Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003) / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for strong bloody violence, language, and sexual content
Running Time: 110 min.
Cast: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Darryl Hannah, Vivica A. Fox, Sonny Chiba, David Carradine, Michael Madsen
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino
Review published October 10, 2003
Coming into Kill Bill, many people will have a good deal of negative feelings stored up for the egotistical filmmaker responsible, as well as the fact that Miramax is going to make us pay twice in order to see the whole movie. Quentin Tarantino's films (Jackie Brown, Pulp Fiction) have mostly borrowed ideas from other filmmakers that he admires and mixed them together into a new, hybrid form, taking the best of what those B-films had to offer and punching it all up with ingenious, sparkling dialogue. Kill Bill would present a bit of a problem, as it is mostly an action film through and through, and as such, the window of opportunity for dialogue is much smaller. How would Tarantino be Tarantino if handcuffed into extended action scenes with little of his trademark wit and hilarious observations?
Oddly enough, the wit is still there, but this time it's in the form of homages, both visual and aural, hearkening you back to the 70s schlock action cinema, full of revenge plots, martial arts gusto, and bad-ass mamas who aren't afraid to tussle with the big boys. It's a messy but loving pastiche of junk that Tarantino filled his head with for the last 30 years, almost a tribute to 70s forgotten cult classic icons. Bruce Lee, Brian De Palma, Shaw Brothers, Sonny Chiba, and a plethora of others all add up to what can only be described as a magnum opus of pulp Asian and American revenge tales of old.
Here-in lies the proverbial double-edged sword. Much of the humor comes through homage, so what happens when the majority of movie-goers are either too young, or just never have been interested, to have seen many of the kinds of films from which Kill Bill draws inspiration? There's going to be a large section of the audience that just finds Tarantino's latest work to be weird, surreal and excessively bloody. They will find much of it poorly acted, and the plot (a former assassin and pregnant bride seeks revenge on the organization which killed her wedding guests and left her for dead) too simplistic, which is, of course, a vital part of the homage.
Regardless of how savvy you may be in regards to the movies that Tarantino so liberally lifts ideas from, the way the film shifts back and forth is still an exhilarating experience. From ninja flicks to anime, in just half a movie, it may not draw you into the overall story, but it manages to inject enough humor and action to please you enough to not care if there isn't a resolution by the end. No one really gives a damn about the plot, after all, and perhaps Tarantino least of all.
Kill Bill is a very self-indulgent, bloated, and derivative action film that probably won't resonate with the general public in the way Pulp Fiction has, or gain the cult status of Reservoir Dogs. Perhaps, it will even let down those people who think that Tarantino should have delivered something better than this, given six years to work on it. To his defense, although it may sound like an insult, Tarantino is not a great filmmaker. He is merely an eternal bad movie fanboy with a gift for characters and a ceaselessly ingenious ability to cram the works of many others into a blender, gulp down the distasteful concoction, and regurgitate it into a completely different, new, exciting form for another generation. Kill Bill is one such regurgitation. Expect no greatness, and be rewarded with a funny, violent tribute crafted by a boy playing in the house of the masters of his own creation.
-- Followed by Kill Bill Vol. 2
©2003 Vince Leo