Kill Bill Vol. 1

QT is back for Revenge

Quentin Tarantino’s fourth film as writer/director finds him in familiar territory – that is, familiar territory for fans of psychotronic film. A glorious homage to all the exploitation flicks that have inspired him throughout his life, Kill Bill is a relatively straightforward revenge story, told in a typically Tarantino un-straightforward manner, incorporating styles and tributes from as many psychotronic favorites as QT can squeeze in.

The wedding of Black Mamba (Uma Thurman) is attacked by her fellow teammates on the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad and their leader, Bill (David Carradine, though his face isn’t revealed in Volume 1). The reason behind this massacre is unclear, but we can guess it has something to do with the baby Mamba is carrying – which she confesses is Bill’s just as he shoots her in the head. (Some folks are reporting the attack is in reprisal for Mamba trying to leave the DeVAS, but it’s plain that others have quit by the end of the picture without penalty.) In a coma and left for dead, Mamba is completely vulnerable when Bill dispatches one-eyed Viper Elle Driver, aka California Mountain Snake (Daryl Hannah), to finish her off. However, Bill reconsiders this cowardly act at the last minute, and Mamba awakes from her coma four years later, escapes from the hospital, and heads out to Get Even with the associates that tried to off her.

Her first stop is Okinawa, where she picks up some “Japanese steel” from master swordsmith Hattori Hanzo (Sonny Chiba). Then it’s off to Tokyo to face Viper O-Ren Ishii, aka Cottonmouth (Lucy Liu of Charlie’s Angels). But taking down the half-Japanese half-Chinese-American Ishii isn’t easy – since leaving the DeVAS she’s completed her personal revenge on the Tokyo yakuza and taken her place at their head. Ishii is backed up by a small army of warriors known as the Crazy 88 commanded by the fierce Johnny Mo (kung fu master killer Gordon Lau), her vicious lawyer Sofie Fatale (Julie Dreyfus), and her psychopathic bodyguard Go Go Yubari (Chiaki Kuriyama of Battle Royale). After facing Cottonmouth and her gang at the House of Blue Leaves, Black Mamba returns to the USA to confront Viper Vernita Green, aka Copperhead (Vivica A. Fox), now a suburban housewife and mother.

As everyone is sure to have heard, Kill Bill was just too huge and intense a picture to release intact, and it was decided to split it into two volumes. In order to have Volume 1 stand on its own,Tartantino juggles the narrative to place the much larger and spectacular Cottonmouth sequence at the end, filling in various parts of the story wherever he feels they’ll be most effective. Though I can see why he’d want to do this, at times his playing around with the narrative is just too cute for his own good and becomes annoying – one is likely to forget how far along we are in the story by the end of the movie. I was anticipating seeing a showdown with Copperhead either as a closer here or as the opening act of Volume 2, until I remembered that that sequence had already concluded. I’m hoping that some day he’ll give us an alternate full length version of Kill Bill edited in sequence, much like the variant edition of the Godfather saga released a few years ago. In addition, the movie leaves many unanswered questions that may or may not be addressed in Volume 2. Black Mamba kills an evil scumbag during her escape from the hospital. While we’ll likely be told who she was trying to marry when Bill tried to kill her, it’s unlikely we’ll learn why she’s still driving her victim’s vehicle when she returns to the States months later. If she’s got enough cash in her stash to fly to Japan and back and buy a fancy yellow motorcycle with matching outfit, surely she can afford the price of a rental car, ditching a vehicle that the police would’ve probably tracked down by that point anyway.

Which is not to say that Kill Bill is a disappointment – far from it. Tarantino deftly dances from one cinematic effect to another, showing off his skills like a first time director. Only it’s not his own abilities he’s showing off here, but those of the filmmakers he loves. The superb online video store HK Flix is devoting a special page to Kill Bill references and influences here (I’ll be adding some to the list as I think of them). Every sequence, every scene, every shot, is a little homage to some movie QT loves, from samurai thrillers to anime to Italian horror, as if he’s using the whole movie to advertise his movie collection. QT is arguably Psychotronic Cheerleader Number One, but Kill BillĀ goes beyond mere imitation. The references and influences are deftly blended into something unique, like multiple trips to a multicultural cinematic Las Vegas buffet, with exploitation smoothies served with every course. Indeed, it’s likely that the average viewer will be too full halfway through the meal to continue without a break. But I’m a glutton for this stuff, and I can’t wait for Volume 2!

A few idiots have suggested that the movie is too violent, which is kind of like saying there are too many notes in a Mozart symphony, or too many zombies in Dawn of the Dead. QT dances around the MPAA to get his R rating, and in some scenes you can see that he’s shaded the blood just enough to stay on the R side of the fence. Still, part of the final fight scene switches to black & white for a while (in the US version at least) to keep things in hand. But fans of artful beheading should be well satisfied with the grue on display.

Likely to be forgotten amid the film’s amazing action scenes and cinematic flourishes is the movie’s most important facet, the glue which holds it all together. While some kung fu fans may think that the fighting is all that matters, and fast-forward through everything else, Kill Bill would fall flat without a brilliant Oscar-worthy performance by Uma Thurman in the lead. She not only delivers all the chops necessary to make her a first rate action hero, but she gives her character a depth that just isn’t in the script. We don’t really know who she is – even herĀ name is bleeped out of the soundtrack – but Thurman’s performance lets us know her and love her anyway. No icy avenger, her mission is a struggle born of immense loss, and Thurman makes Black Mamba’s vengeance our own, despite Tarantino’s often silly dialogue. Thurman owns Kill Bill just as much as Tarantino does.

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