Kill Bill Volume One
In the current social environment there is a lot of concern about the use of violence in films. One movie that has made it to the top of the hit list of many oversight groups is Tarantinoís latest opus, Kill Bill Volume One. True, the movie is gory, brutal and bloody but there is a lot beneath the surface here. The film harkens back to the Asian martial arts flicks, at the same time paying homage and elevating the genre to a new level. As with other films by this novel director it seems to take place in a universe where there is a sense to all the bloodshed. Like Pulp Fiction there is no real good guys or bad guys, there are only degrees between the two opposing forces. The Bride (Uma Thurman) is attacked on her wedding day by a group of elite assassins, she survives but is at first in a coma, later she finds herself paralyzed. By sheer force of will she regains the use of her limbs and almost super human fighting abilities. In the Tarantino universe there is a code of honor even the worse character must follow and to this end the Bride vows revenge on the killers and their boss Bill (David Carradine).
This code of honor is directly related to the old King Fu flicks, murder must be avenged and violence begets violence. The focus of the Brideís ire is the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, a group mostly women, with extraordinary, physics defying skills. The first two on the Brideís hit list are O-Ren Ishi a.k.a. Cottonmouth (Lucy Liu) and Vernita Green a.k.a. Copperhead (Vivica A. Fox). Yes, all the members of this group are named for snakes! While each of these women are powerful the Bride manages to get to them in some of the most intense scenes ever committed to film. Typical of the Hong Kong genre before adversaries face off they have to have a little chat, light heart banter that reflects the venom behind the actions soon to come along. With this film the chats are amusing, offering a little rest for the audience to catch their breath before the carnage starts in earnest. While watching this film it is important to remember the parameters of the genre it represents. Avoid over analyzing the flick, it is not intended to be a rival for Citizen Kane, it is what it is, comic book violence brought to the screen. This is a tale of revenge taken to the extreme, nothing more. This is like a ride in an amusement park, you get on and enjoy the ride, not think about it.
One of the most important criteria for a professional actor is to inhabit the character they are portraying. At times this means to project all the nuances of the character, the subtle aspects of another person. At other times the actor must pull back and let the situations guide them, while this often results in a two dimensional character that is what occasionally is required. This is the case here. The characters in this story are not intended to be complex in nature. They are what they appear to be, brutal killers living with a code that may be strange to us in the audience. Thurman plays the Bride perfectly. By force of will alone she rises like the phoenix from defeat to seek her revenge. She is driven only by the loss of her unborn child and husband. The universe collapses to one motive. Liu is delightful as the bloody female overlord. She is so wicked that we can enjoy her evil as we sit and watch the film unfold. Fox has a little more to do here. Her character tried to turn away form her life as a killer for hire but, as in all films such as this, her past catches up with her with dire consequences. The breakout performance here is young Chiaki Kuriyama as Go-Go, Luiís bodyguard. She is the personification of the violent young girls found in anime, a living cartoon. As such she balances between a vicious killer and little schoolgirl.
Say what you will about Tarantino but he is a fan of cinema. Not just the high brow films that people chat about over cocktails but the films most of us remember form Saturday afternoons in those cheap movie houses of our youth. He is not afraid to pay homage to the films he likes even if they never made any criticís top film list. Here he lets loose his love of those cheap old martial arts flicks, the ones that usually have the words dragon, fighting and fists in the titles. His style here is, shall we say, eclectic, mixing anime, black and white as well as Hong Kong wire stunts. As a director Tarantino does not rush between films, itís been about six years since his last release. It takes his time to present the film that he wants the public to view. I canít imagine why this film didnít get the dreaded NC-17 from the ultra conservative MPAA but suffice it to say, this is still not a film for the kids. Rather than fearing presenting a story without levels and hidden meaning Tarantino revels in the simple violence this film portrays.
The disc has some short comings but overall it is well done. The video is an ultra realistic anamorphic that is so crisp that you will see every drop of blood fly around the screen. In a post slaughter close-up of Lucy Lui you can make out the blood drops mixed with her freckles, something strangely compelling. The sound track is provided in both Dolby 5,.1 and DTS. I found the DTS provide more in the way of ambience, a fuller, richer sound field. You can hear the swords whip around your room during the carnage. Overall the extras provided a a bit heavy on the mundane side, we've seen most before. I would have preferred a commentary by Tarantino instead. Listing to various interviews with him his enthusiasm for this film would have a great addition here. The standard making of featurette was fun but nothing most of us have not seen before. While not for everyone this film is a must for QT fans, for those that enjoy the martial arts or anime genre or just about anyone that is willing to forego thinking and take a ride through the violent world depicted.