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Kill Bill: Volume 1

  Kill Bill: Volume 1
Uma Thurman puts a stop to the "Uma ... Oprah" shtick.

© 2003, Miramax
All Rights Reserved

It's been six years since Quentin Tarantino last shot up the big screen with his blacksploitation homage and career masterwork, "Jackie Brown." I can think of a long list of directors I would love to see take lengthy sabbaticals, but Tarantino isn't one them. Back to remind critics and audiences alike what it means to go to the movies, Tarantino returns with his latest fruit cocktail of movie tributes, "Kill Bill" (IMDb listing).

The story is fairly straightforward: Having just awoken from a four-year coma, The Bride (Uma Thurman, note-perfect throughout the film) sets out to exact revenge on the five individuals (former co-workers, to be exact, from an elite team known as "The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad") who tried to kill her on her wedding day. "Volume 1" consists of The Bride meeting up with Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) in her suburban home for a knife fight. The Bride also travels to Japan to request the finest Japanese steel from famed sword maker Hattori Hanzo (martial arts legend Sonny Chiba), and tries to remove the deadly and well-guarded O-Ren Ishi (Lucy Liu) from the face of the earth. Writing out her "Death List Five," The Bride is slowly making her way to the team leader, Bill (David Carradine, though not actually seen in "Volume 1"), who is looking forward to his second chance to kill The Bride.

Tarantino's "Kill Bill" opens with the proclamation that the film is presented in "Shaw Scope," before cutting to a long forgotten grindhouse "Feature Presentation" reel. Right away the filmmaker is giving major clues to the ride the audience will soon be taking. Tarantino's other films, "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction," were scattered altars of worship to the cinematic jalopies of his youth. "Kill Bill" is a direct descendant. Tarantino has compiled a wish list of genres and filmmaking idolatry to work out in "Bill," constructing a picture that is a whirlwind of love for the cinema with big reminders of all the genres long gone from today's too-cool-for-school movie landscape. Say what you will about Tarantino's rampant cinematic theft, he's one of the few filmmakers who can make tributes seem like his own ideas.

"Volume 1" manages to jump from pulpy 1970s revenge exploitation thriller to Italian giallo to spaghetti western in only a matter of scenes, augmented by the splendid, schizophrenic score by The RZA. There's even an extended, ultra-violent Anime sequence within the film, detailing the history of O-Ren Ishi in a way traditional, live-action filmmaking would not permit. Tarantino saves the best for last, as his homage to the Hong Kong action cinema is relegated to the final third of the film. Tarantino is a master when it comes to recreating his fanboy wet dreams, and "Kill Bill" is his Mona Lisa. It's a significant achievement in both his career as a writer/director, and a much needed memento of what pure cinema feels like. "Kill Bill" may not be for all tastes, but it does deliver plenty of bang for the buck.

Tarantino's decision to make "Kill Bill" a tribute to grindhouse cinema is a curious one since the film is breathtakingly shot by Robert Richardson ("Casino"), and will be running in ultra-slick multiplexes across the globe. Quite a long way from the decrepit, rat-infested theaters this film rightly belongs in. Regardless of those inconsistencies, Tarantino does get one thing right: the bloodshed. Those who gagged at the ear cutting scene in "Reservoir Dogs" will be well advised to skip the blood feast on display in "Volume 1."

While flesh is sliced and bullets fly throughout the film, it all culminates in a showdown between The Bride and O-Ren Ishi at The House of Blue Leaves nightclub in Japan. Protected by a team of henchmen known as the "Crazy 88," Ishi orders the Kato-masked men to attack The Bride all at once. What occurs next is a cornucopia of chopped body parts and, quite literally, geysers of spurting blood, forming an orgy of ultra-violence that forces Tarantino to switch to black-and-white film to contain the extreme nature of the visuals. Like the rest of the film, the audacity of the violence is energizing, and is shot with style and a needed visceral punch. While all of Tarantino's other pictures relied on their dialog to keep the flow moving, "Kill Bill" is a film of visuals, often gloriously berserk ones at that. He has a tremendous eye, maximizing the bang of every shot. Tarantino is also one of the few in his age group to keep his edit count down; actually taking several opportunities to cover the action in long, unbroken takes.

Of course, this isn't the end of the tale. "Kill Bill: Volume 2" hits theaters next February. At first, I was irritated by the recent decision to break up the film into two parts. But once the level of carnage and cinematic fanboy texture has been revealed in "Volume 1," it starts to make sense to divide the tale into two segments, as sensory overload would most assuredly take place if the film remained a three-hour affair. Like "The Matrix Reloaded" and "The Two Towers," "Volume 1" ends on a wicked tease for future events.

There are three left on the "Death List Five," and Tarantino is now halfway to creating another classic on his short list of outstanding accomplishments. It's splendid to see him back in action.

Filmfodder Grade: A+

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