REVIEW: “Kill Bill: Vol. 1”

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Quentin Tarantino’s fourth film “Kill Bill: Vol. 1” is in many ways the craziest of the nine (or ten depending on how you look at it) he has made thus far. And I realize that’s truly saying something considering every one of his movies from “Reservoir Dogs” to “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” embrace at least some degree of craziness.

Released in 2003, “Kill Bill: Vol. 1” could be defined as a spaghetti western meets chopsocky theater. But even that description seems too narrow considering how much Tarantino stuffs into this picture. We see the influences of blaxploitation and grindhouse cinema. We even get a lengthy flashback in full Japanese anime for goodness sake! And of course there are pop-culture references galore, one of the truest Tarantino signatures.

For the most part the plot is as bare-bones as they come. It’s essentially a blood-soaked revenge tale that is set in motion from the very first frame. The opening sequence is shot in vivid black-and-white and mostly focuses on the bloody and battered face of a young bride. Outside of her pained pants, all we hear are the condescending tones of a mysterious man’s voice as he asks “Do you find me sadistic?” These are the first words spoken in the film and you can almost hear the notorious filmmaker posing that very question to his audience.

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Uma Thurman plays the young woman who we simply know as the Bride. The voice of the unseen man belongs to Bill (David Carradine), the head of a hit squad known as the Deadly Vipers. The Bride was once part of Bill’s crew but now she lays the victim of their brutality. He and several of his remaining assassins kill the young woman and the unborn baby she is carrying.

Or so they think…

Fast-forward four years. The Bride is very much alive and on a personal mission to kill everyone on her hand-written hit-list. One-by-one she will check them off until finally getting to her main objective – Bill himself. But she will have her work cut out for her. The Deadly Vipers have since disbanded and tracking them down won’t be easy. And when she does find them they certainly won’t go down without a fight.

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Tarantino has always been a fan of non-linear storytelling and he fully embraces it here. He hops back-and-forth on his timeline and for the most part it works. There is one particular sequence that seems rooted in an apparent desire to make the Bride’s experience even more agonizing. In a flashback we see her lying comatose in the hospital following the attempted murder. What follows is disgustingly vile and cruel and if that’s the desired effect I guess it works. For me it felt like needless torturing of a character who already possesses a strong enough motive to fuel her thirst for revenge.

Aside from that slight foray into repugnancy, Tarantino keeps his eyes on the road. Things get really nutty in the final third and I say that as the highest compliment. The spaghetti western and kung fu influences take over and Tarantino loses himself in a hyper-violent collage of carnage. Amid the sprays of blood and severed limbs is a fascinating array of visual flair, a motley blend of music, and one intensely effective Hattori Hanzo Samurai sword. It’s a hyper-homage in its truest form but with plenty of individuality from a filmmaker truly in love with what he is creating.

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When looking at the acting you almost need an entirely new measuring stick. Each performance leans on rich personality and an intense yet graceful physicality far more than simple line delivery. Uma Thurman is the perfect choice to carry the workload. She’s strong, steely, and as expressive as she is committed. Compare that with the lethal elegance of Lucy Liu’s O-Ren Ishii, tops on the Bride’s hit-list, second on Tarantino’s manic timeline. Or Vivica Fox’s more volatile Vernita Green (aka Copperhead). Both offer really fun supporting turns.

“Kill Bill: Vol. 1” ends on a rousing note, setting the table for the inevitable Vol. 2 (hint: it takes the Bride more than one movie to get through her entire hit-list). It’s a fitting ending for a movie that revels in pulpy, old-school escapism. Tarantino runs wild showing an unquenchable love for genre filmmaking and an almost callous disregard for the squeamish. The result is a sensationally bloody revenge yarn full of cinematic wizardry and driven by a filmmaker’s insatiable appetite for the movies he grew up with. To be honest, it’s astonishing that this kind of crazy throwback even exists.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

4-5-stars

21 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Kill Bill: Vol. 1”

    • Volume 2 review goes up tomorrow. 😉

      As for the hospital scene, I probably didn’t word that very well. It wasn’t as much what was happening to her that seemed unnecessary. It was more how Tarantino seemed to relish in dehumanizing her particularly in back-and-forth between the male nurse and the scumbag guy. Just felt like it pushed it a bit in that scene.

  1. My mother isn’t into violent movies as she doesn’t like watching blood and all sorts of gory shit but for some reason. She enjoyed this and Kill Bill Vol. 2. Definitely for the music but also that showdown between the Bride and O-Ren Ishii as she just loved the look of it and its setting. Plus, the opening music of that showdown. I guess Tarantino has managed to bring something for everyone. My dad enjoyed Jackie Brown and Django Unchained and my mom enjoyed Kill Bill. I’m still waiting for a theatrical release of Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair and its DVD/Blu-Ray release.

    • I feel pretty good about saying Kill Bill is up there with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as my favorite Tarantino. I know a ton of people would scream Pulp Fiction, but for me Kill Bill is such a joy. More on Vol. 2 tomorrow.

      • It’s hard to say if you would like them better with a rewatch. Kill Bill feels so different than any of his other movies. I can see it not resonating with people.

  2. This is my 2nd favorite film of his after Inglorious Basterds. It’s wonderful, but part 2 was such a drag. It’s insane to me that he views them as one because the drop in quality between the two is so substantial.

  3. I guess I’m a odd one but I just don’t like this guys movies . They annoy me for some reason and I don’t know if its I find the guy insufferable and self important in interviews that puts me off . I didn’t even finish this movie . In fact I have yet to get through any of his movies and have just stopped being interested in anything he does . But to each their own .

    • You’re not alone. I have several issues with his films that I’ve never been able to shake. Aside from his latest, I truly love Kill Bill. It’s so weird and it fascinates me that it even exists. But I can 100% see why someone wouldn’t be onboard with it (or frankly any of his movies).

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