Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (18)
It could never truly live up to six years of hype, but Kill Bill, “the fourth film from Quentin Tarantino” as the posters helpfully point out, is still a summation of everything Tarantino wants to say in cinema while simultaneously proffering itself as in instant cult movie.
An amalgam of vastly different styles, genres and performers by a self-confessed filmic vulture, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (Vol. 2 follows next year) is like one of those giant sci-fi monsters of yesteryear, absorbing something from everything and then replicating it within a fast and energetic whole where dialogue is complemented by violence and action by moments of rare repose.
The ingredients of Quentin’s superior trifle include spaghetti westerns and giallo horrors, violent anime cartoons, Hong Kong actioners and Japanese yakuza epics, Bruce Lee martial arts extravaganzas, B-movie gangster flicks and everything else that once resided on the dusty bottom shelves of the video store. Here it’s combined with the relish of an über fan.
Consequently we see the likes of Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Michael Madsen and Daryl Hannah amidst Eastern stars such as Sonny Chiba, Chiaki Kuriyama and cult faces like Michael Parks. For Tarantino, self-styled geek genius, dream casts don’t come much better.
Kill Bill kicks off with the supposed execution of a beautiful blonde on her wedding day. “Do you find me sadistic?” asks an off-camera voice as The Bride, breathing hard and bleeding from a dozen wounds, asks for mercy. She is rewarded with a bullet in the head.
But The Bride doesn’t die. Instead she wakes from a coma four years later to discover she’s been pimped by a hospital worker, whom she kills as punishment for innumerable unconscious rapes. She then sets out to trace and ‘remove’ her five former colleagues – the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad – who, at the behest of their master, Bill, wiped out her wedding party and, almost, her.
Drawing up a ‘death list 5’, with Bill saved ‘til last, The Bride heads off for a string of showdowns.
Told in a combination of flashback and setpiece action sequences, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 never stops. Sure, it is jerky and erratic, with Uma Thurman (as The Bride) cementing her one-woman superhero invincibility with a succession of blood-drenched battles that seem to bump into one another, so frequent are they.
Tarantino also plays with genres. A violent yakuza assassination is told in anime style, thus limiting the bloodletting to cartoon style and minimising the gore. In another scene a spaghetti western-esque stand-off between Thurman and her rival is interrupted by the arrival of a child, so the women – merciless killers both – wait patiently for her to leave before resuming their mutual murderous assault.
The showpiece sequence in this relentless piece of hokum is the showdown at the House of Blue Leaves where The Bride, by now armed with a custom-made samurai sword, demolishes scores of bad guys by slicing, dicing and disembowelling the lot. Limbs scatter everywhere, lives are extinguished and blood flows by the bucketful in what amounts to an extended OTT comic book moment bolstered by beautiful, fluid camerawork.
This is astounding, exciting, juvenile stuff. It’s also an event movie, and Tarantino, who wrote as well as directed, knows it. Such arrogance. Such sureness. And nothing is left to chance. Even the soundtrack is faultless.
A graphic, unapologetically gruesome, non-stop rollercoaster ride, Kill Bill will be adored by the multiplex generation that makes up the majority of our film-going public. It will also be secretly admired by those who recognise within it the signature of a cineaste who loves cinema – albeit the type of cinema that appears to exist in an alternate universe.
Star rating: ****