149 – Kill Bill Vol. 1

Quentin Tarantino’s fourth movie (and first in five years) is one of the most entertaining movies I’ve seen in years. It’s also the most violent.

It’s not just violent. It’s Violent with a capital V. You could even capitalize the entire word, and you still wouldn’t be scratching the surface of its violence. You thought Pulp Fiction was violent? Think again, brother. Kill Bill does for bloodletting what Jaws did for shark attacks, what Citizen Kane did for sleds, and what E.T. did for Reese’s Pieces. It’s so violent, it makes Night of the Living Dead look like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, even if Fred Rogers donned a ski mask and went psycho with a meat cleaver in the Land of Make Believe.

I’m harping on the violence here; can you tell? I’m mentioning this because extreme violence is one of those qualities in a film that can divide the audience neatly: those that are repulsed by it, and those who are attracted to it.

Uma Thurman plays a flaxen-haired assassin who’s bent on avenging her near death and the murder of her unborn child by the hands of her former elite-assassin teammates. Her story is told out of chronological order, a la Pulp Fiction, but not so jarringly; the audience is helped by onscreen titles explaining what time frame we’re in.

Her character is one of an select group of killers that includes O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), Vernita Green (Viveca A. Fox), Budd (Michael Madsen), and Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah); each member goes by a nom de guerre relating to a snake. Thurman’s character is Black Mamba. Her mission is simple. Find and kill each person who had left her for dead, leaving for the last their ringleader, Bill (David Carradine). Bill does not appear onscreen in this movie, but we do get to hear his voice, like Bosley on Charlie’s Angels.

But as with most Tarantino films, including those he’s influenced, the plot sometimes takes a back seat to style. That doesn’t mean there’s no substance at all, but with scenes as eye-popping (literally, in one case) as these, it’s easy to lose oneself in sheer awe. From the very first scene – a real shocker – to the final, set-em-up scene, you just can’t peel your gaze from the machismo and panache being exhibited onscreen.

The entire cast is incredible. Thurman’s practically an old hand at this, having had a prominent role in Pulp Fiction; here, as the focal point of the movie – the heroine, sort of – she is more than up to the task. I saw nuances in her work here that I’d never seen before. And Lucy Liu? I must come clean and admit I’ve carried a torch for her for years, but this is easily her best work. Heavily layered, very finely characterized work. (She plays a part-Japanese, part-Chinese,
part-American ruler of the Tokyo underworld, and she’s damn good with cutlery, too.)

Now, as you may have guessed, this is not a movie for children. It’s also not a movie for pregnant women, people with bad backs (the sudden moves you make when you jump out of your seat might make you slip a disc or two), people with weak hearts, the elderly, and Nervous Nellies. It’s for everyone else, though. Boy, is it ever for everyone else! It’s a potpourri of balletic swordsmanship, a feast for the eyes (there’s that word again). Forget about the violence for a minute – this movie just plain rocks. And Sonny Chiba has a big role, too! You remember Sonny from his 1970s Street Fighter kung fu movies, right? He has a great role here, as the creator of the sword Black Mamba uses against her many enemies.

You’ll notice the title implies this is not the last we’ll see of Black Mamba, and you’re right. Yes, it’s a movie so big they had to split it in two, and Vol. 2 is due to be released in 2004.

But unlike, say, Back to the Future II, which existed purely as a setup for Back to the Future III, this one absolutely stands on its own. And that final scene, which I mentioned earlier, packs one hell of a wallop. I didn’t see it coming, although looking back it’s not an illogical surprise. (You can predict almost anything in movies if you really think about the movie, but who wants to? You’re supposed to experience it as it’s played out, not try hard to be three steps ahead
of the characters.)

Tarantino’s a connoisseur of genre films: caper films, blaxploitation films, martial arts films. His highly stylish touches and imaginative direction place this movie on a pedestal far higher than others of this type. Like Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill Vol. 1 is in a league completely different from any other film.

Kill Bill Vol. 1: ***1/2

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2 Responses to “149 – Kill Bill Vol. 1”

  1. 343 - 300 « Frothy Ruminations Says:

    […] for 300. The movie, particularly the battle scenes, can be best compared to the fight scene in Kill Bill Vol. 1 in which Uma Thurman takes on the Crazy 88. In that scene, Thurman’s Beatrice slices and […]

  2. Frothy Ruminations » Blog Archive » 344 - 300 Says:

    […] for 300. The movie, particularly the battle scenes, can be best compared to the fight scene in Kill Bill Vol. 1 in which Uma Thurman takes on the Crazy 88. In that scene, Thurman’s Beatrice slices and […]

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