View to a Kill
If the films of Quentin Tarantino have shown moviegoers anything about how he works, it's that he's dead sure concerning what he wants to do. Once he envisions an idea, Tarantino grasps it and runs with it until he's done all that needs doing. That's how Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and, to a lesser extent, Jackie Brown, came to be regarded as modern classics by many critics. Tarantino never tried to find a way around his subject. Thus, as the man sets out to pay homage to the revenge film with the first section of his two-part saga Kill Bill, he gives his fans exactly that. No mysterious suitcases here, only a very angry woman and all the style Tarantino can gather to tell her story.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 offers an intense and intriguing start to Tarantino's epic, putting on display the man's love for the cinema (in particular the movies he's paying tribute to here) as well as his ability to get to the bare bones of a story. The film possesses little concerning substance, but Kill Bill has what most brainless summer blockbusters lack: an awareness of its own level of violence, the knowledge that life is decided at the business end of a samurai sword and isn't always a pretty sight.
(WARNING: From this point on, some spoilers are discussed.)
A woman known only as "The Bride" (Uma Thurman) once belonged to the elite Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, an organization led by the mysterious and unseen Bill (David Carradine). But when she decided to leave, get married
and start life anew with her husband and unborn child, Bill had other plans, ordering the Bride's fellow assassins to shoot her dead. However, the massacre merely sent our heroine into a comatose state, and following four-and-a-half years, the Bride awakens with only one mission in mind: kill Bill. Vol. 1
begins as the Bride starts her quest to find and exact her revenge on Bill, jotting down a list of the five main figures responsible for killing her child and leaving her for dead. There's Bill, of course, and fellow assassins O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), now the head of the Japanese Yakuza, knife fighting housewife Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), and three others whose time will come in Vol. 2.
With the aid of a samurai sword created by the legendary Hattori Hanzo (Sonny Chiba), the Bride gradually etches the first names off of her list, decapitating, slashing, and dismembering her way towards completing her goal.Kill Bill: Vol. 1 takes place somewhere between a harsh reality and an even harsher movie fantasy. The violence may be outrageous, with blood literally flowing in geysers in some scenes, but Tarantino maintains a balance wherein he has fun with the elements but keeps the central idea intact. The fight scenes are fast, furious, and fiercely-choreographed, filmed so that the audience feels every blow and senses the Bride's determination to get revenge at all costs. As with Pulp Fiction, Tarantino keeps watch on his more serious elements so they don't overpower the film's "lighter" side, a darkly comedic sense that has the viewer having fun with the action while remaining shocked by its impact.
Just as the Bride gets caught up in the moment whilst exacting revenge and later realizes what she's just done, such as when a big fight scene in a Japanese restaurant temporarily turns to black-and-white, Tarantino lets loose a barrage of stylish editing tricks as the action rages on, only to look back upon the carnage with something of a somber eye when the sequence comes to a close (especially true in the dark opening sequence). But Tarantino doesn't make you feel guilty for being either in awe of or afraid of the lengths he goes to with the violence. Rather, he does this to further enhance the story's overtones, effectively covering his themes through images and style without heading too deeply into his material. The man is as much of an expert when it comes to bringing the tension between characters to the surface during the quieter scenes as he is in capturing the madness of bloodshedding.
The action is hard-hitting but also flat-out fun, the most outstanding sequence being the darkly brillaint House of Blue Leaves showdown, where the Bride confronts a mace-wielding Japanese schoolgirl and takes on O-Ren's entire "Crazy 88" team of warriors. Tarantino looked mainly to '70s revenge films for his inspiration, and his love for these flicks and stylish cinema in general shines in every frame of Kill Bill.
Some characters lack proper development (though, in a few cases, this is because they're to be introduced more in Vol. 2), but Tarantino swiftly and perfectly establishes the ones who need establishing. Through narration and flashback sequences, we get to know the Bride, become familiar with the reasons behind her rage and, through intense encounters with her enemies, come to realize that she will not stop until she gets what she wants. In one of the film's best and most gritty scenes, the origin of O-Ren Ishii and her beginnings as an assassin are told through striking Japanese animation.
The acting is mostly on a physical level, but in that respect, the ensemble cast pulls off one memorable job together and
several great turns separately. Thurman brings a particular intensity to her role, pulling no punches and meaning business from the moment the Bride bolts up from her comatose state. Lucy Liu is equally impressive as the cold O-Ren, who gets her point (not to mention a crime boss's head) across the
table when she discusses what happens when her ethnic background is called into question. '70s kung-fu legend Sonny Chiba gives an impressive supporting turn as Hanzo, who makes the Bride her own sword and advises her as whe embarks on her quest, and Chiaki Kuriyama is memorable as sadistic teenage bodyguard Go-Go Yubari. Not much of Fox, Hannah, or Madsen is seen, and neither is Carradine as the key figure on the Bride's Death List Five, but each of them contributes a certain presence to the story, especially Carradine, smoothly speaking offscreen but committing heinous acts without flinching (as Bill is never seen in Vol. 1, that last bit is presumed).
Tarantino, often hailed as one of the great modern-day filmmakers, has a strong sense of style and knows exactly what he wants to do with each project. Although Kill Bill: Vol 1 is only one part of an epic story Tarantino wishes to tell, he starts the party with a bang, delivering dark laughs, intense thrills, and a sense of his personal appreciation for the world of film.
MY RATING: *** 1/2 (out of ****)
(Released by Miramax Films and rated "R" for strong bloody violence, language and some sexual content.)
Review also posted on www.ajhakari.com.