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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 Jerry Saravia
3 stars out of 4

It is too soon to be sure but "Kill Bill, Vol. 1" may be Quentin Tarantino's weakest film. The reason I say too soon is because we are only seeing the first half of a three-hour-plus movie - Volume 2 will come to theatres in February. So why not release the whole film together as one package? We are not talking "Lord of the Rings" or "The Matrix" where their stories need to be spread out over three movies. This film is simply a revenge story, unless it develops into something else in "Volume 2."

"Kill Bill" begins very promisingly with the kind of intense, free-for-all, anything-goes, let's-give-them-a-show feeling that you can only get from a pop-culture master like Tarantino. We see Uma Thurman's bloodied face in black-and-white as someone wipes the blood from her face. Suddenly, a gunshot rings out. Then we hear Nancy Sinatra's "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" song. Great opening for a movie, and further proof that Tarantino knows how to hook you in immediately.

Thurman is the Bride a.k.a Black Mamba (and also known by her real name, which is often bleeped out). She was left for dead at her wedding, presumably killed by Bill (David Carradine), whom we never see except for his hands and boots. But the Bride survives and comes out of her coma four years later thanks to a mosquito bite! She is now seeking the members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad who are responsible for beating her to a bloody pulp. The curious members of this squad include O-Ren Ishi a.k.a. Cottonmouth (Lucy Liu), Vernita Green a.k.a. Copperhead (Vivica A. Fox), Budd a.k.a. Side Winder (Michael Madsen, who'll probably figure prominently in the next part), and Elle Driver a.k.a. California Mountain Snake (Daryl Hannah, sporting a wicked eyepatch with a red cross on it). The most interesting are Copperhead and California Mountain Snake, who exude charisma and sex appeal in two highly memorable sequences. The first one is an opening knife fight between the Bride and Copperhead as they duke it out in Copperhead's house, until her daughter comes home from school. Then Copperhead offers a cup of coffee to the Bride, until we see a gun firing inside a cereal box!

California Mountain Snake is ready to inject the comatose Bride (in a nifty flashback) with poison until she is interrupted by Bill. The scene is delirious in a Brian De Palma way with the screen dividing in half, showing Bride asleep as Snake walks down the hospital corridors to the tune of "Twisted Nerve." The tension builds incredibly in a weirdly cartoonish and dramatic manner, like most of the movie.

The first forty minutes or so of "Kill Bill" is a cartoonish carnival of pop dreams - songs, camera movements and performances remind one of the old grindhouse pictures that Tarantino is enamored of. Except Tarantino is far more stylish and inventive than any of the directors at the old Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest studios ever were. There is comedy and action in equal droves, firing at you with acute timing and wondrous rhythm. And when the film slows down with the introduction of the Man from Okinawa (Sonny Chiba), a sword maker, you feel Tarantino is playing us like a piano, speeding up for the kill and slowing us down like a grand maestro. But the rhythm can't last forever because once the story shifts from Okinawa to Tokyo. In Tokyo, the Bride begins a bloody rampage with her trusty bloody sword that would make the Shaolin martial-arts experts look away with disgust. We are talking fountains of blood spewed from severed limbs, severed heads, severed everything. The DTS sound effects amplify the killings to the point of over-the-top and beyond. It is the kind of gory action one would expect from Tarantino's ancestral cinematic origins, but it is also akin to Robert Rodriguez's "From Dusk Till Dawn" (which Tarantino wrote but did not direct). I have no problem with seeing fountains of blood (though it is well-executed in the delirious anime flashback) but Tarantino, dare I say, is better than that. His trademark is dialogue and shifting points-of-view, coupled with Sally Menke's editorial flourishes of time and space. Yes, we have seen gore in his other films, but nothing to the extent of what is offered here. This is like the "Dead Alive" of martial-arts epics, and though it is not as extreme as that horror flick, it is far more violent and repetitious than it needs to be. How many geysers of blood can one stand?

My other problem is that we are not offered reasons for the Bride's vengeful feelings. Yes, her husband-to-be and unborn baby were killed, but what is really at stake? Who is Bill and why were so many assassins needed when it seems Bill is the one who fires a bullet in her brain? I guess these questions will be answered in "Volume 2," but as of now, there is nothing really at stake in the story.

As the end credits came up for "Kill Bill," the small audience walked out quicker than you can yell "Fire!" This has been a common staple of audience screenings for the last few years, but I also sensed people were peeved that they have to wait four months before the rest of the story continues. I sensed they were disappointed with the final product, and I share that disappointment. "Kill Bill" is good enough despite its many flaws, including a shallowly conceived heroine, but I still wonder why this story needed to be split into two parts (and why is the combined whole more than three hours?) Is it just the standard revenge tale or does Tarantino have more up his sleeve? Let's hope it is the latter.

Copyright 2003 Jerry Saravia

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