Kill Bill: Vol. 1 Review
By Joe Lozito
Leaving "Kill Bill," the proclaimed "Fourth Film by Quentin Tarantino," was almost as fun as watching the film. The varied audience responses ran the gamut from "brilliant" to "stupid". Surely, those expecting to relive the mind-expanding experience of watching "Pulp Fiction" for the first time were disappointed, and certainly those who share Mr. Tarantino's geek-chic appreciation for all things stylish and eclectic were amazed. I fell somewhere in between. My main reaction: wow, it would be fun to be Quentin Tarantino.
It seems that Miramax ("the House that Quentin Built") denied the writer-director no expense in creating his ode to the grind house classics of his youth. Oddly, this is probably not the movie those old kung fu directors would have made if they had Mr. Tarantino's exponentially larger budget. No, this is a Quentin Tarantino movie. Mr. Tarantino's films defy classification because they spring from the Ritalin-deprived mind of a pop culture sponge.
"Kill Bill" contains only a few moments of actual kung-fu (courtesy of Yuen Wo-Ping, of course; nothing but the best), most of the time it's just slicing and dicing peppered with Mr. Tarantino's trademark reference puree. Watching "Bill", I realized that Mr. Tarantino's gift is not for plot (with the exception of "Jackie Brown", his films don't have much plot), it's for the manner in which a story is told. Obviously, Mr. Tarantino knows this, since he has stripped "Kill Bill" of any need for plot. It is strictly a revenge movie. Like the Clint Eastwood/Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns (which Mr. Tarantino musically references in the film), the story simply involves our hero, left for dead, seeking revenge. The movie then follows the chase and the side stories of the hunter and the hunted. A film like this lives or dies by the audience's interest in those side characters. Thankfully, Mr. Tarantino loves his tangential characters. "Kill Bill", in fact, is all tangent. Particularly striking is the backstory of Lucy Liu's character, told completely via Anime. Like "Pulp Fiction", "Bill" is non-linear. Mr. Tarantino feeds information to the audience in "Chapters" - pulled more or less at random for the best effect.
Of course, "Bill" contains moments of that much-imitated, referential dialogue. Those moments are few and far between, however, since for the most part the characters trade one-liners before and during fight scenes. Grind-house mainstay Sonny Chiba is given a Tarantinian career boost with the film's one juicy role as an aging samurai sword maker. Then, of course, there's Uma Thurman who conceived of this star vehicle with Quentin during the making of "Pulp Fiction". She carries the role of "The Bride" (her real name is winkingly bleeped during the film) with as much star power as she can muster. She's not a strong actress, but she is a strong presence and that's really all the role requires. The other performances in the film aren't much to speak of. The actors do what they can to bring emotion to the pauses between the slices and one-liners.
So, in the end, both audience reactions are correct. "Kill Bill" is pretty stupid, but there are also moments of beauty and brilliance (watch how Uma gets her samurai sword on the plane). Yes, the film is very bloody, but the director seems to have a handle on each droplet. When it comes to a Tarantino film, you have to ask: who else could make a mainstream movie that features a beheading that spews a geyser of bloody for a good minute and a half? Each scene is composed as a postcard sure to inspire imitators. This is a director who can open a film with a 'Wrath of Khan' quote and, like Cameron Crowe, always has perfect music for every occasion. Let's hope one day, as one of his characters might say, Mr. Tarantino will use his talents for good instead of evil.