This is Tarantino’s fourth film after a self imposed hiatus in filmmaking. Originally set to be one whole film, the studios made him split his long story into two films, possibly for franchising opportunities, but who knows? I watched “Kill Bill” with the wide-eyed enthusiasm of a child looking onto his first action film, and Tarantino’s first attempt at the action genre, and I was stunned. The “Kill Bill” franchise has become a hit, commercially, critically, and with Tarantino’s fiercely devoted fan base, who have stuck by the prolific director. Tarantino manages to set yet another precedent with “Kill Bill” which is simply a brilliant movie. I admit, I’m not a fan of Tarantino’s, he makes brilliant work and “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction” are excellent, but I wouldn’t call myself a fan. “Kill Bill Vol. 1” has me re-considering my thoughts, though.
This is the same old revenge flick we’ve seen in every Japanese martial arts film, and western, and Tarantino knows that, and that’s his mission, to make a film of his very own, his very own revenge flick paying tribute to his favorite films, his very own film that resembles a Japanese exploitation saga right down to the theme music, which is beautiful from funkadelic soul, to Japanese pop, to the theme song of “The Green Hornet” that really had me high. This movie is not only a thrill to watch but is also a good game you can play called “spot the reference”. There are dozens of movie references here, and hell, it could make a good drinking game. For every movie reference you spot you take a shot.
I spotted many, from blatant signals like the bride’s biker uniform in the climax that echoed Bruce Lee in “Game of Death” which I worried would be cheesy but ended up piece de resistance to the bride’s character, to Oren Ishii’s army the Crazy 88 who wear masks resembling Lee’s Kato, right down to very subtle references like Cottonmouth’s assassination attempt on the bride which echoed Brian DePalma’s split-screen directing style, and the fact that the main character has no name like Clint Eastwood in his films. This simply screams Japanese cinema with the opening, the theme music, the directing style and the incredible action that had me still as stone throughout the story.
I’m a hardcore Bruce Lee fan, so it was thrilling watching these references to his films and many other references and elements. Tarantino is also a huge pop culture aficionado and his influences from the middle East are shown here with much gusto with his first half of his epic eclectic revenge story and an especially good walk on role from his childhood hero, legend Sonny Chiba. “The Bride” is nearly killed at her wedding after four members of her own assassins guild are sent to kill her at the command of their mysterious leader Bill. They massacre everyone at the wedding and outnumber the bride who is pregnant with a child. They then proceed to blow her brains out. Oddly enough when she’s discovered, she’s half dead and brought to the hospital in a coma for four years surviving an assassination from King Snake (Daryl Hannah) who is told to abort the mission. The Bride escapes the hospital and heals herself back to health and now goes on the hunt for the people who nearly killed her, and murdered her unborn child.
Much of Kill Bill’s violence is pretty ridiculous and often times bordered on campy. While Tarantino reaches for the effects we’ve seen in old martial arts films many of the sequences in which someone’s limb is torn veers towards amateur and idiocy. There is also the much anticipated fight in the climax of Vol.1 between the bride and Oren-Ishii which is pretty anti-climactic after all the action. They fight for only ten minutes and much of it is dialogue; considering how Oren is hyped throughout the movie as a dangerous and skilled adversary, it’s a shame to have the fight end so quickly, The thing with Tarantino is, he pays homage to every one of his favorite films, directors, and shows, but he does it so smoothly and fluidly with a lot of subtlety that real hardcore fans of movies will understand and spot, and there are many here that really nod at the fans.
The film, told in a very incredible hybrid of Japanese films, westerns, and anime is a lot of fun to watch, and Tarantino begins the film immediately with the bride’s first hit, which leads to one of the best most rapid fire, beautifully choreographed fighting sequences I’ve seen in years, and boy is it exciting. We also witness an array of colorful and wicked villains that are massacred, and some that will stick with the audience for years. I can even picture seeing their quotes in message board. There are such wicked characters like Oren-Ishii played by the piercing Lucy Liu, Copperhead played by the thrilling Vivica A. Fox, (my favorite) Gogo Yubari (played by Chiaki Kuryami) Ore’s young body guard, King Snake played by Daryl Hannah who is utterly memorable, and of course Bill played by David Carradine.
As always, Tarantino never lets the audience settle in their seats with such an engrossing revenge story told in flashbacks that are never confusing and very exciting, and intense graphic cartoon violence with limbs being cut off in nearly every scene. Though, some audiences will find the cut limbs ridiculous, it’s a direct homage to Japanese action films which always featured limbs being cut off with blood spraying from the joints, it’s a magnificent touch to the action. Tarantino manages to make the anti-heroine, the bride very likable and fun to watch with a charismatic personality which Thurman plays very well. She’s at the top of her game here, and the bride is a very exciting enigmatic character who strikes back at her enemies without mercy. She’s cunning, she’s very fast, she’s skilled and despite the very appealing villains, we root for her to win.
