Kill Bill, Volume 1
by Del Harvey
Tarantino’s fourth a magnum opus, but is it worth the wait?
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Thanks to Asian filmmakers’ taking the boldest step of making numerous action films with female protagonists and heroines over the past 8 to 10 years, Tarantino is able to put Kill Bill on the American market. This film is full of exciting action sequences, artistic imagery, and signature tongue-in-cheek dialogue. The acting is excellent and all performers at their peak. The drama and tension are high and Tarantino proves he knows how to show menace and make it real enough so the audience remains on the edge of its seat. And in Volume 1 he gives us a showdown between two of the toughest women in fictional American film. They do a lot more than give Thelma and Louise a run for their money; they kick in their teeth and knock into the back row so all they can do is watch in slack-jawed awe with the rest of us.
A number of Tarantino fans, myself included, have waited a long time for Kill Bill. But will Volume 2 be worth the wait? Why cut it in half in the first place? In Volume 1 we’re shown an anime sequence (Japanese animation) as backstory for the Lucy Liu character. It is riveting and stylistic and very entertaining, if not a little bloody; but is it worth cutting this film in two? We are also shown a fight sequence early on between Uma Thurman’s character, The Bride, and Vivica A. Fox’s character, Vernita Green, which has little meaning other than to show us how pissed off Uma is. That’s nice, but surely there could have been another way to do this and we wouldn’t be waiting for Volume 2 to show up in six months. I mean, come on, you Hollywood people! I have a life, I’ve got other things to do than just remember this part of this movie and that part of that movie and wait for the second or third installment to show up. Seriously, this is a trend begun by Lord of the Rings and The Matrix, and it should be stopped right now. What is the point? Give us a 2½ hour film and leave it at that. A number of people who left the screening I attended were not happy with the abrupt ending to this film. And I really don’t blame them.
The storyline for Kill Bill, Volume 1, is pretty straight ahead: Uma is out for revenge. Four years ago she, her fiancee, and 8 other people were attacked and killed as her wedding was about to begin. She was shot in the head by Bill (David Carradine, face unseen in this installment) and left for dead. She was also pregnant and lost the baby. She intends to kill those who assaulted her and her groom. This includes all members of the private assassination squad of which she was once a member: Bill, Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), Budd (Michael Madsen), and Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox). In Volume 1, she succeeds in taking out two of these five. Of course, she lives, or else there wouldn’t be a Volume 2. Almost the entire second half of the film involves a long, drawn out sword battle between Uma and Lucy Liu and her Tokyo Yakuza gang. It’s a beautifully photographed, very violent, and way over-the-top sequence, and I’m not sure it was necessary. But the executives at Miramax must see many dollars in this film, or else they wouldn’t have cut it in half and expected audiences to be so patient.
Tarantino has made no bones about his love of various genres and specific films and actors, and obviously has borrowed heavily from a number of those here. He includes legendary Asian action star Sonny Chiba in another long sequence which serves as more of a lull in the action than anything else. What is missing is a lot of plot. We are never shown the groom or given any information about him. We only see Michael Madsen in flashback as he stands over Uma’s battered body in the small El Paso wedding chapel, or at the end in profile when he states, cryptically, “She deserves her revenge.” We only see David Carradine’s hands and hear his voice — we are not shown his face. For a film with so much owed to Sergio Leone, Akira Kurosawa, and Sam Peckinpah, Kill Bill really should have been shown in its entirety, whether that was 3 or 3½ hours. Tarantino’s following seems large enough to support such extravagance for one director. I believe the decision to cut this film in half detracts from the overall impact of the story and ultimately of the film.
In spite of all my comments, I did enjoy this film. But I watch a lot of Asian films. And I’m used to subtitles. There are quite a few in this film. I also understand what Tarantino and the production company has in mind with releasing this film in two parts. With that in mind, I recommend Kill Bill to you as long as you remember this is only the first part of the film. If you forget that one detail, then you will definitely be disappointed. Otherwise, go, and enjoy a very suspenseful, very exciting action film.
Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly. He teaches screenwriting at Columbia College Chicago.
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