say your piece
OCTOBER 9, 2003
Tarantino and Thurman Kill Many, Many People
By Jeremy Mathews
Uma Thurman exerts herself physically as the revenge-seeking Bride in Quentin Tarantino's action masterpiece, 'Kill Bill, Vol.1.'

“Kill Bill, Vol. 1”
Miramax Films
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino
Produced by Lawrence Bender and Quentin Tarantino
Starring Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Daryl Hannah, Michael Madsen, Vivica A. Fox, Lucy Liu, Michael Jai White, Chia Hui Liu, Chiaki Kuriyama and Sonny Chiba
Rated R
Opens wide Friday, Oct. 10
(out of four)

Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill, Vol. 1” in large part pays tribute to films whose stories are pretty much nonexistent—and what there is often creates disturbing, illogical messages in the name of impressive action. But Tarantino loves these films with such pronounced energy that he’s made a rather insane masterpiece of the genre.

Of course, this genre may not appeal to people who dislike the sight of blood, guts and various detached body parts.

“Kill Bill” is an homage to grind-house films, which played in rundown movie houses and showed an affection for martial arts and gore. The films were violent, sometimes pornographic (not the case with “Kill Bill”) exercises in exhibitionism. Tarantino’s film opens with a scratched-up ShawScope title, referencing the grind-house masters the Shaw Brothers. I couldn’t begin to guess how much fake blood is used in the film, but it sprays wildly with each decapitation and loss of a limb.

Tarantino tackles the action scenes with several different techniques—slow motion, black-and-white photography (the giant final scene switches into black and white, possibly to maintain an R rating), fancy photography and trademark Tarantino soundtrack usage. If there’s not enough cinema references in the main story, there’s even an animated flashback sequence to a character’s traumatizing childhood in the style of Japanese anime.

The film follows the revenge genre, in which the hero or heroine avenges the wrongs done to him or her by killing many, many wrongdoers. Uma Thurman, who conceived the film with Tarantino while shooting “Pulp Fiction,” plays a character known only as The Bride (her name is bleeped out on the rare occasions that it’s used).

There’s not much to the story. For some reason, the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, led by Bill (David Carradine) and includes Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), O-Ren Ishi (Lucy Liu) and Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) killed The Bride’s (its former member) wedding party and unborn child on her wedding night. As for The Bride, Bill shoots her in the head in the opening sequence, prompting one of those classic Tarantino music cues: “Bang, Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down).”

But she doesn’t die—and wakes from her coma four years later, thirsty for revenge. And so the carnage begins in cleverly set action scenes. The opening scene takes place in the suburban home of one of the squad members, who is married and has a young daughter. The fight goes on hold when the girl’s school bus pulls up in front of the house.

Tarantino’s postmodern sense of humor prevails throughout, such as in an airplane scene, which includes cheap stock exterior footage and people in their seats with their deadly swords next to them. And the proverb about revenge on the opening title card is priceless.

The most missed element from Tarantino’s past films is the dialogue, which there isn’t much room for in the barrage of action. One of the film’s few quiet moments is also one of its best, featuring an excellent performance by Sonny Chiba as a sword maker whom The Bride travels to Japan to meet.

Thurman works as hard as any actress this year as she kicks, jumps and punches in almost every scene. While there isn’t much typical drama, she does well with what she has and adds dimension to her character, sometimes looking completely terrified despite The Bride’s amazing stamina and killing skills.

This dimension helps bring up the ultimate conflict of the revenge film: Is it really worth all the killing? Some revenge films feature exploitative rape scenes and follow them with lots of graphic violence. In “Kill Bill, Vol. 1,” none of the scenes are done in ways that exploit the actors, but they are done in ways that might make people with aversions to violence vomit. But for those who relish the style, this will be a great cinematic treat. Whether or not there’s more to it can’t be determined until the second half of the film comes out.

As the title suggests, the film was too long (about three hours and 20 minutes) for Miramax Films to release in one sitting and ends with a cliffhanger to “Kill Bill, Vol. 2,” due out in February. This device works well because the final action sequence lasts about 45 minutes and feels like the climax to come at the end. It’ll be nice to see what Tarantino came up with to top it. Also, the sequence after Tarantino’s credit includes a nice twist.

It’s difficult to determine exactly how strong the entire work will be apart from its action sequences, which are undeniably brilliant. In the second film, Tarantino may resolve the conflicts of the revenge film or he may simply frolic in more gory action. Either way, he’ll do it with enough enthusiasm to keep it interesting and fun.

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