Kill Bill Vol.1
Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Daryl Hannah, Vivica A. Fox
Directed By :
Quentin Tarantino

Synopsis: Uma Thurman plays The Bride, the former head of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, who worked for Bill. On her wedding day, The Bride was shot and left for dead along with The Groom and the entire wedding party. Bill and The Squad were responsible. But somehow The Bride survived, and now she's hunting down her former squad mates and exacting her vengeance, all leading up to the moment when she'll kill Bill.

Who Will This Appeal To?: Most fans of Tarantino's work, most martial arts or action movie fans, teens wowed by violence, fans of the seventies who want a shot of retro movie-making, and critics who praise anything they don't quite understand but feel that they should.

Evaluation: Yes, this movie really is as cheesy as it sounds in the plot synopsis. And it's supposed to be. Escaping death, mind over matter, walking thirteen hours after waking up from a four year coma, surviving after your arm was cut off thirty minutes ago, jumping ten feet in the air, the exaggerated Warrior's Code portrayed in the film. This movie is full of old movie clichés and impossibilities. But it is a tribute to exactly those movies. You want me to sum up this movie in one sentence? Style over substance. And let's face it, Tarantino has really been all about that since the beginning. Reservoir Dogs is an emulation of several older crime noir films. Natural Born Killers is a modern take on Bonnie & Clyde. True Romance is Tarantino's life if it became movie material. From Dusk 'Til Dawn is his take on vampire flicks. He delved into the seventies nostalgia with Pulp Fiction and blaxploitation with Jackie Brown. They're all derivative, all homages to genres Tarantino was influenced by, and they cross-reference each other a bit as well. Well in Kill Bill, he pays full tribute to seventies B-rate martial arts movies like The Shaw Brothers produced. He even has Gordon Liu and Sonny Chiba in small roles. This aim of the film is both its strength and its weakness.

First off, realize that this is a more hardcore Game of Death. Yep, Bruce Lee's last movie that he only got to film a few fight scenes for. It was released posthumously with laughable extras filling in for Lee, frequently with his face pasted over theirs. It's pretty horrible. Except for the last 15 minutes, the part he's in. See, an organization tried to kill Lee, but he survives and fakes his death in order to track down those responsible to be free. The end of the movie is what Lee based the idea around, and it has Lee fighting his way up different levels of a pagoda to get to the man that ordered his death, fighting a different master on each level. Very similar premise and progression to Kill Bill, except with Thurman as Lee, down to riding a motorcycle (like Lee) in the same outfit Lee wore when she goes to fight O-Ren, at a pagoda. Not to mention all the Kato references. (And yet no "thank you" to Bruce in the tribute listing in the credits.) The difference is in the way that movie violence is portrayed, (something Lee was pushing for), and in the extension of the story surrounding The Bride and her vengeance.

The tribute thing pays off in spades. For the types of people I listed above, there are scenes that are a treat. Sword fight with fifty against one. One on one samurai battle in a garden. Knife fight in the suburbs. School girl with a ball and chain. Sword fight in the dark. One in black and white. An animated scene. It goes on and on. And the music…wow. An amalgamation of Asian music, classical, opera, surf rock, country, seventies funk, music by The RZA, you name it, it's in here.

This is where the film fails, as well. It's got style to spare, and it probably should've spared some. It feels like there's NO direction! The movie switches styles of visuals and music with no segues or theme. It feels like Tarantino just took everything he liked or wanted to do, threw it in a bowl and served it up. No blending, no presentation, no theme. The film is very jarring. Long scenes of "character interaction" where really nothing is being said, and then extended fight scenes all in a row. Seventies sound effects and over-close-ups. The Bride's real name stated, but bleeped out every time. I think it's designed to not let you settle in, but it doesn't really grab you and pull you in, either.

As far as the fights go, bravo. No over the top CGI, no fakey wirework (well, there's one part but it's forgivable), just well put together action. It's not like The Matrix, not showy and designed to impress. It's quick, it's brutal. Lots of blood, lots of death. You don't go on a quest for vengeance intending to let the underlings live. If you cut off a limb, arteries are still gonna try to pump blood to it. Tarantino's not glorifying violence, he's showing the realities of it. It's not sanitized. And it serves the purpose of the story, it's not random. This carries through to every aspect of the story. (What do you think happens while attractive coma patients are in the hospital?) Hollywood should take notes.

On the writing side, it's disappointing. Tarantino's always been known for whip smart dialogue. The closest you're gonna get in Kill Bill is "Silly Rabbit, Trix are for kids." Which people are arguing about the hidden meaning of on the internet, but the fact remains there's no great one-liners or monologues in this film. In fact, the writing for the whole film falls flat, seeming to be nothing more than an excuse to string the action sequences together. Now, this is standard for many martial arts or action movies, but has never before been the case in a Tarantino film. Maybe it'll pick up in Vol. II.

Final Verdict: Great action scenes and a graphic portrayal of loss and vengeance. Don't expect much in the way of mature story or dialogue, but enjoy the retro spectacle for the mixed bag that it is.

It's All in the Details: Check out Tarantino's internal references…The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad's similarity to FemForce Five from Pulp Fiction, his focus on cereal, Sonny Chiba is referenced in True Romance and appears here, Uma draws a square in the air like in Pulp Fiction, Michael Parks reprises his role in From Dusk 'Til Dawn, and more waiting to be found…

- - Jeff Light

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