Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)

“When fortune smiles on something as violent and ugly as revenge, it seems proof like no other that not only does God exist, you’re doing his will”

In the climax of his fourth film, Kill Bill Volume 1, a sequence that roughly lasts around 20-25 minutes, Tarantino becomes a maestro conducting a symphony. Switching from full color to black and white as to avoid a more restricted rating, the simplicity is contagious in its minimalism. His instrument of death is a character simply known as The Bride (Uma Thurman), created by himself and Uma in which this film is based on, and the sheet music is her special Hattori Hanzō (Sonny Chiba) katana forged especially and only for sweet revenge. 

“If God gets in the way, God will get cut” Hattori says to her as the weapon is passed between the two after the forger is finished with his Sistine Chapel.

The director who gave us Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs is at his most comfortable controlling the action full of severed limbs, buckets of blood that could fill a small lake, and a trail of bodies in a stylized manner that in the world it inhabits feels real. Every film Tarantino has built from the ground up lives in its own dimension outside of reality, but within that pocket lives a gold mine of confidence when the next person lunges with their weapon of choice, and gets their body sliced in half. I can imagine the adrenaline rush Tarantino got seeing his Crazy 88 gang step up one by one like an assembly line for slaughter.  

After the sincerity of Jackie Brown, 6 years has passed between films, the talented director, going back to his full strength is exactly the thing we needed without ever having to ask. But it’s the excessive use of the signature violence that makes Kill Bill Volume 1 magnetic. Tarantino draws us in without much push back anymore, by now we accept the fact that there will be blood, style, gore, and body parts flying. Bring it on.

Just like his first 3 efforts, Kill Bill Volume 1 is made up of an amalgamation of different genres. What has continued to influence Tarantino has stayed consistent since his directorial debut. Kill Bill Volume 1 above all else is an homage to the martial arts genre, mixed in with grindhouse cinema, spaghetti westerns and samurai films albeit a more stylistic approach over substance. Not much of the script written by Tarantino has much to do with character development, all we know is that the Bride, sometimes bleeped out for dramatic effect is a super assassin who was left for dead while pregnant on her wedding day. What a tragedy. The villain, the one pulling the strings and calling the shots, the head of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, on this supposed happy day is a man known only as Bill (David Carradine), is never seen but his presence is made known by his chillingly cold deadpan voice.  

Broken up into chapters, Tarantino uses his tried-and-true non-linear method for telling his stories – this will never get old. Opening this bloodcurdling tale is the aftermath of the massacre and the Bride’s final moment. Cut to 4 years later, one coma, one assassination attempt by Elle Driver code name California Mountain Snake (Daryl Hannah) and a sick twisted scheme by a nurse and the Bride is reborn, ready for revenge, willing her lifeless limbs to move while Tarantino gets a close up of her feet. The opening quote Tarantino uses “Revenge is a dish which is best served cold”, an old Klingon proverb sets the tone for the Bride code name Black Mamba to do as the title says: Kill Bill. But first the Black Mamba must cross off those who aided a hand in her wedding day massacre. First stop of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad is Vernita Green code name Copperhead (Vivica A. Fox).

Twice does Tarantino mention Star Trek. I guess super assassins like science fiction space odysseys. 

Tarantino takes a risk with Kill Bill Volume 1. Ending the journey halfway through when both volumes were shot as 1 full length film and making people wait for the grand finale is a lot to ask of an audience. I can’t imagine the response if the film wasn’t well received. Fortunately, it was even with the focus being pulled in the revenge direction and not much behind the story or character. It’s the benefit of the performances which elevate the characters that make up this world of super assassins. And leave it to Tarantino to make it all feel real. Within this world, I firmly believe that at a moment’s notice, Lucy Liu will chop off someone’s head to make a statement or her 17-year-old bodyguard Gogo (Chiaki Kuriyama) carrying around a mace as her weapon of destruction. 

Where does one even buy a mace or have the patience to practice with it?

Kill Bill Volume 1’s strength lies within the mixing of genres and by extension the different techniques Tarantino utilizes behind the camera. The Bride is made to look weaker with camera tricks – she’s the underdog against O-Ren despite going through the endless supply of Crazy 88 assassins. Kill one, two more take their place.

By far the standout sequence in Tarantino’s homage to the martial arts genre/revenge thriller is an animation scene that comes out of nowhere yet strangely fits in with the rest of the narrative. The subject matter pushing this pit stop tells O-Ren’s backstory of her parents getting killed by a Yakuza crime lord and O-Ren seeking revenge at a young age of 11. This is her foundation for being number 1 in the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad – O-Ren is the best of the best, but the Black Mamba is better – she has something to fight for.

Written By: Quentin Tarantino

Directed By: Quentin Tarantino

Music By: RZA

Cinematography: Robert Richardson

Starring: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Sonny Chiba

Release Date: October 10, 2003

Running Time: 1 Hour 51 Minutes

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%

My Score: 4.5 out of 5

Based On: The Bride by Quentin Tarantino & Uma Thurman

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