Beware this review contains spoilers!
“Revenge is a dish best served cold”
If you tremble in front of severed limbs, blood, uncovered heads and inhuman screams, it might be best for you to stay home and watch a Disney movie. But you risk missing the fourth wonder mastodontic work born of the creative, twisted mind of Tarantino!
Kill Bill was written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, released in 2003 and grossed approximately $70 million dollars. Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2 were supposed to be condensed into one, but Miramax suggested they be split into two parts. Would you like to go to the Louvre museum to admire the first half part of Da Vinci’s, Gioconda and the second part some months later? Probably not!
The choice of the cast was, without doubt, deliberate with the purpose of sculpting the characters to play out on the field of the actors’ bodies.
The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad is formed by the main character “The Bride” played by an animal-like-wounded-eyed-beast Uma Thurman, aka “Black Mamba”. Arlene Machiavelli, Beatrix Kiddo, Black Mamba, Mommy are different incarnations of the same character and killing Bill is its goal. She is the tourist visiting “Okinawa Man”, she is the avenger-terminator at the night club for O-Ren, a friend visiting Vernita Green, “Calamity Jane” in the western fighting-style for Budd, a loving mother and wife in the middle of the domestic fight with her ex-boyfriend Bill. Uma Thurman performs outstandingly all of these attitudes through different gestures, behaviors, feelings and situations, probably one of Tarantino’s most successful characters.
- O-Ren Ishii aka “Cottonmouth”. Half Japanese, half American-Chinese, after the Bride’s wedding massacre becomes the leader of the infamous mafia organization Tokyo Yakuza. This is the only character we have personal information about. Her childhood story is told to viewers from the Bride’s point of view with a manga-style short cartoon, a sort of a-movie-within-a-movie. She is played by a charismatic Lucy Liu. In the film she is protected by the “crazy 88”, an army of warriors and her personal bodyguard Gogo (played by Chiaki Kuriyama) a disturbed and perverse 17 year-old school girl. She is also assisted by her personal polyglot lover Sophie Fatale (Julie Dreyfus).
- Vernita Green aka “Copperhead” is the second name on the Bride’s death list. An aggressive afro-American Vivica A. Fox. Four years later, after being part of the slaughter, she is depicted to live a normal life under the alias Jeannie Bell. She gets pregnant and marries a famous doctor. She leaves what she did behind her but the Bride did not forget. Her wrath is about to assault her.
- Budd aka “Sidewinder” is a professional murderer portrayed by Michael Madsen.
- Elle Driver aka “Californian Mountain Snake” or “Pirate Woman” (Kill Bill volume 2 will explain us the reason why) is one of the most feared names of the squad and the fourth name on the Bride’s death list.
- Bill aka “Snake Charmer” is the most fascinating character of the entire film. He shows himself with his colourful yet perverse personality as a puppeteer ready to mislead his wires.
Inside a wedding chapel. A brutal massacre occurs. A bloody-splattered Bride lays on the floor. The mysterious sound of a man’s footsteps. A short chilling dialogue, then a gun shot: Bill (David Carradine) kills “Beep” (Uma Thurman). That’s what he believes. “Beep” also called “The Bride” wakes up after a long coma. The only thing that is burning up her mind is to get revenge on the “Deadly Viper Assassination Squad”, (a team she was once part of) and mostly over the boss, Bill. After she gets back from an almost certain death, the only trigger that pushes and gives her the strength to go ahead is to shed the blood of all her nemeses. In this first volume we witness the brutal assassinations of O-Ren (Lucy Liu) and her “crazy 88” squad and the cruel execution of Vernita (Vivica A. Fox) in front of her child’s eyes. This is just Vol.1, the show has just begun!
There’s a lot to talk about here in this mammoth film, but what we want to emphasize in this context are the amply spectacular fighting scenes. It’s good to notice how some of the fighting scenes are edited with no soundtrack at all just to emphasize the grittiness of the fights.
The first action scene of the movie is the brutal execution of Vernita Green. A sunny day, a quiet home in the middle of the street, one blonde girl is apparently just going to visit an old friend but after she rings the doorbell we understand the real situation: they aren’t just old friends. They have unfinished business. A quick and sharp flashback scene, surrounded by an angry melody, is the introduction to a hard hitting and realistic fight. “Beep” starts with a powerful punch and a combination of kicks; Vernita immobilizes her in a grip and throws her against the living room furniture. Vernita attacks her with a strong frontal kick that “Beep” blocks with an exciting double kick from the floor that throws Vernita on the glass table breaking it into pieces. In this survival every single object can become a deadly weapon. Soon a knife duel gets started. Vernita attacks “Beep” with her knife and “Beep” shrewdly defends herself with a pan from the kitchen. The two actresses in this scene show very stylish movements and dexterity with good knife skill. This adrenalizing scene is interrupted by Tarantino’s sagacity: Nikki, Vernita’s 4 years old daughter gets back from school. “Beep” knows she can’t kill her mother in front her so in order to pretend that nothing was happening they stop the fight. They seem really just friends in front of Nikki’s eyes although they’re both covered with blood!
