Kill Bill is a very silly movie. Silly but more violent and gory than even the most ambitious Die Hard flick could ever achieve. It is also extremely long. So studio executives, in their infinite wisdom, have split the film into two parts. For now, we can only get a look at the first piece, Kill Bill: Volume 1.
Volume 1 introduces Uma Thurman as an unnamed character (referred to in the script only as "The Bride") wronged by her former assassin friends. Left for dead, she awakens years later from a coma, and immediately sets out to kill those who screwed her over. Director Quentin Tarantino wastes no time at all before jumping to give Bill its own distinctive style, pumping it up from the first with an eclectic and unique mix of old musical oddities while rolling a simplistic credits sequence guaranteed to make even the most casual movie geek guffaw. Once the audience's chuckles pass though, I never quite shook the feeling that the movie itself just keeps on laughing.
Sure, Uma embarks on a lust filled killing spree that leaves hundreds of poor Japanese men spurting gallons of blood and guaranteeing massive psychiatrist bills as once active individuals try to come to grips with the fact that they are now completely legless. Strangely enough, it's all SO far over the top that it never quite comes off as gruesome. Picture Monty Python's Black Knight sketch spread over the course of an entire movie.
Kill Bill you see is not at all a serious film. Was it meant to be? Probably. But what Tarantino has created is a bizarrely entertaining parody of 70's kung fu movies set in today's modern mix of genres. Just think of what the The Brady Bunch Movie could have been were it directed by Tarantino. As that movie did, Kill Bill revels in the cheese of the past it's supposedly playing homage to. Kitschy movie references swim through film dialogue with nerdy abundance, even dipping into a Star Trek reference or two as Tarantino does what he's best at: Amuse himself.
What's good is that even though Tarantino is primarily working to give himself an incurable case of the giggles, he throws a few table scraps our way. Tarantino is obviously in love with his actors, and his actors are having a blast with this material. Uma truly throws everything into what is an extremely physical performance. Nothing is held back and she's battered and tossed and beaten back and forth. Her fight scenes, while at times silly because of the aforementioned ridiculous amounts of gore, are also great fun. She literally takes on an army and leaves them all for dead. Granted, it is easy to do that when the army attacks one at a time, but that's the sort of kung fu cheese we're rolling around in. The script goes out of its way to set up her Samurai sword as some sort of uber-weapon and Uma does a brilliant job of wielding it as such against her ineffective foes.
Standout for me was some of the gorgeous camera work in and around Tokyo; leading up to Uma's big fight with Lucy Liu and her Crazy 88 henchmen. This is the second film this year (Lost in Translation being the first) to use Japan as such an effective backdrop. And as it was for Murray's crew, Japan and the trappings associated with it are an eye popping place to film and a great catalyst for stunning cinematography. It is in that sense actually, that Tarantino has taken a leap forward as a filmmaker. The look and style of his film is unique, visionary, and just plain cool
And really, cool is all that Kill Bill Volume 1 is selling. Structurally it is messy, with pointless flashes back and forth through time. Uma is great as a revenge crazed anti-hero, but in the end do we even really care about her? Does it matter to us who wins? Not to me it didn’t. Personally, I nearly found myself rooting for one of the bad guys, O-Ren Ishi played by Lucy Liu. There’s no compelling reason to root for one over the other. O-Ren seems to have more style though, so remind me again what makes the Bride so good? Oh yeah, COOL. Kill Bill is selling cool. Not groundbreaking storytelling, not compelling characters in an action-drama about revenge and lust that brings new life to the long forgotten 70’s kung-fu-sploitation genre. Definitely not that.
That’s right, Kill Bill Volume 1 wishes it was a serious throwback to the obscure worlds of hardcore kung fu and die hard spaghetti westerns. Likely to appeal primarily to the lonely weekend film freak who spends his spare time scouring discount racks and waving around the names of obscure movie titles like a badge of courage, at least it knows its audience. It's not like anyone else has really been hungering for a throwback to badly filmed 70's kung fu. Whether or not that will be enough to appeal to anyone but the most obsessive of niche audiences is anyone's guess. If nothing else, Kill Bill deserves props for managing to be a girlishly silly action flick without sparing the gore. I defy even the most disinterested movie-goer to not find something enjoyable in that. Sometimes it works just to be cool.