There are some stunning scenes here that increase the exciting action three fold including the bride’s flashbacks to her near death every time she comes face to face with her enemies, the suspenseful origin of Oren-Ishii in which Tarantino makes the decision of telling in Japanese animation, and a string of sequences I think should be shown in film schools for years as examples of brilliant filmmaking : the climax which left me breathless as the bride fights off the army of Crazy 88 to which Tarantino switches to black and white and then, in a stunning finisher we watch the bride fight off the army in the dark, their shadows tussling as we see a dreary blue glow in the background. Tarantino is at the top of his game here, a sentence I rarely ever say, but he accomplishes an amazing feat in combining these different directing styles without ever missing a step.
Now as for “Kill Bill Vol. 2”? I don’t know how its possible to make one story, then have to split it in two and have them so completely different in tone, but alas Tarantino pulls a double head spinner with a sequel that’s completely different in story tone. Where the first was more martial arts exploitation, the second is more Eastwood revenge flick that just enthralled me, enthralled I say. Not only by the cameo by the wicked Sid Haig, but in Tarantino’s sheer talent in taking one story with all out gore and compensating with a character driven and very intriguing story.
We see more of the bride’s back story, more of Budd, Elle, and David Carradine who gives a great performance, but we’ll get to that in a few. So, here we have a character driven revenge story now with the origin of “the bride” and how she became the swiping, slicing, metal skulled, anti-heroine she is now, with a beautiful scene with her wedding and rehearsals, to which we cue a bad ass cameo from Mr. bad ass himself, a Tarantino veteran. Who is it? I won’t divulge, but he’s a black private dick, that’s a sex machine for all the chicks.
Regardless, we witness a beautifully written scene where the bride is paid a shocking visit from Bill and she attempts to cover up her past while the two exchange some beautiful dialogue, to which he instills some false confidence, enter his four viper assassination squad and a lot of gun fire. And now you know the rest of the story. What Tarantino does is bring down the dial for the story to take its place, and we see the bride on the track to bill, but not until she confronts the remaining members of the viper assassination squad.
First, there’s Budd (Michael Madsen) whom she manages to fight with, but that good ol’ boy shows her he ain’t as dumb as she thinks he is and he manages to bury her alive. How he got her there, I’ll let you find that out. But why did I give away a crucial plot point? Well, I have to talk about Thurman’s training with the charming and militant Mai Pei whom gives her a crash course in true martial arts thanks to Bill. The training she experiences under Pei’s tutelage is electric, engrossing and very exciting as Tarantino has their dialogue, all Japanese, without sub titles leaving us to wonder what it is they’re talking about, and I loved it, he made us think and explore. There’s a bit more anti-climactic tendencies including the bride’s final fight with Bill which was really disappointing, and her fight with California Mountain Snake which was very exciting but ends on a campy note which was pretty disappointing as well, the plot that revolves around revenge never gives us what we thirst for in the end.
Then we witness the bride’s burial under ground and King Snake aka Elle Driver, the hot one eyed mamita from the first coming to claim the bride’s sword. Suffice it to say the bride has her due with the two eventually, but lets move on before I give more away. The movie changes tones yet again with camera sequences and filmmaking styles as if Tarantino is showing his love for filmmaking, the black and white stark photography beautifully shown, the color, the noir-ish black and white opening sequence where the bride addresses the audiences about her mission, and the inevitable plot twists and colorful characters. This isn’t without its charm with a unique and very fascinating story, some great dialogue that’s become a staple of Tarantino’s films, and then there’s Carradine. Ah, Carradine.
Now, I’m not a fan of David Carradine and I hated “Kung Fu” but boy that dude surely plays a damn good villain, why? For two reasons: Tarantino just knows how to write villains, and Carradine is perfect. Never over the top, sly, slick, and so fascinating you can’t help but like him. He’s the highlight to the end of the series, and he’s a perfect touch to such a good series. The story is not without more surprises with a plot that goes everywhere with twists galore, and a surprise plot twist regarding the bride’s baby that I did not see coming. All the while, we have a bittersweet, but oh so delicious series from the man, Tarantino. Bravisimo! While the film’s main fights are anti-climactic and a bit disappointing, the pros outweigh the cons and “Kill Bill” is one of Tarantino’s best films and a really exciting stylish epic and homage to the masters of martial arts films.