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Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003)

R · 110 minutes

Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Written by Quentin Tarantino

 · Uma Thurman
 · Lucy Liu
 · David Carradine
 · Sonny Chiba

Review by Thom Stricklin

Perhaps I'm not one of his core fans, but Quentin Tarantino has always been a mixed bag for me.  Reservoir Dogs is still his most solid film to date, I think--a film that anyone (with a strong stomach) can sit and enjoy without first needing the pretense that "It's a Tarantino film." Pulp Fiction requires just such a pretense.  It has some brilliant moments, but then, it also has, simply put, an awful lot of "moments" and less coherence.  Then there was Jackie Brown which, aside from a few cool one-liners, had little redeeming value whatsoever.

You could imagine, then, with my downward-sloping interest in his films, I wouldn't be looking forward to "The fourth film by Quentin Tarantino": Kill Bill.  You wouldn't know the half of it.  Biker helmets, nurses with eye patches, martial arts...  are you kidding me?! The closest I get to that is The Karate Kid.  It didn't look like #4 had anything that would keep my interest at all.

But lo and behold, my uncle's birthday was this weekend, and he wanted to treat the family to lunch followed by a trip to the Ciné Capre, the valley's gigantic 600-seat theatre, for a showing of Kill Bill.

Yes, yes, you've heard it before...  I'm glad someone dragged me to it.




The Q-man himself has been admitting that he paid less attention to plot and character development, and that much is obvious.  Kill Bill follows a rather simple tale of revenge: former cohorts almost kill a woman, succeed in murdering her groom, her unborn child and all her hope for happiness, and the women tries mighty damn hard to get even.  Honestly, though, I wonder if it's a bad thing that Tarantino went with a simplified plot. I mean, really, what was Reservior Dogs but a heist movie gone bad? Pulp's plot handling was groundbreaking, but shouldn't be recreated, and when a plot overshadows the players within, especially Tarantino's characters, they're not as relatable, not as sympathetic.

Kill Bill, surprisingly, does develop some sympathy for its characters, from the unnamed bride (Uma Thurman) to even the villanous O-Ren (Lucy Liu).  Of course, a lot of said sympathy flies out the window when we see what atrocious acts the characters are capable of, but one way or another, the film evokes a flurry of emotion throughout.




There is a second part to what Quentin has said about Kill Bill.  It may not be his richest storyline, but he instead wanted to focus on visual achievement.  My lord, did he achieve! Even the biggest Tarantino hater must admit that Kill Bill features some amazing cinematography.  Q took the conflicting notions of good & bad he's famous for writing, and painted it across the screen in every scene.  Contrast is everywhere in this film, but contrast between beauty and violence is the most prominent, as anyone will see when Thurman and Liu step into the snow for their climactic battle.

"But what about the genre elements, Thom? That kung-fu you absolutely hated?" Well...  Guess what? I loved it.  I'll probably never be a regular fan of martial arts movies, but Quentin Tarantino handled the mixing of genres masterfully.  The film begins with a seventies-flaired crime noir feel that any Tarentino fan will feel right at home in, but with its settings evolves into an Asian cinema feel, marked by an entire chapter presented in Anime.

Yes, anime...  I'm one of those who have never understood that appeal, either, but I feel I have a much better idea after Kill Bill.  While it's chock-full of shaky faces and Pow-Thwak fighting, it uses point of view--and a subtlety I didn't know Tarantino was capable of, to very, very artistically portray a most tragic event. It felt like watching a Shakespearean play without words.

The same can be said for the film as a whole.  The mixing of genres works, most of all, because Quentin exhibits an obvious love for the films and cultures that inspired him, and it's contagious.



And like Shakespeare, Kill Bill is a work of art that could be analyzed and discussed to no end.  In the end, however, it all comes down to this: If you can look past exteme violence to see artistry and meaning, you should go see Kill Bill Vol. 1 right now, because artistry and meaning you'll find.

(Note: Please, think twice, however, before bringing the kids to this film.)

721 Words · Published: 16 October 2003

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