As Uma Thurman popped the heads off of her assailants like reluctant grapessending great, red waves of arterial blood gushing skyward with a distinctive glug-glug-glug soundI had to wonder: Are middle-American multiplex audiences ready for grindhouse cinema? Can they "get" the none-too-subtle joys of severed limbs and plucked eyeballs? Will they truly accept such Grand Guignol spectacle as popcorn entertainment?
Then I remembered: We live in the age of Fear Factor, Survivor, and the Anna Nicole Smith Show. Kill BillVol. 1 is kid stuff in comparison. Thats not to say that Kill Bill revels in complete human degradation like those popular "reality TV" shows, but it is yet another indicator of where public taste has been comfortably residing for the last few years: in the trash heap.
But theres your good trash and your bad trash, and Kill Bill is decidedly the former. With its violent cartoon action, ludicrous super-villains, anime interlude, and retro-bizarro soundtrack, Kill Bill is a movie-geeks fever dream realized. Yet, as the Vol. 1 in the title indicates, Kill Bill is only half a movieand it feels like it.
If theres one thing director Quentin Tarantino knows how to do, its bring psychotronic-movie excess to the mainstream. His hyperactive brain absorbs every cliché, every camera angle, and every character of every bad movie hes ever seen and then transmutes them into gloriously over-the-top exercises in cult cinema. In his three-film career, Tarantino has applied his video-store-nerds passion to creating sophisticated variations on B-movie genres: heist flicks with Reservoir Dogs (1992), gangster dramas with Pulp Fiction (1994), and blaxploitation with Jackie Brown (1997). Plot-wise, these acclaimed films arent all that different from their forebearssimilar enough, in fact, to regularly earn Tarantino charges of unoriginality. But in their structure and their dialogue, Tarantinos movies are uniquely his own, with scripts that purposely discombobulate the narrative and infuse their characters speech with pop-culture influences.
Of course, film critics are not in the habit of admitting they like trasheven if its good trashso theyve had to concoct intricate theories explaining the hidden portents contained within Tarantinos "vision." But I dont think its really his intention to create great art, rather than just really good B-movies. The irony of having lowlifes discuss Madonna songs or European hamburgers was purely incidental; thats simply the way Tarantino himself talks, thus his characters do likewise.
But with Kill Billin Vol. 1, anywayTarantino eschews pop-culture discourse for action. The results arent quite as individualistic as his previous films, but Tarantino fans should be satisfied with his foray into Hong Kong-style "chop-sockey." Is it the ultimate kung-fu film, as hyped? Its difficult to say, since we can only watch the first half.
Uma stars as the Bride, AKA "Black Mamba," a former member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. Unfortunately, Billthe unseen boss of the Squaddoes not look kindly upon the Brides desire for early retirement and marriage. Thus, the Squad interferes with the Brides nuptials by slaughtering her entire wedding party while Bill puts a bullet through her headright after she mentions that shes carrying his baby. Well! You can imagine how this might upset her. So, after miraculously recovering from a four-year coma, the Bride vows revenge upon those who did her in.
So, yeah, the movie gets kind of violent. Perhaps after years of being accused of gory filmmakingeven though his movies werent all that graphicTarantino decided to prove his critics right. But its Kill Bills opening scene of retributionthe least bloody of the bloodbaths to comethats the most tense. The Brides first victim (to be shown) is Vernita Green, AKA "Copperhead" (Vivica A. Fox)who has apparently retired from the Squad and has gotten married with Bills blessing. (Talk about double standards.) In fact, shes the mother of a four-year-old girlwho comes home from school just as the Bride and Vernita are engaged in a brutal knife fight. Suddenly, revenge is not so fun anymore. (Its especially uncomfortable to watch when youre actually sitting next to a 4-year-old girl in the theater. Parents, I must ask: How stupid can you get?)
After this dose of disturbing reality, Tarantino zooms his film off into a Hong Kong-movie fantasylandenough to make you wonder why he decided to churn everybodys stomach with the first scene. The rest of Kill Bill is a bad-movie-fans universe unto itself, filled with fake airliners banking over fake cityscapes, yellow jumpsuits from Enter the Dragon, the "Flight of the Bumblebee" pumping on the soundtrack, sacred samurai swords crafted by none other than Hong Kong star Sonny Chiba, and geysers of fake blood erupting in a flurry of vengeance as the Bride machetes her way through an army of hep Yakuza wearing Green Hornet masks. While Kill BillVol. 1 climaxes with the showdown between the Bride and Viper Squad member O-Ren Ishi, AKA "Cottonmouth" (Lucy Liu), the best battle is actually with Go Go Yubari (Chiaki Kuriyama), a psychopathic bodyguard attired in a schoolgirls uniform and wielding a spinning mace thingy. Cool.
Kill Bill is an extravagant homage to Tarantinos beloved kung fu movies of yore, complete with a "ShawScope" title card (in tribute to Hong Kong filmmakers the Shaw Brothers) and a soundtrack that occasionally warps to the 70s itself with reverberating mono sound. But, inevitably, were left hanging with an incomplete movie. Just as Kill Bill seems to be getting its groove on, it ends abruptly with a tacked-on "cliffhanger" that is ultimately disappointing.
While I'm happy to see all the scenes in Kill Bill that might've gotten cut in a unified version, it's difficult to give Vol. 1 a full review until I actually see the second half. Therefore, let's call this column "Vol. 1"and I'll finish it in February. Unsatisfied? Now you're getting the feeling.