Kill Bill Vol. 1

It's been six years since Jackie Brown, Quentin Tarantino's last film, and nearly a decade since he redefined movies with Pulp Fiction and its over-the-top violence and banter. In the meantime, a slew of bad imitations have come and gone. And with his lack of output, fans became even more rabid for anything Tarantino, elevating him to the level of a demigod. Yes, he's good, but not as amazing as some think. What he does have going for him is a hyperactive personality and a deep love of all things cinematic. The genesis for Kill Bill came on the set of Pulp Fiction where he and Uma Thurman bounced some ideas around. Years later, the idea about a bride hunting down the people who tried to kill her mushroomed into a three hour epic, which was soon split into two parts. Kill Bill is Tarantino's homage to three genres he loves, the spaghetti western, Chinese martial arts movies, and Japanese samurai movies.

The hard part to figure out is how to look at the two films. Kill Bill was filmed all at once but split because of concerns that it was too long and that people would become numb to the non-stop orgy of blood and violence. Other films filmed at once but released separately (like the Matrix sequels and The Lord of the Rings trilogy) were filmed at once but meant to be released separately. So in essence, this is only half a film. Nevertheless, Tarantino works in chapters, and his chapters are often out of sequence, so splitting the film in two does not necessarily make it any worse off. The random jumping around through continuity seems there just to be cool; it doesn't serve any purpose to the story or anything else. Over the course of Vol. 1 there is a huge sense of growing tension that slowly builds, and stopping for a few months may destroy that momentum.

Storywise, there isn't much of anything. The Bride (Uma Thurman, Chelsea Walls, Tape) is out to kill Bill and her old accomplices. Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah, Casa de Los Babys, Northfork), O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, Chicago), Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox, Boat Trip, Juwanna Mann), and Budd (Michael Madsen, My Boss's Daughter, Die Another Day) worked with the Bride for Bill in the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. The Bride wanted to quit the business to marry and start a family, and Bill decided that this was not a good thing. They left her for dead, and four years later she woke up from a coma and decided to wreak vengeance. This is just a shell of a story, filled out with some amazing action sequences. This is simply one prolonged revenge fantasy.

Everything that people want in a Tarantino film is here, although the banter is somewhat lacking. The violence is excessive, completely gratuitous, and so far out there that it is comedic. Thurman is quite handy with her sword, chopping off limbs and watching the geysers of blood that result. The violence is not meant to be realistic, it is supposed to be like this. How realistic is it for one lady to take on a room full of yakuza assassins with just a sword? Guess who wins? Thurman's performance is great. Like the story, there is very little substance, but the role requires a huge amount of physical exertion, and the Bride is far beyond anything Thurman has ever done before. Vol. 1 ends with an extended action sequence that takes place in a Japanese restaurant. It is breathtaking in scope and sheer viciousness, and a great way to end the first section.

The really important thing here is that Tarantino is making the film he wants to make. Some of his fans may be turned off by the prolonged Japanese dialogue or baffled by his constant references to other works, but it is rare to see somebody who has such a distinct voice and is willing to stick by it. Tarantino's visual style matches his ADHD personality, switching from color to stylish black-and-white, and even to an anime interlude. His editing skills are impressive, as he can expertly shoot action scenes then splice all these disparate styles together into a cohesive whole. This clearly the movie he wants to make for himself, not the one he wants to make to make money or to satisfy his fans. Kill Bill will probably do both, but that's just a nice extra.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 50 minutes, English and Japanese with English subtitles, Rated R for strong bloody violence, language, and some sexual content.

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