Directed by: Quentin Tarantino || Produced by: Lawrence Bender
Screenplay by: Quentin Tarantino || Starring: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Lucy Liu, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, Sonny Chiba, Vivica A. Fox, Gordon Liu, Julie Dreyfus, Chiaki Kuriyama
Music by: RZA || Cinematography by: Robert Richardson || Edited by: Sally Menke || Country: United States || Language: English, Japanese, Mandarin
Running Time: 247 minutes
While the famed fan of grindhouse ultraviolence and B-movie exploitation flicks is as divisive as any in the modern movie-going world, Quentin Tarantino remains one of the most fascinating auteur personalities and artistic talents of our generation. The man first burst onto the independent filmmaking circuit in 1992 with Reservoir Dogs at the age of 29, and a couple years later shook Hollywood to its foundations, and by extension, took the global filmmaking industry by storm in 1994 with Pulp Fiction. The rest, as they say, is history.
It could be argued that no man has melded indie-American auteurship with big budget Hollywood aspirations quite like Quentin, nor has a filmmaker made such a name for himself taking B-movie premises and filmming them with A-movie style since Alfred Hitchcock. In many ways, Tarantino is more controversial for his movie-content and sheer, unabashed, politically incorrect demeanor than his actual filmmaking skills, the polar opposite of, say, Christopher Nolan or Zack Snyder. Pretty much everyone agrees that the man can write and direct a film like nobody’s business — it’s rather what he’s saying and depicting that certain people have problems with, not how he’s saying them.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I am a head-over-heals hopelessly in-love Tarantino fan. I love his unapologetic penchant for bloody ultraviolence, I adore his politically incorrect and tongue-in-cheek humor, I admire his skill at weaving non-linear storylines and non-protagonist-driven scripts, and have nothing but respect for his pop culture soundtracks. In all fairness, the quickest way to determine whether someone is lame or not is to ask them whether they like (or respect) Quentin Tarantino.
And that brings us to my pick for his finest film: Kill Bill (KB), a feature that was originally written and directed as a single mammoth story that was inevitably split over two 2-hour installments, the first in 2003 and the second in 2004. Don’t listen to those who argue theatrical releases are necessarily separate movies; this is one, single, cohesive, stylized revenge flick —- but, oh, what style!
Then again, KB is very much a story of two halves: Volume 1 tells a straightforward, almost jarringly focused narrative of bloodlust and scorned femininity. Though the first half (and the second, for that matter) are as non-linear as Tarantino gets, our perspective on protagonist, Uma Thurman (aka The Bride aka Beatrix Kiddo aka Black Mamba) and its tone are that of pure rage. Thurman (and by extension, the audience) got burned big time, and we want payback, big time. What follows are two hours of unadulterated violence and a burning thirst for vengeance, culminating in one of the most outstanding, gory, and extended fight sequences in cinematic history in the Showdown at the House of Blue Leaves. It has to be seen to be believed.
Only in the final moments of Volume 1 does the emotional mindset of Thurman’s Bride begin to hint at some complexity, as does the plot itself thicken once a major point of Kiddo’s vengeance becomes nullified (unbeknownst to her character at the time, of course). While Volume 2 drops much of the over-the-top violence of the first half, it beefs up the emotional turmoil and complicates the motives of every surviving character. This in turn culminates in the final encounter between Kiddo and her former spurned lover, the titular Bill (David Caradine), which is built more around sparring words and brutal honesty than sparring swords or kung fu.
Aside from the obvious — a fantastic acting effort from a brilliant ensemble cast (including Lucy Liu’s and Vivica A. Fox’s lone noteworthy career performances) and a deep yet straightforward script — Kill Bill features Tarantino’s best direction yet. Not only is his action-choreography at its height here, his use of music, blocking, and animation are excellent. This film also demonstrates some of the most efficient storytelling techniques I’ve seen in cinema, whipping lightning fast yet necessary and effective backstories and flashbacks in ways that flesh out the narrative and its characters, yet keeping things skipping along at a brisk pace. KB feels like it was ripped from the pages of a hard-boiled anime graphic novel, but also contains all the elements of a typical Tarantino feature: A non-linear story, spaghetti western standoffs and motifs, grindhouse gore, and a smarmy, cocksure sense of humor.
Tarantino’s humongous success in the movie business is one of best arguments for genre film as “high art” and the aestheticization of violence in cinema, and KB is his own best example of that. The narrative, emotional, and cinematic potency of KB proves filmmaking is not about what you film, but how you film it. This film boasts numerous sequences, plot-devices, and minor characters that are ridiculous at face-value or sound comical when described, but within Tarantino’s bizarre, charismatic, suave, enigmatic style, he transforms them all into meaningful cinematic experiences. More than perhaps any other picture in the auteur’s filmmography, KB’s two-part samurai epic is the purest, most unapologetic distillation of Tarantino’s genre-blending, tonal metamorphosis.
Any story or idea can be interesting or “artistic” — it just depends on how it’s done! Substance can feed into style, and vice-versa. Kill Bill demonstrates as much as any high-profile genre picture that action and movement are inherent to the motion-picture (re: motion), and that a silly Caucasian girl who tries to play with Samurai swords is as highbrow and “high-art” as the quiet, low-key Tokyo Story (1953).
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Tarantino directs an over-the-top action-bonanza that’s as crazy and emotionally resonant as the great Matrix (1999)-sequels we never got. From killer anime to deft live-action choreography to a kickass soundtrack to a diverse grab-bag of non-linear cinematography, Kill Bill spares no expense. It’s less a martial-arts revenge-flick than a modern kung fu tragedy. The Bride is consistently the most overlooked action-heroine in cinematic history. I have no idea why.
— However… couldn’t we have had just a little more combat between Bill and Beatrix?
—> Kill Bill receives MY HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION.
? Bill: “Pai Mei taught you the five point palm-exploding heart technique?”
The Bride: “Of course he did.”
Bill: “Why didn’t you tell me?”
The Bride: “I don’t know… because I’m a bad person.”
Bill: “No. You’re not a bad person. You’re a terrific person. You’re my favorite person, but every once in a while, you can be a real cunt.”