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.
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.
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.
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