Quentin Tarantino is one of my favorite directors, mainly because, similarly to the Coen brothers, Tarantino seems to be one of the biggest film geeks in the world. You get the feeling that Tarantino has seen every movie ever made, and his own films become a kind of summation of film as a whole. His writing, especially dialogue, is fantastic, as are his casting choices, music selection, cinematography, and really just everything about his films is top notch. I’ve heard Tarantino described as a DJ of cinema, and I really think that’s a very fitting description. Tarantino has a knack for taking several different genres of movies, and seeing what would happen if you combine them. He makes movies that usually fit into a genre, just with a weird twist. Reservoir Dogs is a heist movie without the heist, Pulp Fiction is a gangster movie full of philosophizing poetic gangsters, Jackie Brown is essentially just a throwback to old blaxsploitation movies, Death Proof is an exploitation/slasher movie done with cars, and Inglorious Basterds is the weirdest WWII movie I’ve ever seen. And then there’s Kill Bill. This movie is probably Tarantino’s most ambitious attempt at combining genres yet. Kill Bill essentially amounts to a combination of spaghetti westerns, samurai movies, assassin movies, and women revenge movies. Any one of these genres would be amazing for Tarantino to try and tackle, but somehow he pulls of blending these genres into one fantastic movie. This film becomes like a mixture of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Yojimbo, Nikita, and I Spit on your Grave. That doesn’t seem like it should be good, but somehow it is.
The plot of this movie isn’t really all that complicated. Uma Thurman plays the Bride, a mysterious woman who was almost murdered right before her wedding by the group of assassins she used to work for, and goes after revenge. It’s the execution of this movie that really gets it a spot on this list. The movie is so over the top, so ridiculous in its action and acting that you can’t help but get drawn in. At times it can be slow paced and realistic, and others frenetic and seemingly operating on cartoon logic. As usual, Tarantino breaks the movie up into several, out of order segments that slowly unravels the plot instead of just going from point A to point B. I actually really like the way that the volumes are split up. Volume 1 is really the middle of the story. You see the Bride awaken from her coma, and go after the first two names on her list. And Volume 2 is the beginning and end of the story, explaining the background of the Bride, and how her mission ends up.
Volume 1 starts right way with the Bride going to kill the number 4 spot on her list, Vernita Green (played by Vivica A. Fox). The two brawl in Green’s home, pausing briefly when Green’s daughter comes home, but in the end, the Bride gets her revenge on Green, and leaves her dead in her home. From there, the movie hops back in time, and shows the Bride’s time she spent in a coma after almost being killed. The movie reveals that the mysterious Bill knows that the Bride is alive, but says that she should be left alone in her coma. The Bride eventually awakens, and after recuperating, decides that she’s going to kill the other members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, culminating in the death of the mastermind Bill. The Bride travels to Japan to get a sword from the mythic sword-smith Hattori Hanzo, who comes out of retirement to make a sword specially for killing Bill. We then get to the centerpiece of Volume 1, the fight with number 5 on the list, O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu). After a brief section detailing the life of O-Ren, done entirely in anime, the Bride arrives in Japan, where O-Ren is the leader of a Yakuza gang known as the Crazy 88. The Bride fights her way through the Crazy 88, finally leaving just her and O-Ren. The two engage in a sword fight, leaving O-Ren dead, and the Bride victorious. Right before the Volume ends, we have Bill explain that the Bride’s daughter, who was assumed dead after the assassination attempt is alive and well.
