Kill Bill Vol. 1 Review
By Shawn McKenzie 10/13/2003
Sometimes I think that it takes the patience of a television critic to review some movies. The #1 complaint I have heard from other critics over the long awaited fourth film by Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill Vol. 1, is that they felt gypped by the ending of the film. Maybe only a television critic like me can appreciate a good cliffhanger.
Beatrix, a.k.a. Black Mamba (Uma Thurman; her character’s name is bleeped out every time it is said) is a highly trained assassin for the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (DiVAS.) She worked for her former lover, Bill (David Carradine), but decided that she wanted out. She left the DiVAS, met someone, got pregnant, and was about to get married in El Paso. This makes Bill angry, and he sends his other assassins to kill her at her wedding. They kill the groom (Chris Nelson) and the rest of the wedding party, but Texas Ranger Sheriff Earl McGraw (Michael Parks) at the scene discovers that Black Mamba is still alive, though comatose. After sending Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), a.k.a. California Mountain Snake, to finish the job, Bill changes his mind and lets her live, because killing her while in a coma wouldn’t be honorable. Four years go by, and Black Mamba finally comes out of her coma with revenge on her mind. She wants to kill Bill and the rest of the DiVAS. Aside from Bill and Elle, she also wants to kill O-Ren Ishii, a.k.a. Cottonmouth (Lucy Liu); Vernita Green, a.k.a. Copperhead (Vivica A. Fox); and Budd, a.k.a. Sidewinder (Michael Madsen.) O-Ren is first on Black Mamba’s list, but first she must get past O-Ren’s assistant, Sophie Fatale (Julie Dreyfus), and her bodyguards, Go Go Yubari (Chiaki Kuriyama) and Johnny Mo (Gordon Liu.) She goes to Okinawa to seek the aid of master Japanese swordsman, Hattori Hanzo (Sonny Chiba), to make a sword in which she will use to kill O-Ren, who is now the leader of the Japanese crime syndicate in Tokyo. Next on her list is Vernita, who like Black Mamba tried to get out of the assassin business and live a normal life. She now lives in a suburb of Pasadena, California with her daughter, but still possesses deadly fighting skills. After those two, she moves onto the others, ending with killing Bill (who is never seen but heard a few times in the first installment), all of which will most likely be seen in Kill Bill Vol. 2, scheduled to be released next February.
I won’t tell you how the movie ends, but as you may have guessed, it ends on a cliffhanger. It was originally conceived to be a four-hour movie, which didn’t please Miramax head Harvey Weinstein too much. Rather than force the filmmaker to cut the movie down (after all, Miramax’s nickname is “the house that Tarantino built”), he suggested that the movie should be split up into two parts. Tarantino jumped on the idea, because it meant he didn’t have to sacrifice anything, and a mass audience would be able to take it easier in the smaller doses. He also gets two chances at some Oscar lovin’.
As much as I loved this movie, I don’t think it will see any Oscar nods. Action films don’t usually get awards, and especially an action film that is a cheesy homage to ‘70s martial arts films. Don’t take this as a slam, because the movie is excellent otherwise.
This movie is so outrageous with its violence that it becomes cartoonish and fun. Limbs aren’t just cut off, they spurt blood out like a geyser. The blood isn’t even realistic looking, just like the martial arts films of old. The fight action uses the wire-fu style (most popularly seen in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and is choreographed by Woo-ping Yuen. Tarantino has some creative ways of lessoning the impact of the most bloody and violent scenes (presumably to avoid an NC-17 rating.) While telling the back-story of O-Ren, the flashback is told in anime style (a style I don’t normally like, but I liked it here.) In a latter scene where Black Mamba fights an army of O-Ren’s foot soldiers (which is a tribute to Bruce Lee), the blood is so gratuitous that it is shown in black and white. The blood therefore looks like water and isn’t quite as shocking.
Tarantino’s signature feature, the dialogue, isn’t as pronounced here. There are little to no pop culture references. I think the references come in the form of the action this time. I can’t say that I am well versed in ‘70s martial arts films, but I have seen enough of them to realize when they are being referenced. In one goofy statement, Black Mamba tells the henchmen that weren’t killed that they may leave with their lives, but not the limbs that they lost, because she now owns them. It reminded me of the self-important statements made in various old martial arts films.
Some may question my high praise for Kill Bill Vol. 1, but I don’t care. Its stylish yet obviously fake violence is amusing, and the end of the film ranks up there with some of the best episodes of “Alias” and “24.” If critics can wait a year between Lord of the Rings movies and three years between Star Wars movies, why can’t they wait four months between Kill Bill movies?
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