Worth A Look: 19.9%
Pretty Bad: 6.31%
Total Crap: 10.44%
15 reviews, 322 user ratings
|Kill Bill: Vol. 1
by Scott Weinberg
So he's finally back. Roaring into the multiplexes after a rather long hiatus comes Movie Freak Extraordinaire Quentin Tarantino and his latest cinematic offering. Following his watershed debut (Reservoir Dogs), his blockbuster/classic second effort (Pulp Fiction) and his lukewarmly-received third baby (Jackie Brown), QT took a nice lengthy break...over six years worth. Now come watch him explode.For his fourth outing (actually, his 3.5th outing), Tarantino delivers Kill Bill: Volume 1, a vibrant, bizarre, violent and certifiably nasty little homage to...well, a whole lotta stuff that Quentin Tarantino obviously adores: wildly stylistic kung-fu mayhem, hot chicks in sleek leather driving swanky motorcycles, blaxploitation flicks, anime, comic books...and about four movies' worth of hyper-gory samurai swordplay.
"Battle Royale...with Cheese"
This ain't one for the kiddies, folks.
Let's get the standard critical complaint out of the way right now: chopping this movie in half and presenting it several months apart as a Volume 1 and Volume 2? Awful idea. Cheap, chintzy, and tacky; a move done solely for reasons of commerce, despite what the interview-happy filmmaker has to offer on the topic.
See, Kill Bill was supposed to be QT's epic homage to all of the 1970's cinematic conventions that he so adores. So wide was the director's scope and intent that he fully intended to helm a 2.5+ hour action/mayhem extravaganza to blow our socks off. Then Miramax's beancounters and head honchos got involved, got worried about the profitability of a 3-hour action flick, and devised this whole "Volume 1" scam. Not only is this a transparent money-grab, but (most importantly of all) it really does damage the film as a whole. This is not a production that was scheduled to create two separate movies; it's one completed film that was sliced in half and re-edited (rather haphazardly) in an effort to make more greenbacks.
From anyone other than Miramax, this sort of activity would probably be surprising.
With that large gripe out of the way (for the most part, anyway), it's pleasing to report that what we are offered in Volume 1 is, for the most part, a wild and raucous good time, a flick so knee-deep in its own genre-worship that it should thrill movie fans the world over while giving the action junkies a few extended sequences that they'll want to watch again and again.
Kill Bill is a simple and straightforward revenge flick: The Bride (Uma Thurman) is a former assassin who was double-crossed and left for dead as she stood, pregnant, at her El Paso wedding altar. After awakening from a 4-year coma, our mega-pissed heroine has little on her mind but stone-cold vengeance, the sort that comes early, often and soaked with enough geysers of blood to fill ten abattoirs.
Plot-wise, that's about it, and it's the one-note simplicity of the narrative that belies QT's intent: a flick comprised of nothing but action aplenty, movie references galore, spark and style to spare, some truly nasty twists...and a bit more gory action. Visually and viscerally, Kill Bill is a royal hoot and a whole lot of fun.
That mega-moviegeek Tarantino wanted to make a hardcore action flick, while showcasing five specific genres in each of the five big battles (samurai bloodbath, blaxploitation cat-fight, old-school kung-fu asskickage, Leone-style spaghetti Western and even "giallo" horror) speaks volumes about the filmmaker's passion for his cinema. This is the sort of film that Joe Lifelong Movie Freak would make had he the money and talent to pull it off. And the balls.
But while Q has clearly honed his directorial skills enough to deliver some truly amazing action set pieces, this newfound talent seems to have come at the expense of his astonishing screenwriting prowess. Fans expecting the colorful banter or profanely extended monologues may walk away somewhat disappointed. Kill Bill doesn't have time for chit-chats about waitress-gratuity protocol or what cheeseburgers are called in France; it's all about the current action scene - or the set-up for the next action scene.
Luckily for all involved (particularly the moviegoer), the big action bits here are as exhilarating and plain old cool as they are very lengthy...and very disgusting. When The Bride slices off someone's arm or chops them in half from the skull down, her actions are invariably accompanied by explosions of blood so wackily explosive that one can't help but laugh; Quentin's making a live-action cartoon...and a enjoyably gross one to boot.
As is nearly always the case in the QT flicks, the acting is uniformly strong across the board, though a special accolade is due to leading lady Uma Thurman. Impressive enough that the actress (less than two months removed from childbirth) was able to master all sorts of insane fight moves and elaborate sword battle techniques...but Thurman somehow gets you to care, almost immediately, about the otherwise-unnamed bride. Sure, we're on her side because she was screwed over to a royal degree, but it's something in her eyes and the way she carries herself throughout her post-coma adventures that holds the flick together in between the juicy bits.
As the soon-to-be-dealt-with mega-villains, here's who we got:
Vivica A. Fox (looking as beautiful as ever...pre-battle scenes obviously) is knife-expert Vernita Green (a.k.a Copperhead), former killer now cozily perched somewhere in suburbia. Fox and Thurman share some fantastic moments early on, both in banter and the style in which they beat the hell out of one another. (I'd wager that this is one of the best action scenes of the year.)
Lucy Liu plays O-Ren Ishii (aka Cottonmouth) with a steely command and a gleam in her eye. Brutal assassin, queen among mobsters and impressive swordswoman, Ishii is quite simply an imposing gal. And here's an example of QT's endearingly effective screenwriting: with a healthy dose of stark back-story (including a shocking and very cool anime sequence), Ishii is made out to be a villain of nearly invincible proportions. That The Bride must dispatch 50-some henchmen* before dealing with O-Ren makes their final meeting (in a beautifully snowy Asian garden setting) gives their confrontation an almost mythical quality. Like the best comic books do.
(*In an extended action sequence that will be remembered and admired for years to come. Seriously; it's that damn crazy.)
The rest of the "Deadly Viper Assassination Squad" remain mostly in the background for much of Volume 1, but they include the likes of Ellie Driver (aka California Mountain Snake, aka Daryl Hannah), Budd (aka Sidewinder, aka Michael Madsen) and of course head honcho Bill (David Carradine). That we see virtually nothing of two of these characters is both disappointing and another clear example of why one long movie is nearly always better than two short ones.
Kill Bill is loud and occasionally ugly; it's bizarre and funny and vibrant and more than a little indulgent. It's a film that clearly displays for all the world to see that Quentin Tarantino was clearly having a whole lot of fun as he was making it. That's not to say that you'll absolutely enjoy it right along with him, but if you're fan enough to feel a bit giddy at the approach of the guy's newest movie, then you'll probably have a damn good time with this one.But be forewarned: you're dropping your money at the box office for what's absolutely 1/2 of a whole movie...and that's a really crappy way to treat the movie fans.
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originally posted: 10/10/03 23:15:21
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Tribeca Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.