Kill Bill: Volume 1
It's Tarantino's world; we're just living in it
THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW IF YOU'RE TRYING TO DECIDE WHETHER OR NOT TO SEE KILL BILL, VOLUME 1:
1. It's all about the 'Tinos
Quentin Tarantino, that is. Kill Bill is Quentin Tarantino's fourth film (although he has written a few scripts). If that doesn't mean anything to you, skip Kill Bill.
What has Tarantino made? Well, besides the movies where he wrote the screenplay (True Romance, Natural Born Killers, From Dusk Till Dawn), there is Reservoir Dogs and Jackie Brown. But when you mention Tarantino, you're really pretty much talking about one movie:
If you haven't seen Pulp Fiction, don't bother with this yet. If you saw it and hated it, you might want to steer clear too. If Pulp was one of the greatest movies you've ever seen, it wouldn't matter if this was about cannibal clowns-you'd see it-so let's move on.
THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW WHEN YOU SEE THE MOVIE
1. The Volume 1 thing is there for a reason.
Originally this movie was much longer, and Miramax (with Tarantino on board) decided to cut it in two. I was very leery of this, preferring to see things as a whole, but open-minded. I'm not sure after viewing Volume 1 what I think. I can't imagine the movie being twice as long in one shot, but there are unresolved conflicts (much like the second Matrix), so be
2. There may be an epilogue
Every review I read said there was an epilogue, after the credits. I convinced all these people around us to sit through them, and then felt quite foolish when there wasn't. Hundreds of other people stayed, too, which leads me to believe I didn't hallucinate reading it. What may have happened was that when it got split the epilogue was removed. My advice is
you ask before sitting there all that time.
3. A good portion of this movie is in Japanese
There are subtitles, but be aware.
4. Kill Bill is Tarantino's homage to the early '70s Spaghetti Westerns, Kung Fu movies, Anime, and Samurai flicks. Everything (from the intentionally cheesy fake blood at the beginning, after the retro credits) is there for a reason. There are references to literally dozens of movies in here (including all of Tarantino's previous films). If you're not a fan
of movies he's a fan of, you will miss quite a few references. That makes it harder to understand, sometimes, but the broad strokes will still be easy to get (it's hard to mistake a sword fight).
5. Much like when he put on weight after losing the election, there's a lot of Gore
If you are bothered by spurting blood, you might want to reconsider. Unlike Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, where the blood was often horrific as well as comic, here it's all for laughs. Again, it's in tribute to cheesy '70s films. But there is a lot of blood and hacked off limbs. I don't see how anyone could take it seriously (no on at the screening we attended seemed
to), but if you're easily bothered by blood...
6. This is not a movie for children
How Tarantino got an R-rating is beyond me. This movie almost defines NC-17. I don't mean it's exploitative, although at its basic level, of course it is. But all the violence and disturbing material in here is meant as a joke, and that's something kids and others who aren't well versed in movies will not understand. This is a movie no parent should let her kid
see. It's adult entertainment.
THINGS YOU MAY WANT TO KNOW IF YOU CARE AT ALL WHAT I THINK ABOUT MOVIES
1. Pulp Fiction it ain't
I reserve the right to change my mind on this. I wasn't blown away the first time I saw The Matrix. It seeped in, but it wasn't until repeated viewings I began to see. Sometimes (for me), there are so many huge expectations going in, that I have to see it again, when I'm more relaxed, and can get a better view. However, the first time I saw Pulp Fiction, my life was changed. (I snuck out of Old Testament, where we had a quiz, to see it, although partially that was because this really hot 31-year-old woman was taking me, and I was 18, but I digress.) The point is, I immediately knew I would never look at movies the same way.
Some of that has to be the virgin experience. Tarantino will never again be "new" to me, no matter what he does, and that dulls the impact of all his later work. (I think this hurts Lucas somewhat with people who became enchanted way back when.) But that being said, it seems clear that Kill Bill, at least the first half by itself, is not epic. Part of that is
2. There is no plot
I've written before about movies that exist just to be movies (most recently, Once Upon a Time in Mexico). None of those movies is in Kill Bill's league. Here is the movie: Uma Thurman (an assassin for Bill) and her entire wedding party were killed right after the wedding by her fellow assassins. Uma survived, and wakes up out of a coma four years later. Her
goal in life? To kill Bill. But first, the other four assassins.