The last 35 minutes of the film are concentrated on the “Showdown at House of Blue Leaves”. The scene is about the cold-blood assassination of O-Ren Ishii and her 88 crazy “subordinates”. Avenger Uma Thurman, in Bruce-Lee’s outfit, (the striking yellow jump suit that he wears in “Game of Death” and clearly a tribute to him!) is about to get even, an epic battle is about to start! The first little part of O-Ren’s army hurtle themselves to the bride in a choreographic-sword-duel. The complex expressions here are stylistically impressive in both coordination and body movements. The scene is devoid of music and yet there is a melody. A melody made of sword strikes, roars and maybe our heartbeat that accelerates as everybody gets knocked out. It’s Gogo’s turn now. The little perverse girl is willing to protect her master with her lethal weapon: the notorious kung fu meteor hammer. These fighting scenes are substantially crafted with a fine balance between old-style fighting techniques and a dose of special effects that seem to remind one of the very exciting and breathless action scenes from Matrix (1999). During the fight Gogo shows a fusion with her weapon in a sort of death-dance, hitting the bride several times until she tries to suffocate “Beep” with her chain. Uma Thurman’s eyes play a fundamental role connecting fiction and reality, through her we can almost feel the pain she is feeling.
Within two minutes the Bride is surrounded by the “crazy 88” army and the only way to observe and keep them under control is by watching through her katana’s reflection. The violent fight begins as the bride is involved in a kind of one-against-all fight with a unique combination of style, alertness and rapid movements. One of the most elaborate, funny scenes is when the bride seems to connect the Brazilian art of capoeira with the noble samurai-sword-craft. In fact she rolls on the floor in a sort of sword-tornado cutting everyone’s limbs, maiming…killing, yikes!
O-Ren Ishii has now sent all of her body guards to fight the bride in vain. She realizes it’s time for her to take the field. The chosen background is an outstanding snowy Zen garden in the back of the house with the upcoming sword duel as one of the most fascinating scenes. The poetry in motion between the two actresses makes us feel something of the real essence of the old, honourable samurai-style movies as we reach a gruesome climax!
A full on cocktail then containing the essence of the spaghetti-western, Japanese manga, martial arts movies, yakuza movies, samurai movies with some reference to Hitchcock and the unattainable Bruce Lee thrown in for good measure! Kill Bill Vol. 1 is a movie that spans different cultures, traditions and life-styles, with Gordon Liù symbolizing China, Sonny Chiba, Japan and David Carradine the USA. probably f Bruce Lee had been alive, he would join the cast.
Kill Bill leaves you pleasantly tired, a reward for having stayed the course of this epic rollercoaster ride! The structure of the film is unusual, the time line is fragmented by continuous flashbacks between past and present that tend to disorient and stun. There is only one theme that keeps it grounded: the sword which is the protagonist par excellence for the combat scenes at once ruthless, violent and dignified…the sword’s ability to raise the bar on violence up to a sublime and surreal level!
- Kill Bill was supposed to be filmed in spring 2001 but was postponed a year due to the Uma Thurman’s unexpected second pregnancy. The first scene was filmed in Beijing, June 2002.
- On the occasion of Uma Thurman’s 30th birthday (22 August 2000) Tarantino offered her the role giving her the original script as a present.
- To give the typical ‘70s Chinese martial arts style (“wuxia”), Tarantino gave the director of photography, Robert Richardson, a long list of movies to watch including those that pioneered the genre i.e. those of Chang Chen and Shaw Brothers.
- According to Tarnatino’s explanation, Hattori Hanzo in Kill Bill is inspired by Hattori Hanzo the protagonist of the TV series Hattori Hanzo: Kage no Gundan which in America is titled Shadow Warriors, (1980) also played by Sonny Chiba.
- Sonny Chiba really forges Katanas (blades).
- At the “House of Blue Leaves” the Bride kills 57 people!
- Based on the popular Japanese legend the 88 number represents all the evil in the world. To get rid of them you need to visit the 88 Japanese temples.
- Julie Manase, one of the 88 crazies is Sonny Chiba’s daughter. Julie also had the role of martial arts teacher during the cast’s arduous training before filming started.
FILM RATING: 8.5/10
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