What if your local film school had six years and fifty million
dollars to make a movie?
The result would be a big budget cacophony of interesting
techniques and ideas produced by people who spend their lives
studying film. If the movie was based on a genre of foreign
film the result might be like drinking the water in that foreign
country; you can drink it, but if you're not used to
it, it may make you sick. And if the film school was actual
film buff Quentin Tarantino, the film would deliver that foreign
film straight to middle America like a butcher knife to the
Kill Bill is the story of a retired assassin, code
named Black Mamba (Uma Thurman) and left for dead by her former
employer and coworkers. Four years later she begins the video
game-like plot of climbing the rungs of the revenge ladder
toward her ultimate goal, killing Bill.
I apologize for doing so, but I've just given you the entire
plot of Kill Bill vol. 1 (and likely vol. 2 due out
in February of 2004). It's a tale of pure revenge. There is
no emotion other than rage and no obstacles for the main character
that can't be overcome by force.
Tarantino's homage to the 70's Japanese action films of
his youth isn't rich in plot or character development but
neither are the films he is paying homage to. I can't fault
him for perfectly copying a flawed genre. Kill Bill
is not about deep characters, clever plots or good storytelling.
It is meant, by design, to be a literal showcase showdown
of action scenes and attitude. Here is where Tarantino delivers.
He promises fans a kickass tribute to Japanese fight films
and most of Kill Bill is a raging success in that regard.
The second half of the film is so flawless in its beautiful
cinematic carnage that most of the things that don't work
in the first hour are long forgotten.
The movie moves at a kinetic pace as we learn just enough
about each character to string the fight scenes together.
Battles are perfectly choreographed and displayed on the screen
like polished gems. This is refreshing since a fistful of
recent action film directors haven't had the knack to properly
lay out a fight scene audiences can follow.
Tarantino skillfully presents each punch, kick and swing
of the blade in an elegant manner but still manages to make
it visceral and raw. You're never quite able to take your
eyes away from the butchery for fear of missing something
The writer/director can be brilliant at times. Pulp
Fiction is a shining example of how he can borrow
a dozen different storytelling techniques to glorify violence
and wrap them up in a way that is palatable to the mainstream
audience. If you're sensitive to blood and violence (go see
a different movie) there are a few scenes that will make you
turn away, but eventually the blood flow becomes almost cartoonish.
You may find yourself laughing as blood flows from severed
body parts like water from uncapped fire hydrants.
When things get really gory, the film switches to black
and white, a technique that minimizes the impact of the massacre
and probably saved the film from an NC-17 rating.
But Tarantino can also get too caught up in his own hip
dialogue, pop culture references and personal fetishes to
make a film seamless. If you've seen Tarantino's other three
films, then at times Kill Bill will be like watching
William Shatner do a William Shatner impression. Kill Bill
is closer to brilliance than it is parody but never actually
lands a perfect blow.
Uma Thurman carries the weight of the acting in Vol. 1 as
Black Mamba (we are forced to call her that because her real
name is bleeped every time someone says it). Thurman understands
Tarantino's vision, seems comfortable in the genre and delivers
the goods. She fills in her paper-thin character as tightly
as her leather motorcycle outfit.
The only other major character with screen time in Vol 1.
is O-Ren Ishii aka Cottonmouth (Lucy Liu). Like the
other roles in the film, Liu just has to look good in her
costume, be convincing in the fight scenes and speak the occasional
phrase. She does fine in the role but her performance isn't
going to make up for her part in Ecks
Assuming they can get past the violence and gore, the second
hurdle for audience members to get over is the fifteen minute
animated back-story of O-Ren. You'll either love it or be
bored by it. Anime really isn't my thing but I can see where
some fans may get off on it.
Vivica A. Fox and Chiaki Kuriyama round out the other notable
assassins (don't call them mini-bosses) in Vol. 1. Fox portrays
the badass assassin "Copperhead" with convincing authority.
She's got the body and the moves to pull it off with enough
acting talent to not stand out but she's not going to be the
break out star of the film either.
That award goes to Chiaki Kuriyama aka GoGo. The lethal
Japanese school girl steals every scene she's in and is guaranteed
to cause an outbreak of "deadly school girl" costumes this
Halloween (a byproduct of the film I have no problems with.)
Japanese film legend Sonny Chiba plays "The Man from Okinawa,"
a retired sword maker who offers to help Black Mamba kill
Bill. His scenes are some of the most enjoyable, of the non-violent
variety, in the film and serve as a minor back-story for Black
Mamba. More than that they give the audience a chance to settle
down before the major showdown that ends Vol. 1. Some of the
slower scenes linger too long but it was unclear if Tarantino
was trying to stress importance or just padding the film.
Kill Bill only aspires to be a B-movie and succeeds
at that. It's going to be a cult film that will appeal to
young men who dig bloody action films. Tarantino does not
make films for the masses. He makes them for hardcore film
fans and those losers in high school that owned their own
kendo sticks. It will not impress your mother, your wife or
your girlfriend (unless she has pierced nipples and loves
No review of a Tarantino film would be complete without
mentioning the soundtrack. Kill Bill has the same groovy,
quirky underscoring as his previous films. The screening I
attended actually had fans clapping along to the disco beats
while warriors on screen mutilated each other.
Tarantino mixes Japanese pop, opera, disco and western music
equally but he also has the smarts to know when to not use
music. The audience learns over the course of 90 minutes that
when the music stops you'd better be on the edge of your seat.
Tarantino has said that Kill Bill is the "ultimate girl
power" movie, but the power really lies in the movie itself.
It has the power to spark mainstream interest in a cult genre
and will provide a revival of the Japanese action films of
old. It has the power to cause a severe backlash from parent
and government groups regarding the level of violence in modern
It has the power to spawn a hundred copycat films of lesser
quality that will be all gore and no substance. It has the
power to make film geeks shell out money again and again for
every platinum edition, special edition, Director's Cut, THX,
DTS, lemon scented DVD, DiVX, Laser Disc and vinyl version
Miramax can crank out over the next 20 years.
It does not have the power to get a perfect rating from
me, but it comes within a razor's edge of doing so.