"Revenge is never a straight line..."
Kill Bill (2003) is Quentin Tarantino’s first [well second if you count From Dusk till Dawn (1996)] tribute to the films of a “grindhouse” cinema. This film is a revenge story that’s jam-packed full of references to different films from all across the scope of cinema: different genres, cultures and styles.
The story of Kill Bill: Volume 1 revolves around a (thus far) unnamed assassin known only as “the Bride,” who is killed by other assassins but somehow survives and ends up in a coma. When she wakes up four years later, she has one thing on her mind: revenge on those who turned on her.
Kill Bill is a film that works far better than it really should. If anyone else tried tried to combine, tribute and homage so many different films in one it would not be as successful as this one. I personally think its Tarantino’s own bold and well defined style that makes all these different things work together so well under one roof. Just look at Pulp Fiction (1994), that film is not only a mash-up of 3-4 different stories but also different musical styles and time periods. But Kill Bill makes Pulp Fiction look like child’s play. This film seamlessly drops direct references to American, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, kung-fu & martial arts, anime, samurai, western and action films and even comics all over the place. Some of these are slight little nods [like the Bride's motorcycle jumpsuit that's patterned after Bruce Lee’s jumpsuit in his final and uncompleted film The Game of Death (1972)], others are the way a person gets killed or even just mirroring the way a shot is framed in another film.
I think some of my favorite ways this film uses different styles is the way the amazing soundtrack (almost all hand chosen from different films) combines with the stylish cinematography. You’ll hear western music over two people kung-fu fighting all the while telling it’s own original story. There’s far too many references in this film for me to dwell on it any longer but if you want a treat check out The Quentin Tarantino Archives, they have compiled quite a few references on their site. Its not a complete list because there were a couple things I noticed that they didn’t have listed, but they have a lot of stuff I had no idea was lifted from other films so be sure to go check that out, its a fun read.
Most of the problems with this film stem from the fact that its really only half of a story. The set up is great, but it doesn’t pay off on it’s own and without more answers or a decent conclusion the film seems like a stylish but empty action film. The ending in fact, makes an amazing mid point (revealing her daughter is still alive).
Now this is no problem if you look at the films as two parts to one film, but as it is right now Quentin Tarantino has never given the full film a decent release. If he wants to release Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair in wide release or even just on home video, I will revisit this film as one film. But until that day as it is now, I'm sorry its two films.
I usually don't care for Lucy Liu too much as an actor but I love her in this film because her backstory is told in one of the greatest anime sequences in film or television history. Its absolutely beautiful and very expressive with lots of really stylized action and great shot choices. The anime sequence is produced by Production I.G. the studio responsible for Ghost in the Shell, Neon Genesis Evangelion & FLCL. This is such a great way to incorporate another medium even one as drastically different as anime.
I love the fight choreography and cinematography in this film. The cinematography is made up mostly of homages to other films combined in really interesting and clever ways and Tarantino was smart to hire fight choreographer Yuen Woo-ping, who is well known for his work in the films Wing Chun (1994), Iron Monkey (1993) and Jackie Chan's Drunken Master (1978).
And lastly I gotta mention Sonny Chiba, I personally love Sonny Chiba and apparently Quentin Tarantino really does too. I love the way he uses him in this film as an almost Yoda-esque retired sword-maker. His performance in this film is cool, funny and super memorable all in one, and that's really something because apparently he can speak next to no English!
Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003) is probably Quentin Tarantino's most stylish and action packed film to date, but without it’s second half a large part of the film seems like it's just another emotionally hollow action film. 4/5 Stars.
Want more Tarantino goodness? Check back all month for my Tribute to Tarantino in honor of his latest film Django Unchained (2012).
Go back to Tarantino's first film with Reservoir Dogs (1992), check out the first script he wrote (but didn't direct) True Romance (1993), The smash hit that really put him on the map Pulp Fiction (1994), another film written by him but in the hands of another director From Dusk till Dawn (1996), or his blaxploitation-influenced crime film Jackie Brown (1997). I got films planned all month so be sure to check back!
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