Review: Kill Bill Volume 1

Any of you whove been reading my reviews from the beginning know that Ive already reviewed KILL BILL. In fact, it was the first formal review that I ever did for The Doctors Mailing List. So, youre probably wondering: Are you really this desperate for new material, Doctor? Well, yes and no. Its KILL BILL DAY here at, and we thought a look back at The Bride and her mission would be appropriate especially with VOLUME TWO coming out this Friday.

Some of you, as I mentioned, will recall that Ive already reviewed KILL BILL. But I took a look at that review and, well, it sucked. Back when I wrote that first one, I was writing all my reviews with this silly format, breaking the review up into sections like Best Actor or Actress in The Film or Worst Scene or, in KILL BILLs case, Ugliest Feet Belonging to an Actress With The First Name Uma Who Also Just Broke Up With Ethan Hawke (oddly enough, this category also appeared in one of the gay porn reviews I sent out, but thats another story). The format was gimmicky and only there as a crutch, something to fall back on because I didnt feel like Id be able to organize my thoughts well enough to present the information in paragraph form. Well, now I feel like I can.

Whether or not you feel the same way is your problem.

So, here I am, back with another angle on KILL BILL. Most of you are just as die-hard geeks about films as I am, so youve probably already seen the film and have read all manner of articles and reviews about it already. You know that the film found its way onto many of the countrys critics Top Ten lists for 2003. You know that Uma was nominated for a Golden Globe for her work here. You know the plot, you know who survives the first film, and you know about the cliffhanger ending. Thus, we dont need to discuss any of that.

Rather, Id like to concentrate the bulk of this re-review on something that hasnt been discussed so much in all those other reviews: The sheer joy for film watching and making thats evident in every frame of KILL BILL. I got the same impression watching KILL BILL that I did while regarding Johnny Depps performance in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: These people had a blast making this film. This isnt anything new for a film directed by geek favorite Tarantino. His first film, RESERVOIR DOGS, was a rich, pop-culture infused stew of all the things Quentin admired about his favorite movies the shocking, stylized violence of John Woo; The honor amongst thieves theme of Kurosawa; The rat-a-tat dialogue of Scorceses mafia films; The gritty glamor that can only be found in exploitation films of the 70’s. It was a perfect marriage of all of these things, and the beginning of a soon-to-be-legendary career.

Tarantino went on to direct PULP FICTION, arguably the most important and influential film of the 90’s. Again, his love for all kinds of films permeated every aspect of his film: The dialogue, the characters, the fractured timeline, the pitch-black humor and violence. While RESERVOIR DOGS announced Tarantino as a new force within the industry, PULP FICTION cemented the status.

After PULP FICTION, Tarantino became one of the strongest, quotable flavors of the month: Starring in and writing FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, directing episodes of ER and the short-lived, Margaret Cho/Asian-American sitcom ALL AMERICAN GIRL, starring in a broadway revival of WAIT UNTIL DARK (more on that in the epilogue)(thats at the end, chief), starting his own division of Miramax, called Rolling Thunder, just so he could release films like MIGHTY PEKING MAN and SWITCHBLADE SISTERS into theaters across the country. PULPs success gave him the opportunity to do all the things he ever wanted to do, whether we wanted to see him do them or not. Somewhere in all that, he shot JACKIE BROWN, released it to widely positive reviews, and then…the flavors month ended. Tarantino fell silent.

Years passed. Film geeks awaited his next project with baited breath, trading gossip about what the next film from Tarantino might be (at various times, his follow-up to JACKIE BROWN was one of two Elmore Leonard adaptions hed secured the rights to KILLSHOT and 40 LASHES LESS ONE, a sequel/prequel to PULP and DOGS called THE VEGA BROTHERS, or possibly a World War II film called INGLORIOUS BASTARDS). The truth was, no one knew what he was up to for a solid four year period, which was a long enough stretch of time to cause film geeks to question their allegiance to Lord Tarantino.

During these Tarantino-less years, much happened in the world of film: The popular home viewing format evolved from VHS to DVD. Comic book films came back, and came back with a vengeance. Acts of unspeakably horrific terrorism occurred on our own, American soil. Angelina Jolie stood strong in her flat-out refusal to sleep with me. These were tumultuous years. And then, an announcement was made: Quentin Tarantinoyou guys remember him, right?well, hes finished a script, and hes gonna make another one of those movie things. Its called KILL BILL. There was much rejoicing.

