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Kill Bill -- Volume 1
Reviewed by Martin Thomas, © 2003

Format: Movie
By:   Quentin Tarantino
Genre:   Action
Released:   October 10, 2003
Review Date:   October 09, 2003
RevSF Rating:   6/10 (What Is This?)

You’ve all seen PULP FICTION and RESERVOIR DOGS, right? The clever dialogue alone, not to mention moments of unflinching violence and the abundance of style, was enough to keep tongues wagging for years. Besides opening the floodgates to a whole new wave of crime movies in the 90s, PULP FICTION added numerous oft-quoted entries to the American lexicon. Who couldn’t wait to see what he would do next?

Tarantino’s much awaited follow up to JACKIE BROWN from 1997, KILL BILL Vol. 1 is the hardcore revenge story of an assassin, “The Bride” (Uma Thurman), who is utterly betrayed by her fellow League of Assassin members. While pregnant and at the altar, her former boss and boyfriend, Bill (David Carradine) has her brutally beaten and fatally shoots her in the head himself. But miraculously the Bride survives and five years later her life is dedicated to one mission: Kill Bill!

I understand the second installment will be different in tone from the first, but if the first not only does Tarantino take complete ownership of the kung fu movie genre, but infuses it with elements of spaghetti westerns and Blaxploitation as only he can. It is the synthesis of everything he’s discovered and possibly the project everything in is career has been leading him towards.

And the reviews have been pouring in:

Eli Roth, director of CABIN FEVER:
“It isn’t the best Tarantino movie. It’s THE best movie.”

Rich Cline from Shadows on the Wall:
“The characters are vivid enough to rise above Tarantino’s cinematic nerdiness.”

Kirk Honeycutt, Hollywood Reporter:
“The film is hugely watchable.”

Uh... okay.

David Poland from The Hot Button:
“Inevitably, there will be apologists for this thing. So ask the hard questions. Do you really care about Uma Thurman’s character? So you really believe in her revenge? Do you really care whether you ever see Bill, much less see him killed?”

Whoa!

Man, I swear, anytime you get a bunch of movie critics together on something there’s always gotta be one just too cool to sit back and just enjoy the movie! Even when it’s the greatest kung fu movie ever made.

…Although, technically that title still firmly belongs to THE MATRIX (: No Sub-Heading). Back in 1999 this movie blew the lid off everybody’s closeted desire to embrace kung fu right across the board. With innovative special effects, the greatest fight scenes to date, and a surprisingly intelligent script, THE MATRIX (along with FIGHT CLUB in it’s own way) was the PULP FICTION of its day. There’s no better evidence of this than the avalanche of imitators and parodies that it spawned. Over the last few years the sheer volume of bad imitators and lesser Hong Kong imports actually has put the whole genre on the fast track of being... well, kinda played out. Think: Australian pop-culture.

Back in the olden days the benchmark of a trend running its course was Mel Brooks making a spoof of it (see: Westerns; BLAZING SADDLES). These days, once we reach the point that even milquetoast actors like Ben Affleck look good doing it, “wire-fu” has pretty much lost whatever edge it once had.

But if Quentin Tarantino is known for anything, it’s his writing. You must admit, the dialogue in PULP FICTION and RESERVOIR DOGS is in a class by itself. And the script for KILL BILL is...

…Well, the story is really not much more than it’s cocktail napkin scribble of a premise. There’s no subtext or depth to any of the characters and you really don’t care who wins. Even the dialogue never gets any more clever than “Silly rabbit, tricks are for kids.”

I suppose that’s largely because Tarantino’s no longer working with his former (and mostly uncredited) writing partner, Roger Avary. When you compare his post-Avary films (JACKIE BROWN and the segment from FOUR ROOMS) to what came before (including the scripts for TRUE ROMANCE and NATURAL BORN KILLERS) it’s not hard to figure that Avary was the one that wrote the great dialogue while Tarantino contributed the scenarios... which, it’s well documented, he mostly “borrowed” from other sources. This is not to say that JACKIE BROWN didn’t have its moments... But let’s not forget it was adapted from an Elmore Leonard novel.