Tarantino is utterly uninterested in a story arc. He's interested in storytelling, period. He's interested in doing things just for the sake of doing them. He wants this to be the coolest movie you've ever seen.
ut at times, it's pretty fucking cool. There are fight scenes that you'd swear were CG. There's a breathtaking Anime passage (with material he never could have gotten away with if it was real). There are trademark over-the-top moments that make you laugh at loud, and then be scandalized you're laughing at such things. Tarantino's universe is not parallel to our
own: but it's somewhere out there, filled with touches like Uma allowed to take her samurai sword on a plane, or a half Chinese half American taking over the Japanese Mafia. Too many to mention here. Tarantino defined cool for the '90s. I won't say he's redefined it, but there are plenty of "Wow!"
moments to revel in.
3. The characters are classic Tarantino
Vivica Fox plays a former assassin-turned mother, and she's awesome. Lucy Liu plays the head of the Japanese Mafia, and she's never been better. Sonny Chiba (icon of martial arts films for decades) is a retired sword-smith who now makes sushi. He's hysterical. The titular Bill (still unseen in a creepy Charlie's Angels sort of way) is the immortal David Carradine. 'Nuff said. Then there is a 17-year-old assassin who uses a mace and dresses like a Japanese schoolgirl, complete with plaid jumper. And on and on.
About the only character that didn't wow me was Uma Thurman, but that's a compliment in itself. She inhabits this movie, and throws herself into every scene. I read the filming was so rigorous and long that she lost 20 pounds and was just wasted afterward. I can believe it. She makes every shot believable.
4. Tarantino can still knock my socks off, but not as consistently
One of the things that made Pulp Fiction so legendary was Tarantino's use of movie-time. He cut that film up in a kaleidoscope fashion, but it all came out in the end. He does this here, but it doesn't seem as fresh, or necessary. Even more impressive, though, is Tarantino's ability to take language and subject matter that would be taboo to anyone else, and make it palatable.
There is a scene in Pulp Fiction that illustrates this. Originally I wrote the whole scene out, but then I realized if you haven't seen the film, it's impossible to explain this. For those of you who have, it's the "Dead Nigger Storage" scene. Tarantino took one of my hot-button topics (overt racial language) and turned it on its head, so that it was fresh, new, and
amazingly, not racist. I'm still confounded how he did that.
In Kill Bill, he does it again. There is an attempted rape scene (another sore spot for me) that comes out funny. Squirm inducing, perhaps, but funny. Utterly amazing. Tarantino is also able to use language effectively, like in Pulp Fiction.
But in general, I thought the dialogue was below his par. Maybe having a good deal of it in Japanese hurt him. All I know is that I quote Pulp Fiction more than any other movie but Casablanca. There are so many classic lines of dialogue in that film. On first blush here, though, there was nothing I was trying to memorize so that I could start saying it.
Overall, my feeling on this movie would be...incomplete. It seemed a bit long at times, but once it got going I had a great time. I do wish I had seen the entire vision in one shot. I also wish I had seen it twice before writing this, so I could have a more accurate view to share. But I wanted to get this out as soon as possible, and these are my initial feelings. I
would willingly see this movie at least twice more today if I could. I certainly wasn't bored, and it's more of an experience than most trips to the theatre. The music (which we didn't even get to) is all over the board, and as always, one of Tarantino's strengths. Every set looks and feels just perfect for the scene. Every woman is strong and capable, and one of them wearing a Bruce Lee jersey! But maybe because Pulp Fiction set the bar so high, I was a bit disappointed. However, I'm willing to be convinced.
Suspension of Disbelief (out of 10): 11.5. The most unrealistic movie you'll ever see.
Genre Grade: Defining this movie is near impossible. An homage to filmdom? A parody of every movie ever made? A tribute to Zamfir? Ultimately, I have to call this a Martial Arts Schlock Fest, and on that, I'd give it an A+. But if the genre was Tarantino: only a B.
Pantheon Percentile: Without seeing the second film, I wouldn't want to hazard a guess. I'll hold off on this. (update: for part one by itself, 90]
October 11, 2003