I had no idea what to expect when I sat down to watch Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill: Vol. 1
, which is part of the reason I was so excited to see it. Like many other film geeks in the world, I'm quite the Tarantino fan. Not enough to be able to rattle off the entire script of Reservoir Dogs
in my sleep, but enough to, say, call in sick to work in order to go see his first film in six years. (And let's just keep that between us, shall we?)
And the fact that this is Tarantino's first film in six years puts it in an unfortunate position. Is it even possible for it to live up to the expectations of his most rabid fans, who will always be waiting for the man to helm something as groundbreaking as Pulp Fiction
? Probably not. So before going into this film I made sure to clear my mind of any expectation aside from the fact that I was hoping to see a brutal, stylish revenge flick that would, with any luck, kick my ass. Luckily for me I got just that, though in quite a different package than I expected.
Unlike most of Tarantino's earlier works, the plot of Kill Bill
is fairly simple. A sinister, dangerous man named Bill (played by an unseen David Carradine) has formed an elite group of assassins known as the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, or DiVAS. All of the DiVAS have code names, and the deadliest of the bunch is Black Mamba, played by the lovely Uma Thurman. On Mamba's wedding day, for reasons that I'm sure will be revealed in Volume 2, Bill and his Viper Squad decide to shoot her down and take her out of the game for good. Unfortunately for them they only succeed in putting her in a coma, and when Mamba (now known simply as The Bride) wakes up four years later...well, saying that she's pretty pissed off would be an understatement. Thus begins a tale of brutal vengeance, as The Bride vows to hunt down the 5 people who destroyed her life and kill them one at a time.
Yet even though the plot of Kill Bill
may be simple, one gets the feeling that that's precisely the point. After all, this is Tarantino's homage to spaghetti westerns, samurai flicks and kung-fu movies. It's his self described "grindhouse" picture, more reliant on action and style than story and dialogue. Which means that you won't find any characters riffing about Quarter Pounders with cheese, and you won't leave the theater quoting many lines or talking about the crazy plot twists. That's not to say that not a lot will stick with you after the credits roll, because believe me, there are some things here that would be tough to forget.
First of all, the movie looks beautiful. It's stylishly shot by a director who obviously knows what he wants in every single frame, and it even has a distinct look and feel for each "chapter" that the film is divided into. Especially impressive is an amazing Japanese anime sequence that provides us with the backstory of O-Ren Ishii, who is one of the Vipers played by Lucy Liu. I've seen maybe one or two anime movies in my lifetime and wasn't at all mesmerized by them, but after this small sequence I felt like an anime convert. Then there are the fight sequences, which the film practically revolves around. Unlike many other movies, these fights are excellently choreographed and shot in such a variety of styles and locations that they never become boring. They're also not hacked to pieces by shoddy editing, which is a welcome relief.
Aside from the astounding direction, what would a Tarantino film be without the music? Kill Bill
follows in the tradition of his other works, with the songs practically acting as another character in the action, always helping to set the tone of whatever the situation. I had glanced at the soundtrack at the store the other day, but put it down after realizing I didn't recognize a single song on it. After the movie was over and I left the theater, my first stop was that same music store, where I immediately rushed in to purchase the CD. It's definitely one of the most essential parts of the movie, and you're bound to have one song or another lodged in your head after viewing it.
Last but not least are the performances. Uma Thurman does a superb job at anchoring the film, creating a nameless character that is beautiful on the outside but seething with deadly determination on the inside. This is a woman with nothing else on her mind aside from vengeance, and nothing from atrophied limbs to 88 deadly samurai is going to stop her from reaching that goal. Most of the other players barely make cameos, but each makes a distinct, unique impression, with Lucy Liu and Sonny Chiba stealing their fair share of scenes.
Five minutes into this movie I could tell that it certainly wasn't for everyone, and that notion was only strengthened as the film went on. First of all, this thing is unbelievably bloody and violent, so much so that many scenes even shocked me, and I consider myself pretty unshockable. There are limbs being hacked off everywhere, blood gushing out in ridiculous amounts, and basically more over the top carnage than I can ever recall seeing in an American movie. The fact that this thing made it to theaters with an R rating proves that Quentin Tarantino must have drugged the MPAA, or at the very least had pictures of Jack Valenti in drag. If you're squeamish or faint of heart, I suggest you run to the other side of the multiplex and avoid this at all costs.
That being said, I absolutely loved
the fact that there was so much cartoonish gore and crazy violence in this movie. I was wildly entertained the entire time, and I believe at one point I actually sat with my mouth agape in awe at what was happening on screen. If I'm lucky, that's something that happens a few times at the movie theater each year, and this was one of them. The style of the film was unlike anything I've ever witnessed, and the fight scenes were so grandly choreographed that it felt like an adrenaline rush simply to watch them.
In short, this movie blew me away, and will likely land on my personal top ten list at the end of the year. It's funny, stylish, bloody, violent, and will probably become a cult movie forever worshipped by fans of Asian cinema everywhere. I think one way to judge how powerful an effect a film has on you is to see what other interests you pick up because of it. For instance, I know jack about samurai films and kung-fu movies, but now I find myself wanting to see as many as I possibly can. If they're nearly as fun and gloriously bloody as this epic, then I think I've just found my new favorite genre.
This movie is definitely worth a trip (or two) to the theater if you're a fan of ridiculously bloody action, amazing fight sequences, or Quentin Tarantino films in general. If you're looking for a dialogue heavy crime caper that comes across like Pulp Fiction
part 2, or if the sight of limbs being hacked off in abundance bothers you, I suggest you look elsewhere for your kicks. Those who keep an open mind are bound to be entertained, and I know I'll be calling in sick to work yet again when Volume 2 hits theaters on February 20th.