Written and directed by
After being shot and left for dead on her wedding day by a group of professional killers known as DIVAS, a former member known only as The Bride (Uma Thurman) falls into a coma for five years. She awakes in a rage and before you can say “move your big toe”, The Bride promptly embarks on a prolonged revenge campaign in which, one by one, she plans to kill off her old group (Lucy Liu, Darryl Hannah, Vivica Fox and Michael Madsen) leaving Bill (DavidCarradine), her boss, for last.
Kill Bill, Vol. One is, without a doubt, the bloodiest, most brutally violent commercial film to be released by an American movie studio in a very long time if not ever. The geysers of blood, an over-the-top ode to Japanese samurai films, and the various decapitated body parts flying across the screen are so innumerable that it makes films such as Scarface and Bad Boys II seem outright quaint. Those with an aversion to both violence and the sight of blood are well advised to stay home.
The film also happens to an exhilarating, hilarious pitch-black comedy that heralds the return of one of the most exciting filmmakers to arrive in Hollywood in recent memory. Following a six-year absence, writer/director Quentin Tarantino has returned to filmmaking with a bang, a slice, a dice and a body count to rival any world conflict you can think of. Considering how Kill Bill, or at least the first half of it, turned out, it’s as if ol’ QT never took a day off.
If you’re expecting another Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction, chock full of dense storylines and sharp-dressed, hip gangsters waxing philosophical about pop culture icons, you might be let down as there is very little of that here. Bill’s story is about as straightforward as you can get – wronged person cheats death to extract revenge on her assassins. A simple idea stretched over three hours (the original running time before the film was cut into two), padded with tons of fights, flashy editing and camera tricks.
Is Tarantino’s fourth film the victim of style over substance? Yes it is. But if you have a director like Tarantino, who knows how to take slight material, over-the-top chaos and violence and make it work, then it doesn’t really matter how thin the story is. You go along for the ride and are grateful for being allowed to. Tarantino displays a directorial hand whose confidence seems to have only grown stronger rather than weaker during his lengthy sabbatical.
Be it the Asian martial arts films produced by the Shaw Brothers, the Japanese samurai films of Akira Kurosawa or other genres too countless to list that is being paid homage here, QT and his crew manage to put a fresh spin on the production. The fight scenes are remarkably choreographed, edited and shot, giving the viewer such a visceral high during and after the movie that when you go back and realize how slight the story is, you simply wave it off and continue to grin about how much fun you just had.
Showering all of the praise of the film’s success on Tarantino and his technical crew alone would be criminal. The excellent ensemble cast, always a major contributing factor in a QT flick, deserves applause as well.
Thurman, who helped created the character of the Bride with Tarantino (her real name is amusingly bleeped out a couple of times), has the same commanding presence that she brought to her Oscar-nominated turn in Pulp Fiction. She gives the Bride a steely-cold killer persona without turning her into a robot. We don’t get to know a lot about her, but thanks to Thurman’s winning performance, that doesn’t mean we like her any less.
Lucy Liu, of whom I’ve never really been a fan of, is terrific here as O-Ren Ishi, head of the Japanese Yakuza and former co-worker of the Bride. Unlike her work in the dreadful Charlie’s Angels series, Liu gives us a tough-as-nails woman without making her look like an idiot.
Vivica Fox and Daryl Hannah, as two other DIVAS members, make the most of their limited screen time (we’ll see more of Hannah and Madsen in volume two next February), while Sonny Chiba is excellent as master swordsman Hattori Hanzo.
Kill Bill Volume One is like an adrenaline shot injected into the heart of the 2003 movie season to remind both Hollywood and audiences of how a fun movie is really made. Is it art? Nope. Is it deep or meaningful? Probably about as much as a Tom and Jerry cartoon. Is it, providing you can stomach the violence and gore, most likely to be the most unadulterated fun you will experience at the cinema this year until the third Lord of the Rings arrives? Absolutely.