Kill Bill 1: A Revenge Saga Begins in Blood


kill-bill-2003The bloodied but resilient Bride in Kill Bill, whose name is bleeped out and not fully revealed until the second installment of Quentin Tarantino’s revenge flick saga, had her beginnings on the set of Pulp Fiction, another critically acclaimed Tarantino film.

Uma Thurman, who starred as Mia Wallace in 1994’s Pulp Fiction and would later star as the assassin focused on getting revenge, gave The Bride her first name – Beatrix – with Tarantino giving her the last name of Kiddo. In the DVD documentary, Thurman said she came up with the idea of opening the film with The Bride beaten and bloody in her wedding dress.

This opening scene is a good indicator of the rest of the film’s tone: messy, brutal, dramatic and over the top as we follow The Bride (Uma Thurman) as she tries to get revenge against Bill and the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad who murdered her wedding party, fiancé and unborn child.

Tarantino is a director that most either love or hate. His violence-filled, dialogue-driven, non-linear story lines aren’t for everyone; but they can sure be a lot of fun if you don’t go into the movie taking it too seriously.

Kill Bill is a slight departure from his previous films Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, which were driven by unique dialogue and nuanced character development. The plotline is basic and the characters are left to their over exaggerated characteristics instead of being developed past their stereotypes.

Tarantino’s first installment of Kill Bill is meant to portray The Bride in the scariest light possible. This means the extent of her character development is when we see her transition from a bloody bride to an abused coma patient to a deadly assassin with a kill list. The most emotional scene we really see from The Bride is when she awakens from her coma and flashes back to the massacre she barely managed to survive.

Instead, Kill Bill, can be characterized as a martial arts action film with campy violence – special makeup effects artist Christopher Nelson said they used 450 gallons of fake blood during the two Kill Bill movies – and flashy editing with many references to Tarantino’s film inspirations.

Sally Menke, Tarantino’s longtime editor, worked on all of Tarantino’s films beginning with Reservoir Dogs until her death in 2010. Tarantino and Menke had a close working relationship and Tarantino has said she was his only true collaborator, leaving her equally responsible for the distinct flair and style Tarantino’s films all carry.

“We just clicked creatively,” Menke said in a 2009 article in The Guardian. “We’ve built up such trust that now he gives me the dailies and I put ‘em together and there’s little interference.”

Menke said they would often look to certain films for inspiration when editing together specific scenes. As a result, there is a patchwork of editing techniques throughout the film; the split screen in Elle Driver’s first scene is an homage to Brian De Palma, the black and white an homage to ‘70s and ‘80s US television airings of kung fu movies – though Tarantino’s hand was forced in this instance as the MPPA demanded he tone down the violence in the scene.

The references don’t stop at the editing. The manga animated action sequence illustrating O-Ren Ishii’s (Lucy Liu) backstory was inspired by a 2001 Hindi-Tamil film called Aalavandhan and even all the music is from other films found in Tarantino’s soundtrack collection.

Yet the film doesn’t feel like a pastiche of obscure references. Tarantino adds a flair and energy to his takes on such distinct genres that makes them uniquely his. The mix of clashing genres such as spaghetti western, Blaxploitation and Asian action films, is occasionally jarring, yet somehow complimentary.

For example, during the final big showdown between The Bride and O-Ren, the minimally choreographed, understated samurai sword fight is set to Santa Esmeralda’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” a lively Latin song. The music and the images are completely contradictory, with the disco, flamenco, salsa rhythms in the music in stark contrast to the lingering stares and unhurried movements of the actresses. Yet somehow, these choices manage to highlight the gravity and emotional importance of the scene through the images while keeping the energy up through the sound.

The entire film is like this, full of cinematographic choices that logically wouldn’t and shouldn’t work but somehow Tarantino brings it all together on the big screen. The juxtaposition of the mundane with extreme violence creates a unique reality, one where knife fights occur as the school bus pulls up outside the window, where guns are hidden in Kaboom cereal boxes, and where The Bride writes down her kill list in an average spiral notebook which the rest of us would use to take notes in class with the occasional doodle.

Tarantino doesn’t take this film too seriously, throwing in moments of humor amidst the bloodshed, like the spurting fountain of blood that hilariously keeps squirting after O-Ren decapitates someone who challenges her.

While the subject matter may not appeal to all audiences, the artistry is undeniable. The huge fight scene at the end between The Bride and the Crazy 88 is full of brilliant uses of black and white, slow motion and a striking use of silhouettes against a glowing blue backdrop.

His passion and love for the craft of cinematography is obvious even if the world he’s created here is highly artificial and leaves us with nothing more than a highly stylized, violent revenge movie. 

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