From: Subject: Date: April 21, 2005 3:53:51 PM CDT Hankblog

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Movie Retrospectives: Chicks Kick Ass
Kill Bill, Vol. 1

Kill Bill Vol. 1 had me hooked from the very beginning. The opening scene in front of the credits is as brutal a moment as Quentin Tarentino has had in his work since Reservoir Dogs. From there he moves to the mournful voice of Nancy Sinatra singing Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down). The total time from that opening moment to the end of the song and credits is five to seven minutes tops. And it sets the mood as nicely as anything he's done.

Kill Bill Vol. 1 introduces us to The Bride (Uma Thurman). She was once a member of a group of assassin's known as the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. The Bride sought to get out of the business to have a baby, a husband, and a normal life. That would appear to have not set well with the head of the Vipers, a man known only as Bill (Kung Fu's David Carradine). He and the other Vipers crash the wedding, kill everyone in sight, and leave The Bride for dead. She survived the attack somehow, languishing in a coma for four years. Now she's back and looking to kill the whole stinking lot of them.

Originally filmed as one movie that clocked in at 3+ hours with Tarentino's original edit, the studio gave him a choice. Either trim the whole thing down to under three hours, or release it in two parts. QT settled on the latter, following indirectly in the footsteps of the more hyped Matrix sequels. It proved to be shrewd choice in my mind, because the first half is edited smartly, lets us appreciate the characters and action, and gives a solid cliffhanger ending that will carry momentum into the second half to be released today (4/16/04).

This is a significant departure for QT in regards to his scriptwriting style. The film is driven by the action, rather than the dialogue that marked his previous forays. I still regard Pulp Fiction as one of my all time favorite movies because of its skill at the art of small talk. The conversations about what seems to be nothing tells us much about the characters in that film. While that isn't nearly as present in this movie, it doesn't suffer for it in any way.

Uma Thurman is utterly amazing in this movie. Her much publicized breakup with husband Ethan Hawke coincided very closely with the release of the movie. I can't help but wonder if they would still be together if the movie had come out earlier. Because after watching this movie, I think the first thought in Ethan's head would be "If I cheat on this woman, she's gonna kick my ass!" For someone who has no real experience with action movies in this vein (unless you count the twin disasters of Batman and Robin and The Avengers), Uma looks comfortable and confident as the killer that The Bride is. In the action sequences that pit her against her former colleagues Vernita Green (Viveca Fox) and O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), Thurman is some serious business. She may not be in the same class as martial arts masters like Michelle Yeoh or Zhang Ziyi, but I think she easily outclasses Carrie-Anne Moss's moves in any of the Matrix films. The sequence towards the end of the film titled "The House of Blue Leaves" is simply breathtaking. I've seen it 5 or 6 times, and it feels fresh and new every time.

The other women are equally impressive. Fox has a limited amount of screentime as Green, but she does the most with it she can. Liu is all business as O-Ren Ishii. After Thurman, she has some of my favorite moments on the screen. I think I can safely say that the Enron scandal would not have played out the way it had if she'd been put in charge. And most surprising for me was Carradine's performance as Bill. He has only a very small amount of screen time in this volume, but his presence is almost overwhelming. Considering how cheesy Kung Fu was as a series, and Carradine's subsequent series of Tai Chi videos, seeing David Carradine playing a bad ass was about the last thing I expected to see.

It should be noted that the movie is bloody violent. I mean really bloody violent. You've seen the Black Knight scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail? Think that run through the Xerox machine a few dozen times. More severed limbs than you can shake a samurai sword at. Tarentino is also a big big fan of old school Japanese and Chinese style martial arts films with great spewing jets of stage blood. And you know what? That's ok. Not that I think violence is necessary to have a good movie or anything like that. It's just that in the context that QT has set, the universe he's created, it's all perfectly normal. One sequence that tracks the story arc of Oren's life is done in Japanese style animation. For fans of the anime, it's an interesting way to break some of the tension of the movie, and at the same time give you a real solid taste of what is to come. It's my second favorite sequence after House of Blue Leaves. And further establishes Oren as every bit the cold killing machine that The Bride is. I think it makes the final payoff when the two meet much more satisfying.

I'll be writing up Vol. 2 later today tomorrow, having seen a sneak of it last night tonight. Other blog posting tomorrow will be light, since it was a will be a very late night for me last night tonight.