A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 448 – Kill Bill vol. 1

Kill Bill vol. 1 – May 22nd, 2011

I’ve got mixed feelings when it comes to Quentin Tarantino. I think he’s a brilliant guy who knows movies like few other people do. He has a recognizable aesthetic and he can do homage and reference while keeping the result distinctly his own. He has a good eye and an excellent ear and hearing him talk about movies it’s clear just how much he loves watching them, absorbing them and then making his own. And that’s all great. But he’s also got an ego the size of Jupiter and he can get so wrapped up in his own cleverness and image and reputation that things get overdone. Death Proof lowered him a lot in my eyes, but I have to reconcile it with this movie, which is an entirely different creature. So, like I said, mixed feelings.

This is probably one of the most obvious revenge quest movies I can think of. There’s no attempt to disguise it and that’s the point of the whole thing, that it’s righteous and bad-assed. There is never any question of who you should root for here. The Bride, whose name is omitted whenever it’s spoken, is your hero. She’s been put through hell and she’s going to get her revenge and if you’re not going to help her then she’s going to ignore you and if you hurt her then you’re as good as dead. She was beaten and shot on her wedding day, pregnant and trying to escape her former life as an assassin. We meet her as she tells the man shooting her – Bill – that it’s his baby. Just before he shoots her in the head. Now that? That is some potent backstory for a revenge plot.

I like how this movie is put together. Sure, starting out by going forward in time and then back is a bit of a gimmick but I don’t really mind. The Bride makes a list of people she needs to kill and we meet the second one first, but it’s a fast bit of action, all things considered, and it serves to introduce the character’s skills, lack of weaknesses and a good amount of her background. We hear she would have had a daughter. We get a bit about the assassination squad she was part of. We see a lot here, including action and a good amount of blood (but nowhere near as much as we will see). So I like it as an introduction. And by the time the movie ends we know what the Bride’s already been up to before she even got there.

It’s a fairly episodic movie. Yes, we see the last episode first, but otherwise it’s all clearly delineated by location. She starts in Texas, she wakes up in the hospital, she goes to Okinawa, she goes to Tokyo, she comes back to the US. Each section is well defined and within the section in Japan we get a complete style change to animation to show the backstory of one of her opponents: O-Ren Ishii. Now, the animation and storytelling there? I’m not so keen on. I can see its purpose, but it seems to be there more because Tarantino thought it would be cool than because it’s necessarily required for the plot. I’m not sure I care enough about O-Ren to see her childhood trauma and her own revenge story. And the animated style of it defines it as not a part of the rest of the movie’s storyline, but it also serves to separate it out and keep it from fitting into the movie as well as it should. And I find that frustrating. Whereas the rest of the episodes in the movie fit together as part of the Bride’s story, O-Ren’s doesn’t. It’s there for style more than substance. But that’s sort of how I see Tarantino: He has the potential for such fantastic substance, but gets distracted by style sometimes.

The other thing I really like about this movie, aside from the excellent cinematography and directing and all those things I expect from a Tarantino film, is that it’s not wall to wall violence. Oh sure, once the fight scenes start they’re relentless – as they should be – but there are other scenes where there’s little to no violence whatsoever. Specifically there’s the Hattori Hanzo scenes. Those are some fantastic bits that serve both as homage, with Sonny Chiba playing a role that’s a clear reference to a television show from the 80s, as well as character development for the Bride. She’s not a mindless assassin who uses a sword because it’s cool. She has a reverence for it and for its history. And it shows here. It’s a nice bit of quiet in a movie full of noise and I appreciate the pause it creates in the middle. It’s sort of a calm before the storm that is to come in the teahouse later on when she faces off with O-Ren and her gang.

This movie? Is not for young audiences. In fact, I’m impressed that the tricks that were used to land it an R instead of an NC-17 actually worked. And it gets shown on television! Every so often I flip past it and I usually pause to watch for a little while because I enjoy it quite a bit. But oh is it funny how it gets altered to make it “safe” for television. I’m often amused by these things (when we review The Breakfast Club I’ll share my favorite example) but this one is up there near the top of my list. I can’t speak to exactly how much blood and gore gets removed, but the most noticeable change is that “pussy wagon” is changed to “party wagon” and the line “My name is Buck and I’m here to fuck” gets changed to “My name is Buck and I’m here to party.” As if that at all hides the fact that Buck’s been selling her body while she was comatose. And there’s just something so ridiculous about trying to clean up this movie by changing the terminology but not the content.

Aside from the animated section I really feel that this is a tightly put together movie with a clear idea of where it’s going and what it wants to do and how it’s going to do it all. The Bride is a strong character, willing to do whatever it takes to get to Bill and kill him and take down the rest of her former teammates as she goes. Sure, she’s had horrible things happen to her, but the movie doesn’t seem to delight in showing them to us, which is a huge difference for me from Death Proof (also a revenge story but one in which the revenge cannot be enacted by those harmed the most because the movie just had to show how much they were harmed). The Bride faces off with a number of other strong characters, ones who have lives and backgrounds of their own and who can certainly go toe to toe with her. It’s paced well, populated well, written well. It’s full of darkly humorous lines in the midst of the revenge. And all the homage and reference are combined well to make it something different. I honestly think it stands fairly well on its own, but it’s only part one and ends on a cliffhanger, so we’ll have to finish talking about it tomorrow.

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

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