill Bill entirely) but never had we seen it done on the big screen with such finesse.

There’s also a lack of originality because in a way, Tarantino’s too late to deliver the first take on the cult films that made him the moviemaker he is. Hollywood’s been awash with Asian stars and kung fu action movies for a few years now, and martial arts on the big screen need something extraordinary to engage an audience used to everything from Crouching Tiger to Jet Li.

And the black-suited henchman vs. lone hero battle, while it might be an Asian action stalwart, seems a little too close to the Burley Brawl for comfort. Tarantino himself has responded to similarities like these, defending himself by saying that the whole black suit phenomenon was ‘his thing’.

There’s also the sequence depicting O Ren ishii’s (Lucy Liu) back story, told entirely in anime. It’s true Japanese animation hasn’t really made it to mainstream cinema (and is unlikely to, the ‘live action animation’ of The Matrix the closest multiplex audiences will ever get), but in hip circles, anime is getting so passe it’s in danger of losing its cool — witness the overt commerciality (or as some say, ‘cash in’) of The Animatrix.

Then there’s the signature cult movie tricks, like not being able to see the head honcho’s face. Although David Carradine is credited as Bill, we only ever see his ring-studded gangster’s hands stroking the handle of a sword or the hair of one of his female subordinates. It’s a similar device used most of the way through Pulp Fiction — where it isn’t until late in the film we actually see the face of crime boss Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) rather than the back of his head.

So rather than being an entirely new experience, Kill Bill is more like a compilation of the Best of Tarantino’s Favourite Cult Movie Fixtures. Whether it was an inability to come up with something as original as Pulp Fiction or Tarantino’s desire to be true to the cult genre, it doesn’t change the fact that Kill Bill ends up looking a little too much like stuff we’ve already being watching for the last five years.

That’s the bad news; the good news overshadows it tenfold. Coming from the mind and lens of the man so cool he gave the career of video shop clerk a new prestige, Kill Bill is a thrilling experience if only to see inside the mind of one a modern cinema visionary for 90 minutes.

The coolness comes with the territory for him, he’s like a cult movie King Midas. It’s a coolness no other movie can touch, and that’s why you go to see a Tarantino movie — despite the presence of Agent Smith-like black suits and Akira-like anime, nobody does this sort of thing better.

Told with the same skewed chronology used in Pulp Fiction and broken into chapters (perhaps the one nod to hard boiled pulp novels), it tells the story of a nameless girl, The Bride (in one of the many embellishments, everyone who speaks her name is bleeped out), a former member of the elite Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, an all-girl killing unit led by Bill, their enigmatic overlord not unlike that of Charlie’s Angels (another recent ‘similarity’ that everyone missed?)

After leaving the DiVAS to get married and have her baby, Bill and the bad-ass posse track her down, shoot up the wedding and leave her for dead. After four years, she awakens from a coma with one thing on her mind; the vengeful, systematic murder of her former employer and associates.

Travelling to Okinawa to take delivery of her sword by a master sword smith, she tracks them down one by one, getting through Vernita (Vivica Fox) — now a suburban mother in California, and O Ren — a fearsome Tokyo crime boss with equally fearsome protection.

With Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah, destined for a John Travolta-like career rejuvenation), Budd (Michael Madsen) and Bill himself still to go, we’re left with a cliff-hanger, and now have to wait for Kill Bill Volume 2.

It’s easy to be cynical about Miramax’s decision to release the whole movie in two parts. Apparently the script came in at 330 pages and neither Tarantino nor Miramax fatcat Harvey Weinstein wanted anything left out. Of course it’d have nothing to do with the opportunity to charge a worldwide audience twice to see one movie, or the cliffhagner moment that just happens to fall at the halfway mark. But you’re unlikely to find many people unwilling to shell out again in February to see more.

We can only hope this marks the return to the director’s chair or the king of cool, instead of another six year stretch of cameos in Adam Sandler movies.


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