I was going to compare the Tarantino/Avary break up to that of David Lee Roth and Van Halen, but I suppose a more apropos analogy would be the de-partnering of George Lucas and producer Gary Kurtz. There’s an unignorable drop in quality in the STAR WARS films when Kurtz left after THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.

Really, it’s unfair to have made so many comparisons to THE MATRIX, as they’re two completely different movies... And, If I remember correctly, many people complained about this summer’s MATRIX: RELOADED as being too light on story and the action sequences being too long.

KILL BILL isn’t the kind of movie you see for the story anyway, but rather for the out-of-this world fight sequences. It practically opens with a high speed butcherknife-fight between Uma Thurman and Vivica Fox in the confines of her living room, and you’ve never seen anything like it! Trust me. From there the excitement just escalates throughout the film, thanks to stunt coordinator master Wo Ping Yeun- who, coincidentally, worked on all the MATRIX movies as well.

...Although, I guess that makes them not all that different after all. I do wonder what those same complainers will say about KILL BILL since more than an hour of it is nothing but fight scenes. I mean, they’re amazing, don’t get me wrong. But sitting through it sounds a lot cooler than it actually is. With nothing like character development or story arc to break things up the fights are free to be... kind of monotonous after awhile. The only thing that keeps them from becoming outright boring is that they become successively more outrageous and bloody.

In Akira Kurosawa’s RAN there’s a dramatic scene where a character’s throat is sliced and bright red blood sprays against a white wall. It takes your breath away. In KILL BILL, Quentin Tarantino manages to duplicate this scene somewhere between... oh, 6 and 87 times! But it just never gets old…

...until about the thirteenth time, by which time you’re thinking, “Yeah. I get it!”

Or better yet, imagine the Black Knight scene from MONTY PYTHON & THE HOLY GRAIL run on a 45-minute tape loop.

Say what you want, but the one thing you can never take away from QT is that he is a great director. There’s a reason why so many A-list actors jump at the chance to work with him. You wish other directors could clue into even a percentage of the things he does with cinema. Watching him work is like watching Michael Jackson dance. Despite whatever controversies, you can’t deny the man is still the best at what he does.

...Although, the last few times I saw Michael Jackson perform I did notice that we was still doing the exact same moves he was famous for back in the 80’s. Even his latest album, “Invincible,” which was good, was nothing more than a redux of his earlier GREAT album, “Dangerous”.

Similarly, it’s somewhat disheartening to find that Tarantino is so tied to referencing cult movies (SWITCHBLADE SISTERS, CHINESE CONNECTION, etc.) and 70s soundtrack music (TRUCK TURNER, IRONSIDE) that he’s compelled to force it in, even when it evokes more snickers than mood.

There’s even a 10-minute anime sequence that looks like it could’ve been lifted from NATURAL BORN KILLERS (though really more like THE ANIMATRIX -- sorry). And in a ‘nod’ to Jules’ famous wallet in PULP FICTION, the bride drives around in a truck with “Pussy Wagon” airbrushed onto it.

I suppose it’s understandable. When you get somebody like Guy Ritchie (or Justin Timberlake, as the case may be) nipping at your heels there’s no shame in playing it safe. Besides, the true fans who catch these references will pat themselves on the back for it, and that’s cool I guess.

And let’s face it, if nothing else, Quentin Tarantino is THE pimp-daddy of cool! The man has been on a crusade touring the country holding festivals of his discoveries in almost forgotten cult favorites. Ever since he unearthed 70s Blaxploitation cinema the movies have come back to the forefront and many careers have been resurrected.

...Well, I think this may be one of those Caucasian concepts that escape me, like “Manifest Destiny”. I mean, Tarantino worked in a video store and was surrounded by this material. But I don’t see how he “discovered” it anymore than Christopher Columbus discovered America: A country that already had people living on it -- HEL-LOOOOO!

