Review: Kill Bill Vol. 1

I just saw Quentin Tarantino’s new film Kill Bill Vol. 1 after having spent years avoiding his films because of the hype surrounding them. I know it’s crazy, but I can’t stand things that are praised to the high heavens—especially when the plaudits are of a pretentious sort. Tarantino is almost always praised like that and I shrugged off the recommendations I received over the years. When Kill Bill Vol. 1 was announced, I thought that the premise sounded good and so I was willing to give it a shot.

With Columbus Day giving me some free time, I journeyed to the first showing at the Ciné Capri. If you have a chance to see the movie there, I would take it. The screen is phenomenal and I got great seats—right at eye level. As a child, I saw many films at the old Ciné Capri and the recreation is perfect, right down to the enormous curtains closing before the start of the movie. The auditorium is larger-than-life; a good theater really enhances the experience. I was glad that I could go there.

My initial reaction is one of awe and amazement. I say initial only because it was such an overwhelming movie that I am still processing it. This has got to be one of the best movies I’ve seen in years. In fact, I don’t think I’ve felt the same way about a movie since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Kill Bill Vol. 1 is epic in scope; it’s really hard to describe.

The movie is about a character known only as The Bride (Uma Thurman) and her efforts to exact revenge on her former co-workers (is that what you’d call former assassin associates? I guess.). They killed her entire wedding party and left her comatose for four years, terminating her pregnancy as well. She awakens and immediately sets out to kill each one in turn and eventually Bill, the group’s leader. In Volume 1, she kills Vernita Green (Vivica Fox) and O-Ren Ishi (Lucy Liu), leaving Elle Driver (Darryl Hannah), Budd (Michael Madsen), and Bill (David Carradine) for the sequel due in February 2004.

The action towards these goals is fast-paced, gory, and visually stunning. I am a big fan of Jackie Chan and a lot of the sequences have the feel of his movies, though much more bloody and sword-wielding. Another pertinent influence in this regard is the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone and the spooky westerns of Clint Eastwood—made explicitly obvious by using some of Ennio Morricone’s scores on the soundtrack. All of those movies are violent and bloody—I understand the Tarantino created this movie as an homage to two of his favorite genres, kung fu and spaghetti westerns. It certainly wasn’t lost on me.

Reading the other reviews, it seems that there are a number of other directors to whom Tarantino alludes. I don’t know about those, not having seen a lot of the foreign films. I definitely think that my experience with the two genres already mentioned heightened my appreciation of the film. When I watch the movie in the future, I’m sure that I’ll get successively more of it. If you can swing it, I would recommend watching Sergio Leone’s classic westerns Once Upon a Time in the West and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter.

I’ve also borrowed Pulp Fiction from my sister-in-law and will rent some Bruce Lee flicks in the coming weeks so that I can build up some context for the next viewing of this amazing flick.

In case you think that this is a serious Film, don’t. I was surprised at how funny it actually was. It’s a mostly understated humor since there’s little dialogue but it’s powerful nonetheless. Much of the violence is so over-the-top that you can’t help but laugh at it: The Bride at one point smashes a table leg with two nails protruding into the head of an adversary, causing the girl’s eyes to stream blood. While that may not sound hilarious, it really is contextually since the two actions don’t really bear any causal relationship. Another funny part is when The Bride is wailing on O-Ren Ishi’s Crazy 88 gang in silhouette until only one is left standing. The lights are turned back on and her opponent turns out to be a rather round-faced teenage boy. She hacks away at his brittle sword with her incredible kitana until he’s left holding a hilt. She then grabs him, flips him over, and raises her sword to finish him off … except that she repeatedly hits his butt with the flat side of the sword and admonishes him to stop hanging around yakuza!

I am sure that despite my lengthy treatment I have barely done the movie justice. I don’t think that I could adequately present it so that you could grasp its entirety. I won’t try, but I will encourage you to go see it. If you’re not afraid of violence and massive amounts of fake blood—the art director revealed that they used 450 gallons of it in the shooting—then this movie will astound and delight you. Just don’t go in expecting something light: this is an epic movie. It is what The Matrix and its sequels aspired to be; the difference is that this movie (and hopefully its second act) touches on a universal emotion—revenge—and mostly makes sense. Revealingly, the trailer for The Matrix Revolutions played right before the movie and I was struck by its inscrutability, even having seen the two previous movies. The Wachowski Brothers could learn something about screenwriting from Tarantino; I think the fight sequences from Kill Bill Vol. 1 have set a new standard that will be emulated for years to come.

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