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Kill Bill: Vol. 1

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Kill Bill: Vol. 1

Starring: Uma Thurman, David Carradine
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Rated: R
RunTime: 110 Minutes
Release Date: October 2003
Genres: Action, Martial-Arts, Thriller

*Also starring: Daryl Hannah, Michael Madsen, Vivica Fox, Lucy Liu, Michael Jai White, Gordon Liu, Sonny Chiba, Julie Dreyfus, Samuel L. Jackson, Caitlin Keats

Review by Harvey Karten
3½ stars out of 4

Arguments continue to rage in the U.S. about the justice of the death penalty. Proponents say that thoughts of lethal injections deter potential killers, while opponents disagree about deterrence and state that the penalty is merely to avenge the families of the victims and by extension to symbolize the zero-tolerance that the American people have for murder. Few people are willing to challenge the opponents by offering the suggestion that the desire for revenge is a perfectly justifiable emotion. Movie-goers, like ancient Greeks in their theaters attending to the vindictive moans of Clytemnestra and Medea, watch one revenge film after another because making the score even is perversely entertaining. Note how the audience for Clint Eastwood's momentous work "Mystic River" is perfectly thrilled that Jimmy's goal is the ultimate punishment of the person who killed his daughter, Katie by taking the law into his own hands.

"Kill Bill Vol. 1" takes revenge fantasy to a new and glorious level, one which allows writer-director Quentin Tarantino to pull out the tricks that made his "Pulp Fiction" mesmerizing-- everything except character analysis and plot, that is--and to add new aspects that borrow from such pictures as "The Matrix," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," and Japanese anime offerings like Hayao Miyazaki's astonishing look at the inner life of a child, "Spirited Away."

"Kill Bill Vol. 1" is no "Pulp Fiction," though Tarantino's latest does share with that magnum opus a look at the importance of honor and is told in a radical style, but the film lacks its predecessor's regular philosophical debates and solid character motivation. "Kill Bill" is highly watchable, sharing with "Pulp Fiction" pumped-up violence with enough bloodshed to equip the American Red Cross with enough material of every type for a year. Its principal virtue is style. In that quest, "Kill Bill" blows away this year's competition, and what's more Tarantino knows how to pepper his opus with variety. He intercuts black-and-white photography with vivid color, Japanese anime with real action in Okinawa and Tokyo, a stirring soundtrack which in one cases features Spanish music for contrast with a Japanese set, and an acting performance by Uma Thurman to die for.

The movie opens in black and white on a wedding party gone awry. Ten bodies are on the floor, all but one killed by or at the order of the title character, Bill (David Carradine), whose unborn baby lies within the hero's body. One woman, Black Mamba (Uma Thurman), is still alive, waking from a four-year-long coma when bitten by a mosquito. We know virtually nothing about her but we can admire her will power (she gets her paralyzed toes to move by sheering willing), and, later, her brute strength and ability with a samurai sword. The story's best scene, a one-on- one between Black Mamba and one of the women responsible for her serious injury, Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), is its humorous center as well. Mamba enters Vernita's home, setting the two women off in a fight to the death with knives, a struggle temporarily interrupted when Vernita's small daughter enters the room and later, observing her mother's body on the floor, remains as emotionless as most others in the film. Another powerful scene shows Mamba in the bar of Hattori Hanzo (Sonny Chiba who serves as well as fight coordinator), looking like a high-school cheerleader, who must convince the bartender to come out of retirement and build for her the best sword he has ever made. By contrast, Mamba's eliminating eighty-eight characters who are members of an elite fighting group is repetitious. Mamba's final struggle is with the leader of the pack (a woman, of course), O-Ren Ishi (Lucy Liu). More interesting, though, is a one-on-one against the seventeen-year- old Go Go Yubari (Chiaki Kuriyama), who uses a medieval ball and chain, virtually stopping the revenge-seeking hero in her tracks.

The film features a godfather style beheading, the stabbing of a pedophile, the dispatching of a necrophiliac and his partner (whose head gets banged four or five times against a swinging hospital door), the massive amputation of limbs, blood flowing from people's dismembered heads, arms and legs like the water at Miami, Beach's Eden Roc Hotel. Mamba commands, "You can go now, but leave your limbs behind...they belong to me now."

This is Uma Thurman's movie, a character who reserves a smile only for the Japanese master sword-maker but is otherwise without humor and who kills and kills with all the emotions of the folks in The House of the Dead video game.

One critic states that the film itself reinforces a cinematic turning point, moving the balance of power from the West to the East and from men to women. This statement sounds pretentious at first, but when you have women who like "Crouching Tiger"'s Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Zziyi can get the best of armies of men in one case using only one arm while sipping tea with the other you get the impression that men are about washed up as movie heroes and the Westerns of John Ford must make way for the Easterns of Ang Lee. We get to find out more about why nine people in a wedding party were assassinated when "Kill Bill Vol. 2 opens 2/20/04.

Copyright 2003 Harvey Karten

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