During the past six years my heart and mind has been caressed and challenged by such new talents as P.T. Anderson and Christopher Nolan with masterpieces like Magnolia and Memento. And, during that hiatus, my mind forgot about the fact that Reservoir Dogs focused my direction toward quality films, the amount of dialogue from Pulp Fiction that is now part of my daily vocabulary and the laid back chilled out approach Tarantino took with Jackie Brown. My mind tends to forget what is good for it. And so we come to Kill Bill.
Kill Bill opens with a bang and ends with a question. Both of them are unexpected and both of them hit you hard and leave you reeling. In-between those events Uma Thurman as The Woman With No Name (yet) starts out on her path of bloody retribution. That's all you need to know going into this film. That and the fact that there may be spoilers ahead.
I've heard a lot of people who've seen this film complaining about either the lack of plot, the lack of 'typical' Tarantino dialogue, or the levels of violence. Well to all you who complain of such matters, you don't deserve this film! Go bury your head in the sand and wait for something formulaic to appear. In terms of plot progression, no, nothing much actually happens in the first volume. The Bride wakes up four years after being shot into a coma on her wedding day, orders some Japanese steel and takes out two of the people on her death list number 5. But so what if that's all that happens? Is it essential for every great film to have a complex and detailed story? No, absolutely not. In The Straight Story all that happens is an old man travels across the country to visit his estranged brother. But it's the richness of the way the story is told which makes it so captivating. And in Kill Bill everything is told with style. With regard to the dialogue, I think I would have found it off-putting if the film had been populated with characters that talked and discussed everyday matters like they do in Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs. While this film moves incredibly fast, the characters don't. They're contemplative and remorseful over their actions, both in the past and for what's to come. Besides which, what film law states that Tarantino has to fill every film he makes with what's become known as his trademark dialogue?! Ridiculous! And there are some great lines in Kill Bill; `If, on your journey you should encounter God, God will be cut' and `I want him to witness the extent of my mercy by witnessing your deformed body'. Great lines and great deliveries.
As for the violence, yeah, there's a lot of it. Deal with it! Either watch and enjoy or shield your eyes. There's brutal ugly violence and insane cartoon violence. And then there's blood soaked anime violence. And unseen but horribly implied coma violence. Limbs go a-leaping and bodies are bloodied. There's a lot of blood in here. Think of Mr Orange as a starting off point and take your imagination from there. I like the level of violence in this film, it's refreshing after so many directors are afraid to show the full extent of damage that could be caused to someone in order that their film will be more accessible to mass audiences. I like the fact that the samurai swords in this film don't just kill people, but they cleanly slice through flesh and bone. And I like the fact that every move, every slice, every punch and kick really hurts.
This film is set resolutely in the revenge/exploitation genre, as Quentin himself has stated many times and as such the carnage has to be bloodier and more savage than you would find in mainstream movies. Until now of course, as Kill Bill is most definitely mainstream, but with an even wider appeal, reaching out to those of us who can identify the genres and styles he has successfully blended. Much like the way Pixar's films appeal to both children and adults, Kill Bill will grab the Friday and Saturday night audience tempted by the thrill of action, but it will also ensnare the serious film head who will appreciate the film on the same, but also a deeper level from the wonderfully measured performances, the technical aspects that Quentin is more in command of as a director, such as the camera work and editing, the mixing of genres and film styles; live action to anime, colour to black and white to blue-backdrop shadow outlines back to colour and of course Tarantino's latest soundtrack compilation.
And it's here that he excels himself perhaps more than in any other aspect. Kill Bill contains my favourite Tarantino soundtrack so far and if anything, his musical choices actually seem to have improved in the past six years. Not that there was anything to ever complain about of course, but here it's just a little deeper, the songs and themes seem to resonate more with the action onscreen. Starting off with perhaps the most ridiculously apt song, Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down), straight after Bill slugs a slug into The Bride's head, he then stirs in spaghetti Western themed music against O-Ren Ishii's animated origin chapter to excellent effect. There's a superb touch that happens three times where Tarantino takes a short burst of music from Ironside and plays it when The Bride comes into contact with someone she badly needs to fcuk up. And there's a beautiful Japanese voiced song that picks up after The Bride and O-Ren Ishii's fight in a striking snow covered Japanese garden. The effects and sound design to this film are excellent and a vast improvement over his previous work. Methinks Quentin got into home cinema in a big way during his writing holiday.
The fight scenes are expertly choreographed and captured. Although there are only really two to speak of, the initial melee with Copperhead in suburbia land and the Showdown At House Of Blue Leaves, which takes on about four different stages and lasts for something like 20 minutes. The domesticated fight is messy and fleeting, both women grabbing at whatever they can to gain the upper hand. It's loud and it hurts but it's also prematurely broken up before too much tissue damage stops the fun.
House Of Blue Leaves however is a thing of beauty. It begins with an arm being hacked off as the Bride strides toward O-Ren, her bloodied Hattori Hanzo samurai sword in hand. Standing in her way is the small matter of O-Ren's six initial subordinates, her personal guard Go Go Yubari, and of course, her Yakuza ARMY. The first six are dispatched with very simply, no fuss, just slice and dice. Go Go is more of a challenge, with her whirling ball of spiky death, and more of a challenge to film. For this fight the camera moves around more, as in the same way that The Bride has to ready and better herself for each stage. You can see this by the first fight being fairly grounded, both The Bride, the camera and the combatants. With Go Go the fight moves around the floor more and up onto table tops and we get overhead camera moves and more varied shot types with quicker editing cuts. By the time she faces O-Ren's army, everyone is all over the place, The Bride uses the whole space of the floor, under and above, through paper walls and up the stairs, onto balconies and traversing down bamboo shoots. The camera follows in the same fashion, and even more rapid cuts are required, and the film changes to black and white. Now this can either be Quentin's homage to the monochrome samurai films of the 50's or that he didn't feel US audiences would handle the vibrancy of geysers of blood as well as Eastern audiences, who are getting their own full colour version of the film. Personally, I'll be getting DVD versions tailored for each side of the world so it matters not to me.
The fight and film changes again as The Bride and the remaining 8 or so of the Crazy 88's head up into a small room where, after a lighting change by the owner of the restaurant, the principals are cloaked entirely in silhouette, framed by a gorgeous blue background. Once the last suit wearing sword holding member has been spanked, and The Bride addresses anyone left alive to hear, it's onto the final part of the climax. I don't know where Quentin's production designer has been or what he's been doing for six years but that Japanese snowy garden is one of the most beautiful looking sets I've ever seen on screen. And again the film changes design, this is a slower and more calculated fight. Arguably it's less climactic than the previous fight but only in strict action terms. The exchanges between The Bride and O-Ren Ishii, as minimal as they are, provide the whole crux of the film, the understated regret and remorse from the main characters of what they have done in their past and what they intend to do in the future, should they even get that far.
There's so much that I haven't touched on as well, the little Tarantino tricks like Mia's onscreen 'square' in Pulp Fiction and his wealth of film references. The whole 'Man From Okinawa' chapter and the greatness of Sonny Chiba, the character actor! The performances of Darryl Hannah and the unseen David Carradine as Bill.
Kill Bill is a masterpiece and the most exhilarating film I've seen in years. It's exactly how I would have expected Quentin Tarantino to bounce back onto the screen yet completely confound my expectations. And we're only halfway through the story!