I went out and rented the first film last night from my local Nazi Germany oops, I mean Blockbuster Video (Ever worked there? Hell on Earth, my friends). In the time since Id seen KILL BILL, Id forgotten a lot of the little flourishes within the film that made it great. I will be the first to admit that, several months after Id seen KILL BILL in a theater, I wasnt the biggest fan of the film. It seemed shallow, like Quentin could have done any number of things I would have liked better, stuff with more dialogue, character, plot, story. But watching it again last night, on a much smaller screen, I fell in love with it all over again. If you havent seen KILL BILL, then you need to go rent it right now so that youre not lost when I come to your house, break down your fucking door, and drag you, screaming, all the way to the theater by your hair this Friday to see VOLUME TWO. KILL BILL has that sort of effect, where you want to show people the film and let them see how cool it is. Even if it means breaking down a few doors.

What I loved most about KILL BILL was the almost total lack of computer generated stuntwork or effects. After seeing MATRIX: RELOADED, it only took a few days for me to realize how hollow and…well, unsatisfying the film was. Sure, it looked cool, but most of what we saw there was just some really high-priced computer animation. The fights in KILL BILL were the real deal, and that makes all the difference in the world. I was picking my jaw up off the floor after every confrontation scene in KILL BILL, particularly that whole House of Blue Leaves sequence wherein Uma, as The Bride, hacks her way through an army of masked Yakuza thugs. One fight in the film, that one that took place between Uma and Vivica Fox, didnt get the attention it deserved: That was balls-out, knock-down, hair-pulling, exploitation-era street fighting, and God bless Quentin for giving us a dose of it.

But KILL BILL isnt all about the fight scenes, which is what some critics would have you believe. Moreover, this is a film about style. Consider the fact that the film changes its appearance and tone with every new adversary the Bride confronts. For Foxs character, we find ourselves in a 70’s era blaxploitation movie. For the backstory of O-ren-ishii, were treated to an extended, hyper-violent, beautifully crafted anime sequence that virtually stole the movie. That House of Blue Leaves segment was pure Kung-Fu-Sonny-Chiba-Enter-The-Dragon intensity, featuring a brilliant sight gag involving a Japanese man-servant who resembles Charlie Brown. I loved these abrupt, jarring changes in tone throughout the film; It felt like I was getting three films worth of entertainment in one shot.

The acting was adequate, with the exception of Lucy Lui. Im not a Lucy Lui fan, first of all. Ive never understood the sex appeal that everyones telling me she possesses. Ive never been bowled over by her physical presence or fight work. But here…well, she was all of the things the hype surrounding her for the last several years had promised. Intimidating, charming (especially in the Board Room Decapitation scene), and gracefully sexy with a sword, she was the standout for me in this one. Special attention should also go to Sonny Chiba, who was far more charismatic and funny than I ever would have thought hed be. The argument he has with his assistant over whos going to bring Uma the bottle of warm sake is priceless.

This isnt a film you can spend hours dissecting. Its a straight-forward revenge tale, soaked in blood and reveling in its own shallowness. It is pure entertainment, impossible to view without feeling like youve mainlined it. KILL BILL provided me with one of the best times I had in a theater this past year, and Im pumped for the sequel.

Bottom Line: KILL BILL is nothing but style, with much to spare, and deserves to be seen by anyone who counts themselves as a film geek. Uma Thurman pulls off what could have been a silly, wink-wink role in the hands of a lesser actress (imagine if, say, Cameron Diaz had played The Bride…yikes), and Tarantino makes up for all that lost time by packing in dozens of films worth of entertainment into the 90-some odd minute running time. See KILL BILL, and come back for seconds this April.

Dr. Scott

Epilogue: I told you Id say a bit more about WAIT UNTIL DARK, and I will. Back in 1997, Tarantino was cast as Harry Roat, a hoodlum attempting to break into the apartment of a blind woman to steal a cache of drugs that mistakenly ended up in her possession. The critics were savage about his performance, but when I was lucky enough to see himfrom ten feet away when I went to New York that summer, I was smitten. After the show, The Man Himself came out and signed autographs for everyone, taking the time to talk to me for several minutes (Quentin, to me: So, howd you like the show tonight? Me, to Quentin: Man, you were a fuckin pimp. Quentin: [wild, Woody Woodpecker-style laughter] Thanks, my friend.). It was one of the best nights of my life, and I was thrilled that the guy was so cool to his fans. Fuck the critics, Quentin, youll always be one of my heroes.