Kill Bill Vol. 1
|Uma Thurman||The Bride/Black Mamba|
|Vivica A. Fox||Copperhead|
|Daryl Hannah||California Mountain Snake|
|Directed by||Quentin Tarantino|
With more chopping, dicing, filleting, and au jus per second than you'll find on the Food Channel, "Kill Bill" establishes Quentin Tarantino as the Vegematic of the silver screen. "Kill Bill" is a triumph of style over substance. It's not really about anything. It's light on plot, short on dialogue, thin on story, skimpy on character, and virtually devoid of suspense. The philosophical engine that drives this train of death is the creation of the cool moment, and most of those moments are built around the severing of human flesh and bone.
And they are cool. Tarantino, a devotee of the Hong Kong action flick, has served his apprenticeship with the dedication of a student at a dojo, and he's earned his fifth degree black belt in cinemayhem. "Kill Bill" is loaded with homages to the Shaw Brothers and Asian martial arts movies. He knows how these things work, and his visual instincts are sharp as a Samurai sword. The image of a beautiful Chinese-Japanese-American crime boss striding down a conference table to lop off an associate's head so cleanly he scarcely knows it's happened is the stuff movie magic is made of. Violence is not really the word for what Tarantino presents. Violence is thugs beating some poor slob to pulp in an alley. What we have here is stylized, choreographed gore, geysers of blood dancing in ecstatic leaps like the balletic fountains at the Bellaggio in Las Vegas. Blood spurts from wounds like water from a fire hose. The killings in "Kill Bill" don't even qualify as homicide - anyone with blood pressure that high would be dead in a few minutes anyway.
Some of the sequences are so saturated with blood that they've been shot in black and white, perhaps to save on red pigment. One such is the opening, where a young woman (Uma Thurman) in a wedding dress, with a late-term pregnancy swelling her belly, lies on the floor covered in gore. A hand, presumably belonging to Bill, tenderly wipes some of it from her face with his handkerchief. "Do you find me sadistic ?" he asks gently, before firing a bullet into her head. The question is rhetorical, and presumably it is Tarantino who is asking it and us for whom it is intended, with the battered Bride as our surrogate. The Bride is a tough cookie, and the bullet to the head leaves her down, but not out. Four years later she comes out of a coma (muttering, with stunning insight, "Four years in a coma...?"), takes a moment to mourn the loss of her unborn child, and then launches into a truly epic program of revenge and retribution.
The targets on her list are Bill (David Carradine) and his D-VAS, or Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. They are O-Ren Ishii, code name Cottonmouth (Lucy Liu) ; Vernita Green, code name Copperhead (Vivica A. Fox); Budd, code name Sidewinder (Michael Madsen), and Elle Driver, aka California Mountain Snake (Daryl Hannah). The Bride apparently was once one of their happy band, sporting the code name of Black Mamba. Who Bill is, and what she did to run afoul of him and bring about the massacre of her wedding party, is never revealed. But there's evidence to suggest that she was at one time his lover, as were perhaps the others as well. They all took part in the massacre, and the Bride keeps an actual list of their names in a notebook, and crosses them off as she eliminates them, as if she were not sure of remembering who they are or what she has in mind for them, and which ones she has already dispatched.
Tarantino is no respecter of linear time. Things happen out of sequence, in their own time, sometimes with a tip-off ("Four Years Earlier?."), sometimes not. Logic is another virtue to which he does not kowtow. This is not a question of the action in the fight scenes, which operate on a plane where logic does not enter. It applies to motivations, sequences of events, all sorts of nuts-and-bolts cinematic housekeeping. Everything is at the service of the cool moment. Tarantino loves contrast, and reversal of mood, and he feeds it to us constantly. In one fight, Thurman and Fox are hard at it in the latter's suburban parlor, breaking furniture and slashing at each other with instruments of death, when through the picture window we see a school bus pull up and a sweet little girl emerge and come up the walk. The combatants greet the little girl, send her to her room, and pause for a coffee break ("You still take cream and sugar ?") before resuming deadly hostilities.
The most stunning bit of dismemberment comes not in a scene of the movie, but in the movie itself. Rather than trim the running length to what might be considered commercially practical, Miramax and Tarantino took a samurai sword to the thing, chopping it cleanly in half like the Bride dispatching an attacker. What you see here is Volume 1, with its unanswered questioned and hanging chads, and a plot as out of kilter as an eighteen-wheeler running on nine wheels. All will presumably be made clear if you wait until February, when Volume 2 hits the theaters. Whether or not you will be in line depends on your reaction to this first episode. "Kill Bill" is constructed as a comic book, with its stylized violence intended to amuse rather than to alarm or disgust. How you react to severed arms, legs, and heads as fodder for amusement will have a lot to say about whether Miramax and Tarantino get the price of a movie out of you a second time.
© Text 2003 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be