Kill Bill Vol. 1

4 stars


5th September 2004

Whether you're inclined to believe Harvey Weinstein's view that it was too good to be slimmed down, or the general consensus (that we're being forced to pay twice to see what is essentially just the one movie), Kill Bill has been unceremoniously chopped in two parts - one Eastern in style, one Western. Volume One is Tarantino's love letter to the Kung Fu movies of his childhood, 90 minutes of unabashed passion towards the grindhouse cinema he grew up with.

Kill Bill is likely to be the simplest story Tarantino will ever put to film - left for dead by her former employers, the Deadly Vipers Assassination Squad, on her wedding day, The Bride (Uma Thurman) isn't quite put out her misery and is left in a coma until she unexpectedly awakens four years later, with only a scar on her belly to remind her of her lost baby. With one thing on her mind, she sketches out a death list of the five colleagues who betrayed her, with the villainous Bill (David Carradine) the last name on her list. Former workmates Vernita Green and O-Ren Ishii are first on the agenda, and with the help of some Hattori Hanzo steel, she begins her 'roaring rampage of revenge' (as the movie advertisements put it).

This is new ground for Tarantino, who's usually most comfortable in a less adventurous setting - while we've had the acerbic dialogue and twists and turns of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, plus the languid, soul-drenched double crossings of Jackie Brown, Quentin's never turned his hand to a full on action movie until now. For a first-time action director, you'd perhaps think that Tarantino might ease himself in gently, but the motor-mouthed one is using Kill Bill as a challenge to see how far he can push his directorial skills - it's as he's always claimed, "action movie directors are the best of the best". Not entirely unsurprisingly, Tarantino has proved that he's just as comfortable with physical combat as he is with battles of the verbal kind.

For those expecting the usual razor-sharp Tarantino dialogue, you'll go home disappointed. Don't worry - his directorial style is stamped all over Kill Bill - but Quentin seems more than happy to let his action scenes do the talking this time around. And what set-pieces they are. The down and dirty knife fight with Vernita Green is wonderfully gritty and the showdown in the House of Blue Leaves with Lucy Liu's O-Ren Ishii (and her own personal army) is not only beautifully measured and superbly choreographed, but it's underlined with real emotion - it makes the Neo Vs Agent Smiths fight from Matrix Reloaded look about as dangerous as dinner with Cliff Richard. This is why the fight sequences in Kill Bill work, because every punch and every swing of a sword has reason and weight behind it. Aside from the desaturated ruck with the Kato-esque Crazy 88's, every frame is soaked with vibrant colour and neon hues - Kill Bill is Tarantino's most outlandishly visual work to date.

But for every Kung Fu fan squirming in his seat at the inclusion of Hattori Hanzo or the none-too-subtle references to Shaw Bros movies, there's another nonplussed moviegoer scratching his head. If you didn't spend your childhood being raised by Gordon Liu or Sonny Chiba, then large portions of the movie will be left with an unflattering question mark hanging over them - Chapter Four in particular won't mean half as much to someone who's unfamiliar with chop socky movies than it will to those who are. It's never detrimental to the movie as a whole, but quite often it can make you feel like you're missing out on the joke.

Kill Bill is unmistakably a Tarantino movie - from the purposely skewed narrative to the blacker than black humour to the uncanny knack of matching music to picture, Quentin has quite clearly marked his territory for all to see. Uma Thurman (Tarantino's "Dietrich", according to the man himself) is simply astounding in the central role, showing a much broader range than we've come to expect from her - she's been given a colossal task in the role of the Bride, and handles the action just as deftly as she handles the slower, more touching scenes like the hospital sequence. With such a gargantuan role, Thurman should be happy that she's never less than an utterly convincing heroine.

Ultimately, reviewing Kill Bill Volume One as a standalone film is like reviewing an album after listening to the first five tracks - it can only be judged fairly when the whole thing's been digested as one. It seems the only thing to do is make a prediction - if this summer's second half is as thrilling, colourful and downright enjoyable to watch as the first 90 minutes, then Kill Bill as a whole may well be Tarantino's most satisfying work to date. That, however, remains to be seen.

Follow us on Twitter @The_Shiznit for more fun features, film reviews and occasional commentary on what the best type of crisps are.
We are using Patreon to cover our hosting fees. So please consider chucking a few digital pennies our way by clicking on this link. Thanks!

Share This