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Kill Bill - Volume One (2003)

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The Blood-Spattered Bride

  • Sep 3, 2004
The opening shot of "Kill Bill" is one of the most memorable I can recall: in stark black and white, a woman's face -- almost unrecognizable as Uma Thurman's at first -- spattered with blood, coated in sweat, a bridal veil spread out beneath her. She gasps, clearly in pain, as a hand reaches in to wipe some of the blood and sweat from her face with a handkerchief. The handkerchief bears the name "Bill" on it. A voice (Bill's, we presume) speaks to her. The Bride's first words, just preceding the gunshot which spatters more blood from her head onto the veil, are so surprising that I had to rewind the scene and watch it again just to be sure I heard them correctly.

Starting from this provocative point, Tarantino weaves quite a story in "Kill Bill," adopting his usual technique of starting somewhere in the middle, then jumping the audience forward and back in time to fill in the gaps. It took two films, clocking in at just over 4 hours total, to tell this story. It is both intricate and intriguing, and it stands out as a high-water mark in some ways for Tarantino, while maintaining much of what his diehard fans seem to love him for.

I'm writing about both parts of "Kill Bill" mainly as a single film because that's the way I first watched them (one right after the other), and also because that is what Tarantino originally intended for them. Apart from a slightly cheesy "synopsis" segment at the beginning of Volume 2, they fit together almost seamlessly. It is my feeling that they are best watched in a single sitting, if at all possible.

In terms of story, "Kill Bill" is Tarantino's best work since "Reservoir Dogs" (still my personal favorite in his brief but notable body of work). Tarantino keeps it moving at a brisk pace, rarely letting exposition slow down the action, but there is a lot of story here to tell. Each character gets their story told in turn, and the audience can quickly see how each individual character's story ties into the Bride's story, which is the main thrust of the film. Her tale of revenge against those who tried to kill her (and, obviously, failed) leads down a twisting path, drawing the audience deeper and deeper into the lives and motivations of everyone. The main theme of the film seemed to be summed up in the observation that the road to revenge leads through a thick forest, and it is often very easy to get distracted from the path.

In Volume 1, the action sequences mostly overshadow the characters themselves, and the fight scenes are pretty memorable. Definitely not for the faint of heart, the fights are nevertheless somewhat cartoonish in their depiction of violence. They are mostly reminiscent of Japanese anime: literal geysers of blood, dozens of amputated limbs, improbable (but beautiful) sword work, moves that even the pros would envy deeply, and a great deal of variety in how people are hurt or killed all add up to some pretty solid action in Volume 1 of "Kill Bill." This is almost assuredly not going to be for everyone, but fans of Tarantino's genre-bending ultra-violent style will surely be satisfied.

What surprised me was that Tarantino was more emotionally honest in this film (particularly in Volume 1) than I've ever seen. Uma Thurman puts in a fine performance from the first frame to the last, and really balances the ferocity of her character with her more vulnerable moments. We get the impression that every emotion the Bride feels is felt deeply, whether grief or joy or rage. Part of this is due to Tarantino's grasp of good dialogue, and part due to a nicely turned performance from Thurman.

Quentin Tarantino seems to enjoy making genre movies but twisting the meaning of the genre, and he clearly has enough of an understanding for the genres he works in to manipulate them cleverly. His attention, in "Kill Bill," to the samurai fighter movie is both homage and elevation of the genre. He pays it tribute by mirroring many of its techniques, and he makes it better by adding in some excellent dialogue and a well-crafted story.

Tarantino fans should be (and, if you read other reviews, clearly are) well-pleased by what they find in "Kill Bill." His ear for dialogue, his skill with a complex story, and his somewhat extreme sensibilities are all in strong evidence here. What I think is really good about "Kill Bill" is that even those who haven't liked Tarantino in the past may find something of value in this movie. If you can get past the occasional (OK, frequent) fountain of blood jetting from a combatant's severed limb and let yourself get into the story, you're in for a pretty fun ride.

Two other quick comments before closing. Tarantino often inserts himself as an actor in his own movies. He's usually not bad, but I was glad to see that he wasn't in this one. It was the better for his staying behind the camera. And leading off the film by quoting the old Klingon proverb, "Revenge is a dish best served cold" -- that was simply priceless. Say what you will about Tarantino, but he does know his audience well.

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More Kill Bill - Volume One (2003) reviews
review by . July 11, 2006
This is a wonderful, postmodern plundering of kung-fu, rape-revenge, and cult action movies. In Kill Bill, Tarantino deferentially revisits the 70s(ish) genre film with his typical style and wit. It's every bit as good as Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown.    The major short-coming is the DVD itself. There is next to nothing in the way of extra features. This is inexcusable for a major studio release of a major studio film. The DVD includes a brief featurette that, as usual, spends …
review by . December 17, 2005
I've been fascinated with this movie ever since it came out. This movie being a revenge plot is very pulpy. Plus the actors are all quite up to that task. They all go about chewing up the scenery, which fits quite nicely into the film as its set up. Thurma takes the lead as The Bride with much vigor and attitude because The Bride is pissed.   There are several film genres here and the best is the back story on Lucy Liu's character when the film switches to Japanese anime to set up the …
review by . January 20, 2005
posted in Movie Hype
If you liked a movie like Pulp Fiction (I believe it was from Tarantino too) you will definately like this film. It is sliced into chapters that are each individual stories which do not happen in sequential order. Each chapter is excellent in itself (one chapter is done in animation) and the only reason I didn't rate the movie higher is the time sequencing sometimes gets confusing and by the end of the movie you still don't understand what happened to have Uma Thurman's wedding party attacked.   &nbs …
review by . April 13, 2004
After the first thirty minutes, of shock and gore, I found myself sinking in to the story! I have been waititng for it for months (...) since i found about it on the internet.  Uma Thurman plays Black Mamba who has a score to settle with her old friends who turned on her. She is great in it, in her yellow biker suit (...) literally flyig in the air and doing some of the most unbelievable figting sequences possible. I have never though of Uma as tha t kind of actress, but she does it so …
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Rich Stoehr ()
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I often hide behind a pithy Douglas Adams quote or maybe some song lyrics. I guess it makes sense that much of what I share is reviews of things I like (or don't).      People … more
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Quentin Tarantino'sKill Bill, Vol. 1is trash for connoisseurs. From his opening gambit (including a "Shaw-Scope" logo and gaudy '70s-vintage "Our Feature Presentation" title card) to his cliffhanger finale (a teasing lead-in to 2004'sVol. 2), Tarantino pays loving tribute to grindhouse cinema, specifically the Hong Kong action flicks and spaghetti Westerns that fill his fervent brain--and this frequently breathtaking movie--with enough cinematic references and cleverly pilfered soundtrack cues to send cinephiles running for their reference books. Everything old is new again in Tarantino's humor-laced vision: he steals from the best while injecting his own oft-copied, never-duplicated style into what is, quite simply, a revenge flick, beginning with the near-murder of the Bride (Uma Thurman), pregnant on her wedding day and left for dead by the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (or DiVAS)--including Lucy Liu and the unseen David Carradine (as Bill)--who become targets for the Bride's lethal vengeance. Culminating in an ultraviolent, ultra-stylized tour-de-force showdown, Tarantino's fourth film is either brilliantly (and brutally) innovative or one of the most blatant acts of plagiarism ever conceived. Either way, it's hyperkinetic eye-candy from a passionate film-lover who clearly knows what he's doing.--Jeff Shannon
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Genre: Foreign
DVD Release Date: April 13, 2004
Runtime: 111 minutes
Studio: Miramax
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