Kill Bill Vol. 1 (Wed 7 930P) is the most recent Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs) which was (controversially) shot as one movie and then spliced in two and released six months apart. I say controversially because some believed that it was a cynical money making ploy to generate twice the revenues for a single film. Tarantino claimed that he could not chop the movie any shorter (than the two parts currently are) and was forced to make an artistic choice (by making two films). The criticisms continued once the two films were released with some critics claiming that the stories did not naturally fall into two parts etc etc. Overwhelmingly too, most, it seemed, preferred Vol. 2 which is a lot more conventional in how it unfolds than part 1, which I will get too shortly. I for one however simply revelled in Vol. 1 and endorse it again here.
Kill Bill tells the story of The Bride (Uma Thurman), a member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, headed by the eponymous Bill (David Carradine) is “killed” on her wedding day by her now estranged Squad, along with all members of her bridal party, guests and clergy. Despite being bruised and bloodied, she is in a deep coma from which she does not wake for four years. When she does finally, she vows a bloody and ruthless revenge. She makes a list, with Bill last on the list, and Vol. 1 proceeds to tell the revenge of numbers 1 and 2 on the list : Lucy Liu, now leader of the Japanese underworld, and Vivica A Fox, a regular suburban mum.
Tarantino has made no secret of his love of old style Hong Kong gangster films and this homage moves from the cheesy music and off-centre title card at the films opening to the high powered kung-fu throughout. The violence in this film is bloody but deliberately over the top and must be viewed as comedy when copious amounts of blood spurt wildly from shoulder joints as any number of faceless baddies have their limbs severed by a samurai sword.
What sets this movie apart though is how it looks and how it sounds. The music is energetic and wild when it is called for and quiet and reflective to contrast. There is no doubt that music adds to the style of the film and its story telling. Listen to it loud is my suggestion. [I recall being alone in the house one night and at 3am watching Vol. 1 at full volume. It was awesome].
The look of the film too is beautiful with its bright and vibrant colours – think The Bride’s yellow track suit and the Pussy Wagon’s garish colours. My favourite scene however is virtually the last with the showdown between The Bride and Liu. The solitude of the Japanese garden, the snow gently falling, the trickle of the stream and the dropping of the bamboo water feature. This also assists in telling the story as The Bride and Liu meet each other as enemies and in their fight, learn respect for each other that neither had.
The other visual tricks that Tarantino dishes up for us is a sequence in anime, possibly to “tone down” the subject matter to get past the censors – I’ll let you decide if you think it is appropriate material for a mainstream film; the extended fight sequence with the Crazy 88 is broken up with viewing the fight in colour, black and white, in blue shadow; inter-titles to announce the new chapter; and so it goes on, all the while giving the film a sense of direction and manic energy.
Sonny Chiba gives a delightful cameo as a tea house proprietor.
Downsides include the fact that the fight scene with the Crazy 88 (don’t ask, just accept) goes on a little too long (I mean how many hewed limbs and athletic twists can you take, really?) and it is a pity in some ways that splitting the film in two meant a “cliffhanger” ending which compelled you to wait for Vol. 2 : a revelation that takes some of the suspense out of the sequel.
Overwhelmingly though I think it works and in my mind, a worthy successor to the very great potential that Tarantino showed in Reservoir Dogs.