NOW PLAYING: Kill Bill: Volume 1

Posted: Monday, October 13, 2003

There is no question in my mind that Quentin Tarantino is a genius. Technically, each of his films have been exquisite. This is a man who, somehow, is able to take exactly what is on his mind and project it onto a screen for all the world to witness. There are but a very few directors who can even hold a candle to his ability to make you see what he sees. The trick is actually wanting to see what he sees.

Kill Bill, Tarantino's fourth film, is a simple story. The Bride, played by Uma Thurman, is shot and left for dead by her former teammates, members all of an elite criminal organization called the Deadly International Viper Assassin Squad (D.I.V.A.S. cute, huh?) Unfortunately for the DIVAS and for their leader, Bill, The Bride survives and returns to exact revenge. That's the whole shebang. And yet, an ecstatic movie lover like Tarantino couldn't bear to leave it at that. There are knife fights, car chases, flashbacks, backstories, and an amazing samurai sword battle the likes of which you've never seen. There's even a fifteen or twenty minute sequence all done in anim, the Japanese brand of animation. Kill Bill is an orgy of cinematic junk food. Tarantino packs it full of guilty pleasures and movie references and produces the embodiment of film hedonism. You can really tell that the guy loves to make movies.

But do we always love watching them? His first film, Reservoir Dogs, was an energetic little piece of ultraviolence that turned Hollywood on it's head. The critics loved it, and it's become a cult favorite. Next came Pulp Fiction which revolutionized independent filmmaking and turned Miramax into a powerhouse. Even now the arthouse giant is referred to as "the house that Quentin built." After Fiction came Jackie Brown, an underrated love letter to the blaxploitation films of the seventies. Pam Grier and crew gave excellent performances, but audiences were left a little cold by the relatively quiet and introspective love story. He kind of dropped off the radar screen for a while after that, but, finally, six years later, Tarantino has returned with his fourth feature. Quentin Tarantino, before becoming a director, was highly sought after as a writer, penning such distinctive films as True Romance and Natural Born Killers. After his directoral success, he wielded considerable clout as a producer, helping his friend Robert Rodriguez with films Desperado and From Dusk 'til Dawn. Flashy, violent, quick, and witty, Tarantino's films each carry his particular stamp. It's interesting to note, however, that the director himself breaks them into two groups. Tarantino has been quoted as dividing his films into those movies with real characters and situations, and those movies that the characters in the first category would love to watch. So, where Pulp Fiction or True Romance are relatively realistic, Desperado and Natural Born Killers are straight fantasy. Kill Bill marks Tarantino's first directoral foray into fantasy.

The director achieves the fantasy effect by fashioning the film after the kung fu flicks of the 1970s, and does so with unmasked adoration for his subject matter. The plot, the pacing, the dialogue, all come together to form something wholly new, and yet wholly retro as well. Tarantino soaks the film in crimson, mimicking the cartoonish bloodbaths of Asian cinema. Heads, arms, legs, and feet, all fall prey to the ever powerful samurai sword at one time or another, each producing the requisite arterial spray. Though working in a particular style, Tarantino does try to use a few of his old standby tricks. Both the score and the soundtrack just ooze cool, for example. Unfortunately, much of the subtle and witty dialogue that made Pulp Fiction and Reservior Dogs so unique is missing here; simply not the right movie for it. But, for those who enjoy Tarantino's somewhat helter skelter organizational structure, Bill won't disappoint. The film is broken up into chapters, evoking a more literary narrative structure, a concept I very much enjoyed.

Kill Bill is a masterwork. So why is it, then, that I left the theater feeling strangely unsatisfied? My first thought was that this was one of those films that people would either love or hate, but I found myself feeling neither emotion. I think it's because Bill is a very specific type of film, done incredibly well. However, if you don't go in for 1970's kung fu movies (blasphemy!), you probably will feel much as I did. I appreciate the skill, but in making so exact a replica, so perfect an homage to films he obviously feels strongly about, Tarantino may have succeeded in making a marginally successful, big budget niche movie. At over three hours, Kill Bill had to be broken into two parts, hence the Volume 1, and it's a good thing. I doubt I could have handled another hour and a half of flying kicks and rolling heads. Volume 2 comes out in February, and is just about far enough away to get me geared up again. Tarantino gets an A+ for effort, but so far, Bill's just not really my cup of tea. Grade: B+

Kill Bill is rated R for pervasive violence and language.

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