Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003)
Release Date: October 10th, 2003 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Quentin Tarantino Actors: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Julie Dreyfus, Chiaki Kuriyama, Sonny Chiba
he fourth film by Quentin Tarantino, “Kill Bill: Volume 1” was originally intended as one longer epic that bordered on four hours, only to be later split into two separate movies; with no heavy-handed producer to cut down his story, it makes sense to just film the whole thing and craft more than one picture from the material. After all, few writers can pen dialogue and scenarios like Tarantino. But it also made a lot of fans unhappy to have to wait several months in between the release dates. Whether or not the wait was worth it, this first chapter, with its commanding soundtrack (with music by RZA), preposterously over-the-top brutality, jaw-dropping martial arts action, and incredible stylization, is a nonstop visual treat.
Beatrix Kiddo, known here only as The Bride (Uma Thurman), is mercilessly attacked by her former elite operations gang during her wedding day – and left for dead. When she awakes from a coma to find the child she was pregnant with has died and that all of her loved ones were slain in what was dubbed the “El Paso Massacre,” she sets out on a bloodthirsty killing spree to reap vengeance on those who did her wrong. Writing out a death list consisting of the names of the guilty Deadly Viper Assassination Squad members, along with their leader and her ex-lover Bill (David Carradine), she embarks on a mission that will lead her to Okinawa in search of the perfect samurai sword, to Tokyo to hunt down O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), and to California to fight Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) – events that are split up into chapters and exhibited completely out of order, in typical Tarantino fashion.
Ever since the success of “Pulp Fiction,” Quentin Tarantino has been in the habit of making significant, strange, highly memorable films. Heavy on cult themes, grindhouse-like exploitation ideas, humorously profound dialogue, and larger-than-life adventure, he’s intent on showing audiences violence and imagery like they’ve never seen before. With “Kill Bill: Volume 1,” he focuses on action over character, as well as paying tribute to Asian martial arts films (or samurai/yakuza epics) of the ‘70s and contemporary anime (at one point, traditional animation company Production I.G. steps in to do an entire segment on Ishii’s backstory). And he does it well; Tarantino’s input and arrangement manages to be just as striking as ever before.
It’s no secret that much of the film borrows heavily from lesser-known genre influences like “Lady Snowblood” and “They Call Her One Eye,” but the director’s attention to action choreography and editing verve gives this loose derivation an identity all its own. The battle royal finale with O-Ren’s 88 masked bodyguards includes so much appendage-hacking mayhem that Tarantino had to switch to black and white and black and blue tints to avoid an NC-17 rating (it was notably available in its original full-color format in Japan only). Although the bloodshed is extremely exaggerated, it’s entirely effective, especially with over-the-top designs that turn the whole ordeal into something comically stimulating; as is the case with many moments throughout, no matter how uncomfortable, humor always seems to edge its way into the frame.
The other very impressive aspect is the soundtrack (not uncommon in Tarantino’s projects). Alternating between upbeat rock, snazzy jazz, thundering orchestral music, and even classical tunes, the compositions parallel the ferocity and suspense, smartly complementing every event. And some of those occasions are downright bizarre. Vivid and monstrous personas abound, such as the spiked flail and chain-wielding schoolgirl Gogo Yubari (Chiaki Kuriyama), or the one-eyed nurse Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), or the comatose patient rapist Buck (Michael Bowen), each adding extra spice to this stupefying morsel of revenge and redemption. The creativity – or, certainly, the flair for embellished adaptation – is at an apex of cinematographic style. For a film that is ultimately just the first piece to a much larger narrative, “Kill Bill: Volume 1” does not disappoint.
– Mike Massie