Dave and Rachel's movie reviews.

*THERE WILL ALWAYS BE SPOILERS*

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Kill Bill

Year: 2003 (Vol. 1), 2004 (Vol. 2)
Running time: 111 minutes (Vol. 1), 136 minutes (Vol. 2)
Certificate: 18
Language: English
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Julie Dreyfus, Chiaki Kuriyama, Sonny Chiba, Chia Hui Liu, Michael Parks, Perla Haney-Jardine

Two down, 86 to go.
Supposedly originally conceived of by Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman on a napkin during breaks in filming Pulp Fiction, the story of The Bride and her quest for vengeance was originally a 90-minute movie in Tarantino’s head. Over the years, it began to develop into something much more. There are people who bemoan the loss of that short, fast-paced movie, but I couldn’t be more pleased at the decision to increase the size and depth of the story. Kill Bill is truly impressive, the two volumes being very different in character and style while still remaining a complete whole. Criticised for over-indulgence, it almost feels like the film Tarantino made for himself. Another criticism it received (from, unsurprisingly The Daily Mail who ranted and raged that “...it not only glorifies violence against women, it makes a quasi-religion out of it.”) was regarding the violent content, which is a bit like criticising PG Tips for making tea.

There is not a great deal to the story, basically being a revenge movie, following The Bride (real name Beatrix Kiddo) (Thurman), who, after finding she is pregnant, quits her career as an assassin and runs away to live a regular life. Her boss and her baby's father, Bill (David Carradine) does not take kindly to this and tracks Kiddo down and calls in her ex-colleagues, the other members of the Deadly Viper Assassin Squad to slaughter the regular family Kiddo intended to marry into and leaving the pregnant Bride for dead. Five years later, she awakes from a coma, childless, and proceeds to wreak bloody vengeance.
The making of O-Ren Ishii.

Volume 1 is Tarantino’s homage to the countless hyper-violent Eastern movies he clearly grew up on, such as Shogun Assassin (which is even name-checked in Volume 2) and Lady Snowblood. There are so many great ideas sprawling all over the film that the first time round you’re bound to miss some, which makes repeat viewings very rewarding. One of the most memorable parts is the back-story of Lucy Liu’s O-Ren Ishii, told entirely in anime. Instead of being a jarring distraction as you might expect, artistically it works brilliantly, really helping the character to stick in the memory. Another scene that jumps out is where The Bride entreats retired sword-smith Hattori Hanzo (a cameo from the legendary movie martial artist Sonny Chiba) to make her a sword, and we pause for a long but absorbing discussion about perfectly made swords. Despite these terrific moments, the film seems like a long lead up to the climactic show down in The House of Blue Leaves where The Bride takes on O-Ren’s Crazy 88 before dispatching the woman herself. This takes up pretty much the final third of the first film and is simply staggering - the best example I have yet seen of movie violence as high art. Witness the fountains of spurting blood, the running along banisters, or the moment where the lights go out and the fight continues in silhouette. These are just three moments out of a myriad of virtuoso shots. For sheer bravado it trumps anything in Volume 2.

A huge amount of kudos goes to Uma Thurman in these films – in her portrayal of The Bride she has created an icon every bit as recognisable and everlasting as Holly Golightly, Ellen Ripley or Marla Singer. It is not hard to see why Tarantino considered her his muse.

The Bride, at a wedding rehearsal she won't soon forget.
While Volume 2 still has large parts of it that recall the Eastern martial arts movies paid homage in Volume 1 (a mid-film flashback in which Kiddo trains with Bill's mentor Pai Mei (Chia Hui Liu) mainly), it feels much more like a Western, with a slower pace and a score prominent with Ennio Morricone’s music (he was originally going to write an original score for Tarantino, but scheduling problems meant he was unable). Tarantino continues to reference everything he's ever watched, including Volume 1 in the opening when The Bride demolishes the fourth wall and talks to the camera about the movie advertisements for the first film, which is, frankly, a little bit genius. There’s nothing to rival The House of Blue Leaves for sheer balls-out action set pieces, but it definitely has its memorable moments, the most disturbing of which is when The Bride is buried alive by Bill's brother Budd (Michael Madsen). While it loses something at home, in the cinema this whole sequence was incredibly unnerving. The claustrophobic fight with (the also extraordinary) Daryl Hannah’s Elle Driver is another moment that sticks with you – you can almost feel the bruises as each woman takes her turn to be kicked, thrown and smashed against things. Mostly, however, it’s the rather gross ending to the fight that sticks with you – an ‘eewww’ moment if ever there was one.

Training with Pai Mei.
The ending is another part of Kill Bill that has come under fire, for being action-light and dialogue-heavy. This is bizarre to me as by now we’ve had almost more than we can stand of action and fight choreography, but more than this, it’s Tarantino, who is as well known for his dialogue as he is for his violence. The Bride tracks Bill down, ready to confront him and instead finds herself face to face with her daughter B.B. (Perla Haney-Jardine) for the first time. This emotional sucker-punch is more than enough to conceivably put The Bride out of action, and it’s here that respect for Thurman goes up another notch. The whole cast has done a great job of making characters cool when they could so easily have been ludicrous, but here Thurman lends her character genuine gravitas. There is a moment when she sees her daughter for the first time and Bill simultaneously. The two of them (B.B. quite unknowingly) have turned Kiddo's quest for vengeance into a game. To spare her daughter the ugliness of murder, she manages to control herself sufficiently to play along with her game, and the moment is gut-wrenching. Similarly, the shots of mother and daughter lying together on the bed are beautifully poignant.

The late David Carradine also hits the mark, playing Bill with just the right balance of endearing warmth and bubbling-under psychosis to make you like him but stay wary of him. His obvious charm did make me a little concerned that The Bride wouldn’t be able to finish her mission to kill Bill, but the final fight, understated as it was, is just what was required, with Bill going out with dignity instead of a geyser of violence and blood, and The Bride grieving for the man she once loved, yet still strong enough to do what she must. Volume 2 is slightly better, but they should most definitely be viewed as a single four-hour movie.

Absolutely epic.

Score:

Kill Bill Volume 1: 9/10
Kill Bill Volume 2: 9/10

Despite the Mail's meltdown, there is a lot of love out there for
Kill Bill, like this review by Matt and, notably, Mr. Ebert hisself
(Volume 1 & Volume 2).