|Kill Bill, Volume 1|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 13 April 2004|
Director/writer Quentin Tarantino is sort of like a human refinery, distilling old movies rather than crude oil. Elements of low-budget exploitation movies from the ‘60s and ‘70s – American, Japanese, Hong Kong, Spanish, you name it – come together in his films in ways that are both previously undreamt-of and perfectly natural.
“Kill Bill Volume 1” continues this blending of styles, going from ‘70s grindhouse kung fu catfights to Hong Kong heroism to a samurai-esque duel to the death, all in service to a tale of epic vengeance. A character known only as The Bride or Black Mamba (Uma Thurman) has spent four years in a coma after being shot in the head by her former employer, Bill (David Carradine, heard but not clearly seen here). Bill has had his Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, of which Black Mamba was a star former member, shoot up The Bride’s wedding and killing everyone there, though Bill’s coup de grace to his erstwhile favorite didn’t take. The Bride awakens and manages to kill two guys in her hospital room (for understandable reasons) before she can even walk, but once she gets to her feet, she is unstoppable in her quest to put down everyone who led to her current state. For starters, there’s Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), onetime killer but now suburban mom of a four-year-old. Then there’s Tokyo crime queen O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), whose rise from orphan of murdered parents to feared gang boss gets its own extended flashback – animated with comic-book style art, no less.
The temporary shift to noir comics animation is just one of the almost countless loving riffs that Tarantino uses here. The extended climactic showdown between the lone Bride and O-Ren’s dozens of fighting henchpeople
Tarantino and Thurman conceived the character of The Bride together (the writing credits state the The Bride is “created by Q&U”) and as imagined and as played by Thurman, she is really something. Thurman comes off as a full-fledged action goddess here, yet gives the role an enormously warm and human dimension – she has integrity and a sly sense of humor along with her understandable rage, suggesting just enough vulnerability to allow us to be concerned for her without seeming too soft to take on an army.
Tarantino is so enamored of the ‘70s dollar-movie experience that “Kill Bill Volume 1” actually begins with one of those colorful, slightly out of focus “Our Feature Presentation” bumpers, familiar to everybody old enough to recall this once-standard theatre accessory. Thankfully, his obsession with recreating the mood of the day does not extend to crappy ‘70s sound and picture quality throughout. Colors are beautiful, with some unusual combinations and contrasts. In Chapter 7, Tarantino gives us brilliant blood reds that stand out strikingly against the greenish hues of a hospital. Chapter 13 has vivid primary colors – blues, reds and yellows – while Chapter 16 has overall pristine white snow accented by a dark blue sky, green bushes, the Bride’s yellow costume and of course bright red blood.
“Kill Bill”’s DTS 5.1 track is wonderful, with incredibly realistic gun effects livening up O-Ren’s animated history in Chapter 9. In Chapter 10, a jet bound for Okinawa takes off in the rears and seems to sail over our heads. The Japanese girl surf band the 5, 6, 7, 8s is highlighted in Chapter 13, where they play a “Wipeout”-style number that rolls into the rears. In Chapter 14, a battle between the Bride and a schoolgirl-type assassin is a duel between sword and flail, with the ball and chain whirring back to front throughout the entire speaker system, ultimately sounding almost like an aircraft propeller. Engines rev from all sides just before the Bride must confront homicidal bikers, but the sound is sensitive enough to do justice to the gentle, sad lilt of Spanish guitar in Chapter 16.
The making-of documentary is suitably cool and fun, with an explanation that the swordmaster Hattori Hanzo character, delightfully played by Sonny Chiba, is actually an homage to several characters Chiba played in a Japanese TV series. There is much discussion of the soundtrack, including an interview with composer/producer The RZA.
The “Kill Bill Volume One” DVD arrives in stores just in time to make it possible to do a home theatre/public theatre double bill of this film and its sequel, “Volume Two.” Separately, both movies are impressive, compelling and really enjoyable – seen more or less together, they form a true epic with heart, soul and a lot of movie history on display.