Kill Bill, Vol. 1
directed by Quentin Tarantino
(Miramax, 2003)

Slice' em and dice 'em and serve 'em up raw. Well, it's a hoot to watch. Kill Bill may not be very deep, but it's fun. It's a pretty simple-minded plot: The Bride, very well played by Uma Thurman, is hit by a death squad on her wedding day and left for dead in a coma. Four years later, she screams herself awake, kills off a thug who is violating her in her comatose state, and the joyride begins.

Hoo-boy, what a ride! The Bride is out for revenge on the death squad that killed all nine members of her wedding party: Vernita Greene a/k/a Copperhead, played by Vivica Fox; O-Ren Ishii a/k/a Cottonmouth, a gorgeous Chinese-Japanese killing machine played by the lovely Lucy Liu; Bill's brother Budd, a/k/a Sidewinder; and Elle Driver, a/k/a California Mountain Snake. Last, and most prominent on the Bride's personal hit list, is Bill himself, but we won't see him yet in this movie. The Bride, who used to be a member of this infernal club, is known as Black Mamba. Bill, the mastermind, has ordered the death squad to kill the Bride and all her wedding party. We don't know why, and presumably we won't find out until the sequel. In the meantime, nine dead bodies and one almost-dead one litter the floor of the chapel.

"They should have killed 10," gloats the Bride as she whacks her first victim, Vernita Green, and sets out to wipe out the rest of the death squad, but first she needs to take a side trip to Okinawa to aquire the ultimate weapon, a Hattori Hanzo sword handmade by the master himself. From the carnage this instrument leaves behind, the victims may as well be run through a meat grinder.

Once the Bride is on O-Ren's track, Hanzo sword ready, the violence escalates exponentially. This lady isn't kidding; she mows down everybody in her way like a runaway pile driver, slicing off arms, legs and heads. Some of the action is so over the top that we wonder if we're supposed to take it seriously or say "yeah, right" and laugh out loud, as when O-Ren's posse of 88 hired thugs take on the Bride all at once and all end up dead or mutilated. Uh-huh.

Uma Thurman plays the Bride like the cold-blooded murder machine she's turned herself into, focused on nothing but her lust for revenge. "Those of you who still have your lives, take them with you!" she shouts at the remnants of O-Ren's posse after she's finished slicing them up. "But leave the limbs you've lost; they belong to me now." But Thurman's performance isn't overblown; it's tightly controlled just like the character herself. "I didn't mean to do this in front of you," she tells Vernita Greene's little daughter in a low monotone as she wipes her mother's blood off her bowie knife after drilling her through the heart, "but believe me, your mother had it coming." Yikes.

The way director Quentin Tarantino has the film rocketing along, we wonder if we're watching a movie or reading a comic book. The film's cinematography is jaw-dropping, zipping from color to black-and-white to anime and back to live action; we're reminded of the mixed sequences that Oliver Stone used so effectively in Natural Born Killers. It's hard to tell, though, what Tarantino is trying to convey in Kill Bill -- Natural Born Killers, which many people loathed because they thought it glorified violence, was really a parody of the American fascination with violence -- but Kill Bill is so short on real substance that it plays more like a slasher film with blood splattering all over the place. Sure, it's long on style, but substance comes off almost as an afterthought.

The supporting actors give competent performances; we see little of Darryl Hannah as Elle Driver (presumably we'll see a lot more of her in the sequel) but we see enough to know this lady has a block of ice for a heart. Lucy Liu is totally convincing as the boss of the Tokyo underworld. Sonny Chiba gives a mesmerizing performance as Hattori Hanzo, but special kudos go to Chiaki Kuriyama as O-Ren's personal bodyguard, 17-year-old Gogo Yubari, looking sweet and demure in her school uniform, her insane eyes flashing murder. You'd never want to come across this girl when she's PMS-ing.

There's been a lot of comparison between this film and Pulp Fiction; there's blood and gore liberally splashing the screen in both movies, but Pulp Fiction was a masterpiece of great plot (convoluted though it was), with great acting and great dialogue. Kill Bill ultimately boils down to great style, a lot of noise and not a whole lot else. On a rating scale, I'd have to give it five stars for style and two for substance, which averages out to 3.5, but it's great fun to watch so I'll round it off to four. Slicing and dicing not withstanding, it's a fun movie.

by Judy Lind
11 February 2006

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