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Kill Bill Volume One (2003)
Director: Quentin Tarantino

review by Christopher Geary
Spoiler alert!
"Those of you lucky enough to have your lives take them with you!
However, leave the limbs you've lost. They belong to me now."  -  THE BRIDE


Our heroine, the Bride (Uma Thurman) alias Black Mamba, wakes from a four-year coma after being shot in the head on her wedding day, and left for dead by her former colleagues in an elite gang of assassins working for the eponymous Bill (David Carradine, though his face never appears on screen). Of course, the Bride wants revenge, and she starts tracking down Bill's "Deadly Viper" squad of killers, starting with Vernita, alias Copperhead (Vivica A. Fox), who has quietly retired into suburban motherhood, and O-Ren Ishii, alias Cottonmouth (Lucy Liu), who has become the leader of a prominent yakuza clan. In the film's blood-drenched action climax, the Bride enters an oriental nightclub for an extended, wholly extraordinarily vicious battle against hordes of almost identical henchmen (in a massive swordfight that easily out-performs Neo's kung fu encounter with the army of enemy agent Smiths in Matrix Reloaded), before an operatic final duel outdoors, against the cold-blooded Ishii, in the striking "winter wonderland" of the club's snow garden...
   With its captioned chapters, flashback anime sequence and stylised violence, Kill Bill is clearly inspired by the Japanese films about Lady Snowblood (see our reviews of Blizzard From The Netherworld and Love Song Of Vengeance). However, Quentin Tarantino is a canny exploiter of subgenre clichés, who frequently resorts to cult film homage and in-joke references, as when the eye-patched blonde assassin Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) pays a visit - with clearly homicidal intent, although she's disguised as a nurse - to the comatose Bride's bedside, in a deliriously camp sequence of melodramatic music and split-screen visuals that harks back to the twist-ending of Brian De Palma's Dressed To Kill (1980). Tarantino doesn't stop there with his by-now familiar pattern of filmic borrowings, style theft and astute sampling of vital details from the iconography of popular cine-culture. Ishii's yakuza minions are all dressed and masked like the Green Hornet's sidekick Kato, while the Bride wears a yellow costume that's not unlike Bruce Lee's outfit in Game Of Death (1978).
the Bride's big fight
The late Toshirô Mifune (an international star since Rashomon, The Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, Hell In The Pacific, and Red Sun, etc) might still be the world's most famous Japanese film actor, but it's a safe bet that Sonny Chiba is favoured by many fans, for his appearances in cult films like the Street Fighter series, The Bushido Blade (1979) and, playing one-upmanship with Kurosawa, Legend Of The Eight Samurai (1984). In recent years, the venerable Chiba made a welcome return to form as a crazy gangster in the excellent heist thriller Triple Cross (aka: Itsuka giragirasuruhi, 1992). For the purposes of Kill Bill, Tarantino has cast Chiba in the role of a master sword-maker, and he's indisputably at home as "the man in Okinawa" who becomes the Bride's mentor on her gory trail of vengeance. Chiba is the kind of actor who can deliver potentially embarrassing lines like "I can tell you with no ego that this is my finest blade. If, on your journey, you should encounter God... God will be cut." without a hint of pretension. Kill Bill also features notable cameos for Michael Parks - as Texas Ranger Earl McGraw (actually the same laconic character that Parks portrayed in the Tarantino-scripted From Dusk Till Dawn, 1996), who discovers the unconscious blood-spattered Bride in a wrecked church is not quite dead, and the always watchable Michael Madsen as Budd, alias Sidewinder. We can, I think, reasonably expect to see a lot more of Madsen's hitman in Kill Bill Volume Two.
   Unlike many genre filmmakers working today, who usually approach a story by injecting fantasy elements into everyday realistic settings, Tarantino's style frequently presents an opposite angle on fantastique material by showing the intrusion of domestic routine into bizarre situations (as when the young daughter of Vivica Fox's Vernita arrives home from school and interrupts her ex-assassin mother's duel with the Bride), displacing the iconic violence with cool irony, and breaking the suspense with occasionally hilarious comic relief. Although this means that the characters in a Tarantino film may be convenient stereotypes, this is commonplace in action cinema anyway, so it's not a real problem for Kill Bill. Where the director comes into his own here is the live action realisation of those familiar manga and anime characters - teenage femme fatales with sadistic attitudes who routinely engage in grimly violent behaviour. As the wicked and cruelly murderous schoolgirl Go-Go Yubari, young Chiaki Kuriyama makes a memorable opponent for the Bride in probably the most amusing and best choreographed all-female fight scene since Michelle Yeoh's reluctant warrior clashed with Zhang Zi-yi's feisty rebel in the centrepiece duel of Ang Lee's Crouching Tigger, Hidden Dragon.
Bride as samurai
Kill Bill is potentially a future classic of westernised samurai cinema, though much will depend on whether our tough heroine's struggle to complete the promise of this film's title in volume two is yet more exciting and imaginative than this first part. Tarantino's obvious enthusiasm for movies that really move, could be his undoing if he comes to a standstill even for a moment. Like a fanboy with the ultimate 'train-set' (a movie studio) to play with, Tarantino has yet to prove he's got more to offer than just the wit and passion of his ongoing recycling of the best bits from an astonishing variety of cult and foreign films, in order to broaden the viewing habits if not the cultural horizons, of uninitiated US audiences. To be a truly great film director, I think Tarantino must learn how to subvert the numerous ideas, conventions and subgenres of international cinema, not simply keep on referring to them in exaggerated forms, for their own sake.
Kill Bill vol.1

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