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
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+