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,
(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
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
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.