Tarantino in Review: ‘Kill Bill’

Kill Bill Volume 1 posterDirector: Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Darrly Hannah, Michael Madsen, Lucy Liu, Sonny Chiba, Gordon Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Julie Dreyfus, Michael Parks, Chiaki Kuriyama, Samuel L. Jackson

Synopsis: One member of a team of deadly assassins tries to break free of her current life after finding that she’s pregnant. Their mentor and leader, Bill, sends the rest of the squad to gun her down, leaving her in a coma for four years. After waking up she sets her sights on a path of bloody revenge.

Review: Right of the bat we’ll just point out that we’re reviewing the two ‘volumes’ of this movie as the one. The reason for this is straight forward – when the script leaked prior to production I read it as one film and always thought of it as such since then.

Out of all the movies directed by the geek director this is the one where he really cut lose. In his early films he puts in a measured and experimental effort while his recent work shows more confidence and care. Kill Bill is borderline lunacy and it’s only through the director’s passion for the material that it works through sheer momentum. A large part of the appeal is in the characters, who are endless fun to watch, and the different styles that each chapter encompasses. Although the mashing together of samurai and Western style of film-making shouldn’t work the separating of styles through chapters makes it workable.

Kill Bill

This is a bright, colourful and batshit crazy movie that only serves the purpose of being a one episode after another of cinematic madness. As said before the strongest point of the movie are the characters. Uma Thurman stars as ‘The Bride’, the trained assassin who is setting out to ‘kill bill’. The part was written specifically for the actress and it does show. The lanky actress is surprisingly well suited to the part, bringing out the sympathetic women who’s been wronged, the cold-hearted killer and the pop-culture obsessed geekgirl in equal parts. She’s not a character with a substantial amount of depth but she carries the film very well.

Kill Bill

The rest of the ensemble are a colourful bunch indeed. Lucy Liu is brilliant as a Yakuza leader, Michael Madsen as a grizzled cowboy whose sad life betrays a sinister intent, Vivica Fox as an assassin turned home-maker and Darryl Hannah in her first decent role in years as the one-eyed, wretched and jealous rival. In addition to the main targets are the supporting cast of the Crazy 88, martial arts legend Sonny Chiba as a retired sword maker, Gordon Liu in dual roles as Johnny Mo and the memorable Pei Mei…the list goes on and on.

Backing the movie is one of the best soundtracks ever assembled. Tarantino breaks free of his usual policy of only featuring music in the movie when a character is actively playing it to pepper some unusual but effective song choices. A salsa track backing a samurai sword in a snowy garden, an all-girl Japanese surf band – these are not choices that should work, but the layers of cool that all Tarantino films exude carries it.

kill bill

Not that everything works – it’ll be a miracle if it did. David Carradine was not the most gifted actor to wander the Earth and whilst his presence is well crafted in the first few chapters his actual on-screen scenes don’t reach the audiences expectations. After the epic blood-soaked battle at the House of Blue Leaves the final clash with Bill is about 80% build-up and 20% pay-off and some chapters feel entirely pointless. Michael Parks’ second role of Estaban gives some interesting background to the infamous Bill but certainly doesn’t the plot. The original script featured more scenes delving into Bill’s past but with them cut this one scene feels out of place.

Whatever the flaws and the uneven pacing this is an endlessly entertaining film. The characters and the soundtrack are fantastic and the fight scenes are downright awesome. As well as slicing up the Crazy 88 there’s a down and dirty brawl inspired by Jackass, a suburban house being torn to shreds during a fight to the death and one of the best training montages ever created. Worth rewatching many times over.

Score: NINE outta TEN