A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Kill Bill: Volume One

May 22, 2011

Kill Bill: Volume I

We keep saying, as we’re watching various films in our collection, “We should watch Kill Bill soon.” On Friday, for example, when we reviewed Sonny Chiba’s Dragon Princess, we commented on how the plot of a woman seeking revenge was so compelling even if the execution in that particular case was muddied by a poor translation and dub for American audiences. When we were watching Five Superfighters we were also reminded of this movie, because that sort of kung-fu staple is what inspired this movie.

Quentin Tarantino is completely straight forward in talking about this movie as homage to the samurai, kung-fu and spaghetti western movie he enjoyed growing up. In the making featurette that is on the DVD he says that in his mind Kill Bill is to the martial arts films of the seventies what Indiana Jones is to the adventure serials of the forties. In many ways I can see that, but it’s not a completely perfect analogy. Kill Bill doesn’t concern itself so much with having a continuous narrative. Instead it takes the form of isolated chapters, each taking cues from a particular genre of film. They are held together by a flimsy revenge plot and by some fantastic characters and actors, but they do not really make a complete whole. Indeed so disparate are the styles and looks of the different segments of the movie that even though events are shown out of sequence (in a very Pulp Fiction style) it doesn’t really impact the story telling.

We start out with “The Bride” (our anonymous heroine played fantastically by Uma Thurman) beaten and bloody on the floor of the chapel where she was to have been wed. Her vengeful ex Bill, whose face we never see in this movie is the head of an elite squad of killers, and together they all slaughter the wedding party and leave the Bride for dead. But she doesn’t die of course.

The movie jumps way forward now, and we see the Bride reuniting with one of her tormentors, who now lives in an unassuming suburban house with her husband and four year old daughter. She used to be Vernita Green but now she’s just Mrs. Bell. Until the Bride shows up and abruptly tries to kill her. It’s a knock down dirty vicious knife fight. This is the most brutally realistic part of the movie and the most hard-hitting. Perhaps that is why this is how Quentin chooses to start things out.

The next portion of the movie involves the four years the Bride spent comatose after her shooting. An evil one-eyed Daryl Hannah comes to her in her hospital room, but Bill calls her off before she can ignobly kill the Bride in her sleep. Eventually, of course, the Bride wakes up to discover that her comatose body has been pimped out by a slimy nurse in the hospital for the sexual gratification of awful perverts. Naturally she kills the client who has come to rape her, and kills the nurse Buck (who according to the television edit likes to party, but likes to do something more crude in the theatrical cut.) Yeah, that sets the mood for the movie right there. Awful people who deserve to die being killed.

As the Bride recovers in Buck’s truck (the Pussy Wagon) from four years of catatonia which has left her weak and almost paralyzed, we learn about the first person on her death list – O-Ren Ishii. This segment of the movie is an awesome and bloody anime short which details the young life of O-Ren as she is raised on a Japanese army base to her Chinese father and American mother. An evil mob boss kills her parents while she is hiding under the bed, and eventually an eleven year old O-Ren kills the mobster in revenge, thus beginning her career as an elite killer. In the time since O-Ren participated in the slaughter at the Bride’s wedding she has risen to the top of the Japanese underworld to be the head of all organised crime in Japan.

The next segment of the film is by far my favorite part of the whole movie. The Bride travels to Okinawa where she seeks out the retired sword maker Hattori Hanzo. Sonny Chiba portrays Hattori Hanzo, a character he has played for decades and whom Quentin Tarantino loved in his youth. This is a simple, comedic, spiritual interlude in a bloody and overwhelming movie and as such it’s an island of calm. The Bride needs the ultimate sword to exact her vengeance and apparently Hattori was once a mentor to the mysterious and nefarious Bill, so he agrees to come out of retirement and do that which he had sworn an oath never to do again: make a thing which kills people.

After this the movie returns to pure fantasy violence. The entire remaining third of the film is one long extended action scene as the Bride confronts O-Ren Ishii in a Japanese night club called the House of the Blue Leaves. She takes out the “Crazy Eighty-Eight” (O-Ren’s gang) and their masked commander as well as O-Ren’s sadistic schoolgirl bodyguard and finally faces O-Ren herself in a climactic swordfight.

This movie is all about capturing a series of visual moments. There are a few quintessentially Quentin moments, such as the “walking down the hall” scene at the House of the Blue Leaves. There are some amazing and complex camera shots, such as the lengthy steadycam shot that follows the Bride through the House of Blue Leaves, sweeping along beside her, up over walls, back through the crowd, over the balcony, picking up O-Ren’s multi lingual secretary Sofie as she walks down the stairs and completely unawares into the restroom where the Bride is waiting. Most of the time, however, the movie concentrates on evoking a particular cinematic mode. Each chapter has a distinctive style and soundtrack. Each part is a homage to an entire genre of film. As such this is actually a whole series of short films all starring the same indomitable character and all centered on a theme of vengeance.

They’re all great films though. Brilliant and well made and most of all just plain cool and fun to watch. The action is extreme, the blood is plentiful and the soundtrack is the pinnacle of awesome. Tarantino has done exactly what he set out to do – he’s distilled kung fu, spaghetti westerns, blacksploitation films and samurai movies into a single super action-fest and it is good. He pays homage and gets some of the great names to participate. Fight choreography by Yuen Wu-Ping. Sonny Chiba. This was the movie that convinced me that I completely loved Lucy Liu, who is completely awesome and kickass as O-Ren. My only regret is that I never saw this movie in the theater and had to enjoy it on the small screen. It’s a grant big action movie that deserves better.


May 22, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

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