You could certainly argue that he was responsible for the resurgence of Blaxploitation (especially if you erased I’M GONNA GIT YOU SUCKA from the timeline) and the re-issuing of all those great soundtracks on CD. The fad was a great ride that eventually reached its logical conclusion with the hilarious spoof, UNDERCOVER BROTHER, which laid down the last word. Anyone remember how flatly AUSTIN POWERS: GOLDMEMBER landed, even though it was released only a few weeks later?

I really hate to be the one to point out that the emperor has a tiny penis, BUT -- even though those cult movies are so much fun and did some amazing things with so little money... they aren’t exactly GOOD movies. Remember, most of them are famous for being SO bad. I have no memories of mass protests when BLACKENSTEIN or THE FIVE DEADLY VENOMS got shut out at the Oscars. At what point does the worship move past “ironic kitsch” and into “immature geekdom”?

But then Quentin Tarantino is a self-professed geek; The King of all Film Geeks; and it his assertion that what he has crafted is a gift to his most loyal subjects. It’s the Xmas bike you never dreamed you’d actually wake up to. It’s an eclectic and perverse cartoon that speaks to the inner sixteen-year-old boy in all of us. As with Robert Rodriguez’ SPY KIDS movies, and even more so Kevin Smith’s JAY & SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK, KILL BILL -- Volume 1 is a love letter to all the true fans.

...Although, despite that claim, these flicks all come off as just expensive home movies to be passed out to the director’s celebrity friends. If the sycophants feel like they’re part of the “in-crowd,” I suppose, all the better. I just personally have a hard time buying it when an artist claims their work was designed for such a small viewership. I’m not saying nobody targets a certain genre. And while true artist don’t all seek money as a sign of success, they do ALL seek to have their work exposed to and understood by as large an audience as possible. The idea of intentionally spending millions of dollars and man-hours to make something “just for me and my best friends” I find highly suspect. I’m sure they just end up that way.

And really, folks... In this video game, short-attention span, youth culture we now live in, is there anyone who isn’t having their inner sixteen-year-old boy stroked every day? Quentin Tarantino turned forty years old this year, and while I don’t want him to go the Lawrence Kasdan way of making a series of “Help me, I’m having a mid-life crisis!” films (THE BIG CHILL, GRAND CANYON), I do expect more from him than misogynistic power fantasies.

Do you remember your real 16-year-old boy? The one who spent way too much time thinking about getting even with the jocks and the girls that blew him off for cooler, older guys. The one that thinks a comatose woman being raped is “kinda cool”.

What-Everrrrrrrrr!

Quentin Tarantino is still a visionary and a ground breaker. He originally shot KILL BILL as one three-hours-plus movie, but as every shot was so perfect neither he nor Miramax could bring themselves to cut any of the footage, they decided to make a bold move into uncharted waters by releasing it as two volumes, with the second part to follow within less than a year.... Which is good since he drops a bomb of a cliff hanger during the end credits

...Well, it’s a “cliff hanger” if you’ve never watched a soap opera before. Otherwise you’ll probably see it coming within the first 10 minutes like I did.

The move certainly is groundbreaking, though... as long as you don’t count the sequels MATRIX: RELOADED and MATRIX: REVOLUTIONS, which are to be released only a few months from each other (I swear that’s the last time I’m gonna do that)... but it’s really not the same thing. KILL BILL is one long movie cut in half, and the first half is a balls to the wall action-fest... with its fair share of stale scenes that have only Tarantino’s stylish camera skills to get you through them. It’s obvious that a good 30-45 minutes could’ve been painlessly shaved off to make the whole thing only one movie.

But I’m not cynical enough to think it’s being released as two movies just to sell more tickets and DVDs. If you ask me, it’s just pure self-indulgence.

But I guess I got a lot of nerve to sit hear and complain about somebody else’s “self indulgence” after I just wrote a review that’s longer than the actual script to the movie. In retrospect, I suppose I should’ve just broke it up and released it as two parts.

...Although, everyone might’ve been better served if I’d just hired an editor.


RevolutionSF contributor Martin Thomas is a retired comic book artist living out his remaining years hosting two movie review TV shows down in Austin, Texas. See him online at thereeldeelwebsite.com

 
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