Movie Review: Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)

“Here comes the bride”

1 Stars
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)

 

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Daryl Hannah

Synopsis: A highly skilled assassin seeks revenge on the former comrades who left her for dead at the chapel in which she was to be married.

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So here we are: just seven years after his last crime opus comes the new offering from Quentin Tarantino.   “The Fourth Film of Quentin Tarantino”, the opening credits boldly – and a little pretentiously – inform us, as if we may have somehow missed one of the first three (In fact, Kill Bill Vol. 1 is actually Tarantino’s fifth film, if one takes into account his incomplete inaugural movie, My Best Friend’s Birthday).  Of course, it’s unlikely that we would miss its arrival seeing as how Tarantino movies arrive as frequently as ancient comets.   Perhaps, given their infrequency, Tarantino wants to be sure we realise we are about to experience an Event (with a capital E), and perhaps he is right.   Tarantino’s films are eagerly awaited by a legion of fervent and, it now appears, uncritical devotees.  Therefore, given such a fanfare, it seems only right that what follows should at least deserve such self-aggrandisement. Sadly, with Kill Bill: Vol 1, what we get falls far short of what has come before.

This time Tarantino has drawn on the martial arts cinema for inspiration, and in particular the cheap and schlocky 70s fare of the Shaw Brothers, while giving respectful nods to other genres – noticeably Anime and Spaghetti Western.  The cheap films churned out by the Shaws were invariably badly acted and plotted revenge tales with their sole redeeming feature being some astonishing martial arts sequences.   Tarantino takes this simple revenge motif and attempts to weave a tale of more epic proportions around it while maintaining the comic-book mentality that lay at the core of the genre.   Uma Thurman (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill: Vol. 2), as The Bride, is out to avenge the slaughter of her unseen husband-to-be and unborn child at her wedding by the cadre of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, of whom she used to be a member.   The reason for the assassination of her loved ones and the attempt on her own life isn’t explained in this, the first of two instalments, and Tarantino muddies the waters satisfactorily by having The Bride declare to Bill that the child is his just as he fires a bullet into her head.   The Bride isn’t that easy to kill, however, and, after four years in a coma, awakens to wreak bloody revenge – first on the hospital porter who has been using her acquiescent body as a receptacle for his (and his fee-paying buddies’) lustful urges, and then on her treacherous former colleagues.

So far, so good. Tarantino keeps things moving briskly along, first with a nice spot of kung-fu between The Bride and former fellow-assassin Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox – Independence Day, Independence Day: Resurgence) in an incongruous and vaguely utopian suburban setting, before whisking us back to the scene of the massacre and walking us (and The Bride) through her gradual recovery from her horrific injuries.   For all the kung-fu and violence, this is comparatively restrained stuff from Tarantino; the hip dialogue is reined in and the violence, while still present, is nowhere near as graphic or casual as in his previous outings.   This restraint is clearly Tarantino’s aim, aping the sedate pace of modern martial arts films but, while the calmer periods between the violence should be used to more fully explore the complexities of both Thurman’s character and the situation in general, almost the entire remainder of the film is spent relating the murder of the first person on Thurman’s death list. This part of the story is told very slowly, verrry slowwwly. So slowly, in fact, that I was suddenly stunned to discover that I was watching a Tarantino movie and I was actually bored.

Do we really need a fifteen-minute cartoon detailing the childhood history of O-Ren Ishii (True Crime, Ballistic: Eck vs Sever), The Bride’s intended victim? Is it supposed to ignite a spark of audience sympathy towards her, to trigger  a conflict in their allegiance, or is it merely the only way Tarantino could see to insert a bloody homage to the Japanese Anime genre?   Perhaps the reason for such a lengthy review of O-Ren Ishii’s back story will be explained in the second film, and will make the deathly pace acceptable, but it feels unlikely. Either way, the story stops dead in the time it takes to tell O-Ren Ishii’s tale, and its telling adds nothing other than tides of blood to an already flooded screen.   We really don’t need to know why O-Ren Ishii is the way she is – in fact, it would be far more interesting to learn why The Bride turned out the way she did, rather than a character whose presence in the film deserves no more than ten minutes.   This is why the film is so long.   This is why the film was split into two, and why you had to pay twice as much as you would otherwise have done.   This is why it comes across as a bloated, self-important parody, a silly Caucasian film, to paraphrase O-Ren Ishii, that likes to play with the Samurai genre.

The climax, when it finally arrives, is not spectacular enough to overcome its silliness as The Bride slices her way through a legion of bad guys in Reservoir Dogs outfits.   Even allowing for the fact that Tarantino steadfastly refuses to use guns (outside of the initial massacre), the likelihood of The Bride, the lone swordswoman, defeating a small army who can at least be expected to be reasonably well acquainted with the business end of a sword, is pretty remote to say the least.   Sorry for throwing in a plea for some degree of realism in what is essentially a comic book on celluloid but. let’s face it, if you’re going to make a film for kids you don’t make it an 18 certificate, and if you’re going to make it for grown-ups you retain at least some semblance of reality.   Even the traditional shocking scene, coming near the end of the movie, is unintentionally funny rather than truly shocking.

(Reviewed 1st April 2010)

 

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003) Official Trailer – Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu Action Movie HD

 

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