Monday, October 27, 2003

Kill Bill, Vol 1

"You didn't really think it was going to be that easy, did you?"
"You know, for a second there...yeah, I really did."
"Silly rabbit...."

So just what the hell has Quentin Tarantino been doing since 1997? I have to admit -- when I saw that "The 4th Film by Quentin Tarantino" card in the trailer, I had to restrain a whoop of delight. Yes, I am a Tarantino fan. Yes, I can recite pretty much every line of dialogue from Pulp Fiction from memory. And yes, I have an enormous Reservoir Dogs poster. Call me a fanboy, call me an apologist -- whatever. I get what Q.T. is saying.

And I knew within five seconds I was going to love this movie: Tarantino opens it up with a hilarious -- and very appropriate -- reference to Star Trek II. It's that kind of love (and encyclopedic knowledge) of film that's apparent in all of Tarantino's work, but none more so than Kill Bill.

The story is strikingly simple: a group of assassins known as the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad hit a wedding in a small church in El Paso, killing everyone. Well, almost everyone -- despite their efforts, the main target of the hit, the Bride (Uma Thurman) -- who is, or was, one of their own -- somehow survives, though comatose. When she wakes up four years later, to discover she's lost the child she was carrying at the time, there's only one course of action: REVENGE~! And in appropriate action-movie style, she aims to take them out one at a time, trotting across the globe to kill them all, finishing with the leader known only as Bill (David Carradine).

In the hands of another writer/director, this would be a dark, serious character study, watching as the Bride slowly becomes more and more machine-like as she moves toward her goal of killing Bill. But not Tarantino -- he's always had an unabashed adoration for those bloody kung fu movies from the 70s, and Kill Bill is his version, complete with cheesy wocka-wocka music cues and characters with names like "Black Mamba" and "Copperhead." Along the way, Q also finds time to give us a short anime film, a horrifying subplot about certain liberties taken with the comatose Bride, and a master swordmaker's reluctant return to his craft.

One of the more remarkable aspects of the picture is the gorgeous cinematography -- colors just burst out the frame, especially in an early sequence in suburbia. The film's climactic fight scene in the snow is probably the most beautiful image I've seen all year. A scene where the Bride, clad in a yellow jumpsuit rides her motorcycle through the neon glow of Tokyo, is similarly stunning. Credit to Robert Richardson for impeccable work. Sally Menke's editing is also noteworthy (and award-worthy).

As far as the acting goes, everyone pretty much hits their marks perfectly. While there's cheese in the music and occasionally in the writing, there's none in the performances, which I have to commend. Tarantino also taunts us, letting us know at the beginning David Carradine is playing Bill, but never letting us see any of Bill other than his hand (that's a tactic Tarantino loves: amping up a character's image in the minds of audience by refusing to let us see his/her face). I should mention Lucy Liu, whom I normally don't care for: I just loved her in this movie. Thanks to the film's obligatory time-jumping (it is Tarantino, after all), I'm not sure if she'll be in Volume 2. Here's hoping.

There's been a lot of talk about Kill Bill's violence, and it's warranted -- this is one of the most graphically violent mainstream movies I've seen. We're talking heads chopped off and spraying blood, hands and feet severed and flying around, and other slashed body parts. It reminds me of nothing less than Monty Python's Black Knight scene, really. But unlike such ritual bloodlettings as Hannibal and the like, Kill Bill takes none of it seriously, so the whole movie as a Looney Tunes/Roadrunner feel that makes it hard to be offended at the various vivisected henchmen. Your mileage may vary, however, so consider yourself warned.

The movie does come to a rather abrupt conclusion, complete with gasp-inducing cliffhanger. I loved it, but I heard a lot of boos from the audience; I have to ask, "What were you expecting?" It does say "Volume 1" right there in the title. I should point on that it's much a better ending than The Matrix Reloaded, and Tarantino doesn't gives us a cheesy "To Be Continued" title, either. It just cuts to the "Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino" card, leaving us breathless with exhaustion and antcipation. Though I didn't like it at first, I'm happy about the split -- I don't think I could sit through much more of this one, as much as I loved it.

So will Kill Bill, Vol. 2 be the 5th film by Quentin Tarantino? Or still the 4th? Fourth-and-a-half? Only a few months to wait and find out. I do know this: Vol. 1 is the best film I've seen this year, by far. Welcome back, Q.

Rating: *****

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