By Torsten Ward
Quentin Tarantino is a child at heart. This child happens to be a gore-obsessed mad genius, but a child nonetheless. Kill Bill: Vol. 1 is the ultimate passion project fully realized under the heavy hands of Tarantino and Uma Thurman.
Much like the protagonist of Nicolas Refn’s Drive, Thurman’s character is known only by the monikers The Bride and Black Mamba. The former name is in reference to the film’s beginning, where a pregnant bride-to-be is nearly brutally murdered by none other than her ex-lover, Bill. Black Mamba, on the other hand, is in reference to the organization of assassins she was once a part of who, alongside Bill, betrayed her at her own Texas wedding.
As far as narrative goes, that’s pretty much the extent of Kill Bill’s depth. Now, normally I’m a stickler for quality narrative (otherwise why would you be telling a story). In the case of Tarantino’s illustrious shout-out to Asian Kung Fu movies, however, I’ll let it slide if not for the sole purpose of explaining just how engaging and entertaining this film is. Kill Bill is an expert, modern rendition of the movie every 12-year-old boy wants to see behind the backs of his parents. The sheer amount of over-the-top effects – be they spouting blood, fake limbs falling from bodies or gravity defying leaps and bounds – is staggering.
Based on the extent of action in the film, you would think a surplus of content is the culprit behind Kill Bill’s lack of narrative complexity. You would be wrong. Tarantino’s movie has its fair share of down time (specifically the scene during which The Bride travels from Okinawa to Tokyo – yawn). Nevertheless, these moments of stillness contrast beautifully with the long-form, action-packed sequences that remain so prolific in Tarantino’s films even a decade later. I mean did you see Django: Unchained? That last scene was, like, 20 minutes long.
Speaking of action scenes, Kill Bill is the visual equivalent of Koushun Takami’s novel Battle Royale. Each and every severed limb, hollowed-out skull and knife through the chest is just as satisfying as the last, if not more so. The rising body count throughout the film further impressed me to the point of self-disgust. I don’t consider myself to be a violent person but boy did my bloodlust shine through towards the end, there. After The Bride wipes out O-Ren Ishii’s preliminary forces, I only wanted more. Tarantino somehow read my mind 11 years ago and gave me exactly what I wanted: about 85 more guys to brutally finish off before taking on the Charlie’s angel herself, Lucy Liu.
Through its clear ties to Kung Fu movies like Enter the Dragon and, more recently, The Grandmaster, Kill Bill succeeds where other American adaptations fail primarily because you can tell this isn’t just a hobby of Tarantino’s – it’s a study. Just as student of classical music would be trusted to recreate the works of Bach or Mozart before a fan of bluegrass would be, Tarantino expertly reinvents the genre in the only way he knows how: dramatically. Everything in Kill Bill is overly-dramatic in the best way. The opening scene depicts a pregnant woman being shot in the head by her baby’s father, for Christ’s sake. Such is the nature of the auteur that would go through anything to make his original vision a reality. Even the marketing team knew Kill Bill was secondary to Quentin Tarantino when they labeled the title card “The fourth film by Quentin Tarantino” as opposed to using its actual tagline.
The plight of the everyman (or everywoman, in the case) is explored to no end – quite literally. My biggest issue with Kill Bill isn’t its unbelievable action or mediocre narrative. Instead my quarrels lie with the cliffhanger ending that so uncharacteristically takes its form from serialized television shows. Making a movie without an ending just to save screen time is about as stupid as charging players extra to finish a video game’s campaign.
However, if the point of Kill Bill’s cliffhanger was to get me to watch volume two, Tarantino succeeded. I plan to watch the second installment as soon as I get my hands on it so I can relive the unrealistically bloody fight scenes and entertaining character dramatization once again and love every second of it. ♦