Worth A Look: 19.9%
Just Average: 7.04%
Pretty Crappy: 6.31%
15 reviews, 322 user ratings
|Kill Bill: Vol. 1
by MP Bartley
Imagine you go for a meal in the best Italian restaurant in town. It's so exclusive you've waited six years for a table. You order your starter, a ten inch garlic bread dripping with cheese. It arrives and you devour it quickly, waiting in anticipation for the steak meal you've ordered for the main course. But then the waiter comes up to the table, turfs you out on the street and says "Apologies sir, you'll have to wait another four months for your main course". Wouldn't you feel a little undernourished?And so it goes for 'Kill Bill: Volume 1'. Uma Thurman is 'The Bride' a member of an assination squad, gunned down on her wedding day alongside her husband and unborn child by her old associates Bud (Micahel Madsen), Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), Letitia (Vivicia A. Fox), Cottonmouth (Lucy Liu) and the main man himself, Bill (David Carradine).
"Nice style Quentin, but how about some content next time?"
They don't finish the job however, and 4 years later she awakes from a coma with only vengeance on her mind. Thus begins her quest of bloody retribution cutting through her old associates on the way to Bill himself, who we'll meet in 'Volume 2'.
Read any interview with Quentin or watch any talk show he's on, and he'll proudly proclaim that 'Kill Bill' is his homage to the kung-fu and blaxploitation flicks and claim that it's a film just for him and everyone else is just on for the ride.
Well, all credit for honesty Quentin, but no extra stars unfortunately for a ride that's distinctly underwhelming.
I'll happily admit that I've never watched any kung-fu films before that Quentin is referencing. But I'm willing to bet that a good proportion of the audience haven't either.
So why is it alright for this section of the audience (likely to be the majority) to be excluded from the film? And we're not talking little references either. After talking to some friends who love their kung-fu, I was informed that 'Kill Bill Volume 1' was full of references, from the obvious (The Bride wears Bruce Lee's tracksuit) to the obscure.
So does this mean 'Kill Bill' is granted automatic 'cool' status? Maybe if kung-fu are the only films you've ever seen, but otherwise not. Instead you've got a meandering, dull even, storyline interspersed with grandiose bursts of gore. Much has been made of 'Kill Bill's wallowing in the gore, but how many have mentioned that quite often it looks like The Black Knight from 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail'? Afetr one character had their arm severed I half expected them to stand up and yell, "Come back! Tis but a scratch!". Is that supposed to be the point? If so, it's silly, not cool.
Yes, I'll champion the final showdown between The Bride and 50 samurai's as much as the next critic. It's stunningly choreographed, but apart from that and an opening brawl between The Bride and Letitia (again, very well done) there's not nearly as much action as Quentin would have you think.
Is my only problem the fact it's ripping off movies I've never seen? Not really. And I think ripping off is the right phrase here, not homage. A homage would be themes and scenes from previous movies, given a little twist, a little definitive Tarantino. But there's none of that, he just steals and steals and expects us to be knocked out by it. Well, no, and I guess that puts the theory of Quentin being an auteur into the ground.
And that's my main gripe. There's nothing here that grabs you by the balls and smacks you around the head, like Tarantino normally does. His usual trick of hopping around the timeframe of the narrative is clunky and it has none of the jet-black humour of '...Fiction' or '...Dogs'. Instead there's jarring contrast of tones and whole sections that simply don't work. For instance an anime section detailing Cottonmouth's background, is interesting but feels flat and pointless. Ditto a conversation between The Bride, a swordmaster and his partner. Tarantino trying to mimic a typical Kurosawa set-up just doesn't work.
And criminally, there's none of Tarantino's greatest strengths: character and dialogue, the twists that would have turned this rip-off into a homage. Trust me, there'll be no quoting of this film in months to come, and the characters are one or two dimensional at best. And splitting it into two parts doesn't help either, as it's not a strong enough story to stand on its own or be viewed as a piece of work in its own right, unlike 'The Two Towers' for example.
I'm making 'Kill Bill' sound like a disaster and it's not. The fight scenes I've already mentioned are comparable to anything in 'The Matrix Reloaded', if not better, because of the sense of the stunt people actually being there. Thurman and Liu are both excellent and manage to fill out their slight characters.
Regrettably we see little of Madsen, and the brief scene we have with Hannah makes me think this may be one casting decision Quentin has got wrong.
And it would be totally remiss of me to not mention the beautiful scenery of the final showdown between The Bride and Cottonmouth. Unfortunately these scenes are hidden amongst a lot of self-indulgence and dull exposition.'Kill Bill Volume 1' is actually a very hard film to rate. Comparing it to the majority of the summer releases would certainly warrant it four stars, and the final battle is five stars by itself. But that doesn't take away the underwhelming feeling of 'so what?' that accompanies it. For the most part it's just geeky Quentin stealing from other films and claiming innocence because it's 'meant to be that way'. Uh no. Could I make a film about silent fieldmice and claim that it's badly received because 'people don't get it'? No I couldn't, I'd be slammed for self-indulgence and rightly so. Just because it's Quentin Tarantino doesn't make it right or 'cool'. Theft is theft and films that come pre-warned with geeks squealing, 'oh, you just don't get it, you have to have watched 'Shogun Assassin' fifteen times to understand', are films that are already onto a bad start.
Ultimately then, 'Kill Bill Volume 1' is a film of 'maybes'. Maybe we'll learn why The Bride was killed. Maybe we'll learn what her name is or who her husband was. Maybe after Volume 2 I'll appreciate Volume 1 in a better light. But until then, it's impossible to have a definite opinion on 'Kill Bill Volume 1' because it's not a definite film.
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originally posted: 11/03/03 11:25:53
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Tribeca Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.