Combustible Celluloid
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With: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, Sonny Chiba, Julie Dreyfus, Chiaki Kuriyama, Gordon Liu, Michael Parks
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody violence, language and some sexual content
Running Time: 111
Date: 10/10/2003

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

'Bill' and Q's Excellent Adventure

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Quentin Tarantino said not long ago that Kill Bill is his "grindhouse" movie, which is a term that most people may not understand. A "grindhouse" movie once played in specialized, seedy, urban theaters, and consisted of low-grade fare like extra-gory horror films, sleazy sex stories, cheap kung-fu flicks and other marginal films.

Hardly any of these films ever warranted reviews by mainstream publications, and when they did, they were treated as something icky to be scooped off the floor. That was a disservice, because some of these films eventually yielded genuinely interesting things. Frank Henenlotter's Basket Case and Jimmy Wang Yu's The Master of the Flying Guillotine come to mind as good examples.

Thus, I suspect that many reviewers and viewers will see Kill Bill - Vol. 1 and instantly dismiss it as rubbish. Tarantino has further shot himself in the foot by edging away from his snappy banter and shady characters and into a more fantastical, more artificial movie universe. Those wonderful, touching moments shared by Pam Grier and Robert Forster in Jackie Brown are gone.

However, Kill Bill takes a cue from Spaghetti Western master Sergio Leone (For a Few Dollars More) and turns every little twist and turn into a giant-sized operatic odyssey; you can't have meaningless conversations about Big Macs in a movie about Bigness.

Taking a cue from Francois Truffaut's 1968 film The Bride Wore Black, the simple plot has The Bride (Uma Thurman) taking revenge on five dangerous killers. For reasons that are yet unknown, the killers attacked the pregnant Bride on her wedding day and killed the entire wedding party, leaving the Bride in a four-year coma.

When she wakes up, she visits the first two killers, Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) and O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), stopping midway to fly to Japan and collect an amazing sword from a legendary Japanese master (Sonny Chiba, immortalized in Tarantino's True Romance screenplay).

As with his other films, Tarantino ignores chronological order and tells the story in the order he sees fit for best impact. Our three remaining killers Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), Budd (Michael Madsen) and Bill (David Carradine) appear in glorified cameos here, with more apparently coming next February in Volume Two.

Tarantino cribs bits and pieces from other movies for this film, mostly Japanese samurai and Shaw Brothers films (Five Deadly Venoms), but also Spaghetti Westerns. (The great Ennio Morricone's soundtrack music can be heard at one point.) One sequence is even beautifully presented in Japanese anime style.

It should be noted that Kill Bill - Vol. 1 is incredibly violent, among the most violent films I've ever seen, but it's highly stylized and takes place mostly in a synthetic movie world. When the Bride slices off bad guys' limbs, the blood sprays out like shaken-up soda removing the scene from reality.

On the other hand, Tarantino is the greatest American action director working today, and he shoots these long and carefully choreographed fight scenes with a skill and clarity lacking in nearly every other recent American action film, combining Sonny Chiba's Japanese fighting style with Yuen Wo-ping's Chinese style.

Among the violence come moments of real beauty, as when the Bride -- hunting for O-Ren Ishii -- slides open a door, revealing a gorgeous blue-lit snowscape. Small Tarantino-type jokes make their way into the film as well, one in the form of a cereal box, and another in the form of the Bride's stolen truck.

The biggest drawback is that the film feels slight without its second half. It was a bad idea to cut Kill Bill up; the film does not have enough of a story to make us wait. After all, we're not talking the end of the world here, as in The Matrix or The Lord of the Rings.

I imagine that, sometime in the future, new fans will discover both parts on video and lavish upon it the kind of feverish cult worship it deserves.

DVD Details: No Tarantino commentary track, but this very good disc comes with a 20-minute "making of" featurette that's not bad. In addition we get a Tarantino trailer section, with trailers for Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill - Vol. 1, the gerat "bootleg" trailer for Vol. 1 and a teaser trailer for Kill Bill - Vol. 2. In addition, the Japanese pop band The 5, 6, 7, 8s provide a few minutes of music not used in the film. Otherwise, we get both a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track and a DTS audio track, plus a French language track, and optional Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Spanish subtitles.

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