Volume 2 is the less action packed Volume, but with more story and great dialogue. It starts with the Bride’s attempted wedding, where we finally see Bill’s face (David Carradine) and the attack on the Bride. From there we see the other two assassins Elle (Daryl Hannah) and Bud (Michael Madsen) preparing for the Brides inevitable appearance. Jumping farther back in time, we see the training the Bride received in the past from the kung fu master PaiPai Mei. She then goes after Bud, who manages to take her by surprise and bury her alive. She escapes around the time Elle has come to kill Bud for her own reasons. The Bride and Elle fight to the death in Bud’s trailer, the Bride finally ripping Elle’s remaining eye out and leaving her to die in the desert. The Bride then tracks down Bill, but before she can kill him, finds her daughter alive and well. After discussing things with Bill and revealing to him why she left the assassination squad, the two fight, and the Bride kills Bill using a technique Pai Mei taught her, and with her revenge complete, she leaves with BB, driving off into the sunset. I love the end of this movie too. I’m not talking about the scene with the Bride and BB, though that’s fine, it’s the way they do the credits. I know it’s kind of cheesy, but I love these big over the top slideshows of all the characters in the movie. It shows basically every actor in the entire movie with a quick clip of them doing something awesome. It’s always just been cool to me, and it always cracks me up that for the Bill screen they just show David Carradine dead on the lawn.
I just love this movie so much. It’s just such a fantastic hodgepodge of so many different types of movies, and yet it doesn’t get too ridiculous to enjoy. First of all, the music in this movie is amazing. Tarantino really loves music, and I know that he painstakingly complies the soundtracks for his movies, and the eclectic variety of these songs really lend themselves to the movie, giving the right type of music for the type of scene it accompanies. Just brilliant music direction. I also think Tarantino is one of the best directors of action around. The fight scenes are expertly choreographed, and extremely visceral. The blood and gore in this movie is so over the top, satirizing the cheap exploitation action movies that the film is almost a parody of. But beyond that, it’s some of the most artistic action and violence you’ll ever see. The shots are beautiful in the action scenes, throwing us around the sets in such a fluid manner that you really feel like you’re flying around with the characters. But the best thing about these movies is that the movie’s action can be both fluid and dynamic, and slow and methodical. Usually the term ‘slow and methodical action’ wouldn’t make sense, but Tarantino can pull it off. The final fight with Bill is one of the most tense and exciting fights I’ve ever seen, and the characters don’t even get out of their chairs. I think the reason behind this is that Tarantino really understands that the reason we care about the action is if we understand why it’s happening. Most action movies will give you a brisk reason for why the protagonist is killing people, but this movie painstakingly explains why the Bride is doing what she’s doing, what these people did to her, and why they deserve to die. Tarantino’s also a master of tension. You knew that the fight was coming, and he kept stalling, having Bill deliver one of the most menacing, prolonged monologues Tarantino’s ever written. It finally reaches the point where the Bride must finally finish her motives, and kill Bill. Tarantino even accomplishes something most other action movies don’t, makes you sad that the protagonist wins. It’s obvious that the Bride wants to kill Bill, but at the same time you see that doing so will be killing the only man she’s ever loved, and will essentially be her killing her past, erasing the last of who she was so that she can go on to be with BB, starting a new life by killing her own. It’s brilliant.
One last thing I want to mention. I love that Tarantino has a thing for casting people who have either drifted out of the public eye, or are about to. He’s fantastic and giving actors’ careers the punch in the arm they need, reaching back in time to bring back an actor most people have forgotten, and manages to get a fantastic performance out of them. Pulp Fiction brought John Travolta back into the spotlight, Jackie Brown was based all around bringing Pam Grier and Robert Forrester back from the cinematic grave. Deathproof even brought Kurt Russell back to kick some serious ass one more time. And Kill Bill did this concept great as well. David Carradine had been big in the 70’s when he stared in the show Kung Fu. Carradine had become a B actor, and Tarantino managed to let him have one big dramatic role before his death, letting him be the menacing badass. As a side note, I love that Volume 1 treated Bill like Blofeld in From Russia with Love, keeping him in the shadows and avoiding his face, letting his menace and reputation build up around him. The movie also brought Daryl Hannah back from the 80’s. And a personal favorite is bring Sonny Chiba in as master sword smith Hattori Hanzo, a reference to the 80’s television show Shadow Warriors where Chiba played a similarly named samurai. It’s just great of Tarantino to reach back through history and bring actors who most people had forgotten and give them another chance, and it’s even more amazing that he can get terrific performances out of people who usually are B level actors. It just shows his strength as a director.
Kill Bill was written and directed by Quentin Tarantino,
Categories: Reel Talk