Published Dec 01, 2003It's been widely hypothesised that good artists "borrow," while great ones "steal." Quentin Tarantino is unquestionably one of the greats. But his talents not only lie in lifting and combining obscure source material, infusing it with witty, sharp dialogue referencing pop culture and the everyday minutia of its characters' lives, chopping up the story and rearranging its telling and turning the genres he's thieving from on their ears, but in making whatever he "steals" so incredibly unique and indefinable that it is ultimately his and his alone. And after a string of incredible movies that have redefined pop culture (you know what they are), he's at it again with Kill Bill, his hodgepodge homage to martial arts and western revenge movies set on kill-crazy rampage, infused with the enthusiasm and charisma Tarantino brings to all his work.
Compared to any of his other movies, Kill Bill Vol. 1 is the lightest on the profanity-laced, incredibly snappy dialogue that has made Tarantino a film geek god, and is also his most straightforward movie, story-wise: a pregnant ex-assassin, simply known as the Bride (or, as we find out later, Black Mamba, her name from her time in the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad), is gunned down in a Texas church along with her wedding party and left for dead by her former group. Four years later she awakens from her coma and unknowing life of sexually violation while comatose she was "pimped out" by an orderly; don't worry, he gets his come-upings and seeks revenge on the Vipers and the man responsible, Bill, with Vol. 1 following the first half of her righteous quest to, as the title makes perfectly clear, kill Bill.
A single-minded tale of vengeance, Kill Bill Vol. 1 is a simpler movie, one not as full of the twists and sliced and diced narrative of Tarantino's previous work, although he still shifts chapters and rearranges the structure here and there, as is his wont. Also, Tarantino's dialogue, which for many is why they obsess over his work, is at its most minimalist here. There are few, if any, pop culture references or intelligent/interesting examinations of the mundane, but what little dialogue there is remains crisp and sharp.
However, Tarantino makes up for the lack of verbal interplay and dexterity by upping the body count and blood, rivers of it, to extreme proportions, along with the help of famed fight choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping (The Matrix, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and Sonny Chiba there are decapitations, dismemberments, full-on arterial sprays, people lying in their own blood for entire fight scenes. It's as if he invested all his time in working on fight scenes and bloodbaths instead of dialogue and it makes Kill Bill Vol. 1 possible the most violent, bloody and graphic movie Hollywood has ever made, which is quite the achievement in itself.
But Kill Bill Vol. 1 isn't just an excuse to hack of limbs and slice people into pieces (well, not only), it's an homage to the westerns, martial art flicks and gore-fests that Tarantino grew up on and he "steals" liberally from these genres (note the Bruce Lee "Kato" masks worn by Yakuza boss/Viper O'Ren's gang; the Bride's yellow motorcycle garb identical to that worn in Lee's last movie; the appearance of Sonny Chiba as a sword-maker, reprising another role; or Battle Royale's Chiaki Kuriyama playing a schoolgirl bodyguard). But, amongst the carnage and homages, Kill Bill Vol. 1 is entertaining, exciting and never cheesy, no matter how much "cheese" Tarantino puts in (the masks, the bad names, the slow-mo flying axe shots, etc.); it can also be unrelentingly brutal and jarring the opening sequence where the Bride gets shot in the head, for example.
Another Tarantino staple, which few do as well, is the way he utilises music in his work and puts together cool, obscure soundtracks. And the music of Kill Bill Vol. 1 not only follows that too cool for school thread, but a number of the songs tie-in thematically with the events of the movie, the genres he pillages and the emotional states of the characters/scenes.
Ultimately, the debate over whether Kill Bill really needed to be split into two parts will rage, but Vol. 1 ends so perfectly, dropping a plot bombshell after an insanely climatic series of battles, and its violence is so intense, that a pause will only make Vol. 2 that much better. Like they say: all good things to those who wait. (Alliance Atlantis)