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Kill Bill: homage to kung-fu genre

by Rene Tony Donnes

What’s Kill Bill like? Well, take the scene from Pulp Fiction where Butch (Bruce Willis) chooses a samurai sword as his weapon of vengeance and proceeds to hack away at those who took him captive. Keep the momentum of that scene going for 95 minutes, and you’ve got Kill Bill. If you haven’t already seen Kill Bill, you should. It’s been six years since Quentin Tarantino’s last movie, Jackie Brown (a movie I always thought was underrated), and the wait has been worth it.

 

The Bride (Uma Thurman) is gunned down and left for dead on her wedding day by a group of assassins, a group to which she had originally belonged, led by a man named Bill (David Carradine). Comatose for four years, she wakes up and seeks revenge. She makes a hit list comprised of her former colleagues, including Bill, and proceeds to go after them one by one.
In Vol. 1, The Bride finishes two of her former companions: Vernita Green (aka “Copperhead,” played by Vivica A. Fox) and Oren Ishii (aka “Cottonmouth,” played by Lucy Liu). Vol. 2 is scheduled to be released by Miramax in February 2004, and in it Thurman’s character will presumably finish the job. Don’t worry, I haven’t given anything away. While there is one plot twist (that I will not reveal), this is essentially the kind of movie that one cannot spoil. We know what’s going to happen—but that’s not why we watch. We want to see how it happens.

Much is the same in Kill Bill as in any Tarantino movie. Pop culture references abound: Bruce Lee, Kurosawa’s jidai-geki (period films), American sitcoms, Star Trek, breakfast cereal, Japanese TV dramas, and the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone. Tarantino is so steeped in film lore that nearly every frame pays homage to something or someone. And as always, there is that feeling in scene after scene that Tarantino loves what he’s doing. This is a man who loves cinema, and it shows.

The pacing of the movie is also excellent. Even when there are quiet times, you will not look down at your watch.

What’s different? One realizes early on that this is a movie about textures. The film is shot in color, of course, but Tarantino also gives us black-and-white sequences and slow motion sequences when he wants to empathize emotion or drama. An animated sequence that tell us the origin of the Lucy Liu character is simply superb.

And there is one way in particular where Kill Bill is different from any Tarantino movie before it. If Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs were both characterized by long scenes of conversation, with short, intermittent points of action, Kill Bill is the opposite: wall-to-wall action, with brief, intermittent exchanges of conversation. Tarantino has literally turned his own style upside down.

Kill Bill is Tarantino’s homage to the kung-fu and karate movies of the 70s—which makes David Carradine’s casting appropriate. (He was the star of two long-running kung-fu series on television.) Needless to say, the movie is quite violent, and this presents itself as a problem in the world that Tarantino creates. More so than in his previous movies, in Kill Bill he juxtaposes his own vision of hyper-real violence with the hyper-fantastic violence of the genre he is exploiting/commemorating. The conundrum is: How to rationalize the two?

Anyone seeing Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs will remember the first time they saw either one, how brutally real the violence looked, so much so that it has become one of Tarantino’s trademarks. In Pulp Fiction, when Uma Thurman’s character overdosed on heroin, it looked real. Kill Bill has the same realism (witness the opening scene of the film), but it is combined with the fantasy of the kung-fu genre: the power leaps, spurting blood from decapitated mannequins, characters with elevated levels of hearing, etc. Tarantino is at times asking the audience to identify with his characters, and at other times asking that it step back and laugh, when the violence is over the top. One or the other is fine, but putting the two together in the same film seems problematic, and the movie does not resolves the issue.

Nonetheless, this is definitely a movie to see. You will enjoy watching a movie made by someone who knows movies well, who honestly respects the genres from which he steals. Tarantino has borrowed a fantasy world and added his own brand of quirkiness (and realism) to it, with great success. This is a violent movie, to be sure, but we already know that: We go not just for the violence, but for the art of its delivery.

 

 

 

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