Click here 3 and a half stars

Uma Thurman
Tarrantino, Thurman join forces
to slice and dice film thrills

"Kill Bill: Vol. 1"

Reviewed by Carlos deVillalvilla

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Quentin Tarrantino is hipper than just about everybody. That's OK, though; the guy knows movies. He understands the art that is the "B" movie, the kind of stuff at which most critics turn up their noses, or use to play the trash hip.


Hannah, Fox, Madsen, Liu

Darryl Hannah  (and Uma Thurman)

Sonny Chiba, Uma Thurman

Lucy Liu
"Kill Bill: Vol. 1" is Tarrantino's magnum opus, a loving tribute to movies he loves and admires, from Japanese samurai flicks to film noir to anime to blaxploitation to Hong Kong martial arts movies. And he delivers it with impeachable visual sense and a crafty sense of humor.

The story: Uma Thurman used to be Black Mamba, a lethal assassin and a member of the Deadly Vipers Assasination Squad, but has decided to leave the business and get married. Her former employer, (David Carradine, whose face is never seen) disagrees, and appoints black mamba's former cohorts Copperhead (Vivica A. Fox), Cottonmouth (Lucy Liu), California Mountain Snake (Darryl Hannah) and Sidewinder (Michael Madsen) to send his regards. After a savage beating, Bill delivers the coup de grace — a bullet to the head — personally.

Fast forward four years. The Bride, as she is known now, awakens to find everyone she loves murdered and her life over. Having been an assassin, she decides to put her talents to use against those who wronged her, leading up to her former employer. As she goes after each member of the squad, she is aided by a retired Japanese sword maker, Hattori Hanzo (revered Japanese action star Sonny Chiba), who makes her a special weapon to use.

The story is not told sequentially; it begins at the second name on her death list and goes from there. Tarrantino's jumping around in time makes sense; the first name on the list, Cottonmouth — otherwise known as O-Ren Ishii, is the more spectacular and difficult "hit" of the two presented here, and makes a far more fitting finale for this volume than would the second, which is almost anti-climactic.

Tarrantino also divides the movie into chapters, with each in a different genre; from the Samurai style (the swordmaking sequence) to anime (the Lucy Liu backstory), blaxploitation (the Vivica Fox sequence) and a good, old-fashioned Hong Kong swordfight (The House of the Blue Leaves sequence).

At each turn, Tarrantino pays tribute to heroes and genres of the '60s and '70s, from the casting of Carradine and Chiba to the use of Bruce Lee's yellow tracksuit (from his final film, "Game of Death") in the House of Blue Leaves chapter (of course, it's not the actual tracksuit).

"Kill Bill" started out life as a massive, three-hour-plus epic of revenge and violence that eventually was divided into two films (Volume 2 is due out in February). Part of the mandate for Tarrantino here is to inspire people to see the second portion of the movie, and he does that.

There are interesting twists, and the fight sequences are nothing short of astonishing, particularly the House of Blue Leaves portion, and the one-on-one dual between Liu and Thurman that follows immediately thereafter. There is some wire work, yes, but it's kept to a minimum.

The violence is gratuitous and often graphic, although sometimes almost cartoonish in nature. There are a few moments that will make squeamish sorts squirm (particularly the aftermath of the Blue Leaves portion) but the blood that fountains out of the Bride's victims is thinner than water, for what may be a subtle joke by the filmmaker.

Thurman is almost wooden, which I think is purposeful. Her beauty and glamour are stripped away in favor of a soulless killing machine, for whom revenge has become the single point of life. Unfortunately, most of the rest of the actors either join Thurman in emotion-free fashion (Liu) or are so over the top you'd think they were making an assault on Everest (Hannah, Fox). Veterans Chiba and Carradine give restrained performances. Chiba shows why many consider him to be a gem of cinematic history.

This is a movie I admire more than I like, although I like it a lot more now than I did when I first saw it. Da Queen said that she felt like she was in a room full of master painters -- Matisse, Gaugin, Monet, Rembrandt -- and she had only crayons. Tarrantino massive knowledge of film is put to good use here.

This isn't so much a tribute, or homage as an attempt to wrap all these diverse styles into one coherent story to make a new art form, and it works most of the time. One of the calculated risks Tarrantino took when he agreed to splice his film in two is that some may wind up liking the first volume only after seeing the second, and some may wind up confused or overwhelmed enough by the first to completely skip the second. That would be a shame.

I may be way off base with my analysis of Tarrantino's intent, but I plan to stick around for the second installment to find out if I'm clueless or not.

AT HOME OR AT A THEATER?
Although most genre styles that are derived from here work as well if not better on the small screen, the epic battle at the House of the Blue Leaves should be seen on a big screen, popcorn and soda in hand.


See cast, credit and other details about "Kill Bill: Vol. 1" at Internet Movie Data Base.