As should be evident by now, Tarantino is the king of movie geeks. He’s an ex-video store employee who is just as comfortable as a director as being a human video-resource guide. Make no mistake, the Kill Bill series is totally self-indulgent; it’s a fan film/love letter to the grind-house classics of spaghetti westerns, Giallo thrillers, and the dubbed chop-socky that Q. Tarantino loves. But Tarantino is having a blast riffing on all his favorite movies. And is self-indulgence a bad thing? Only if it isn’t entertaining. Kill Bill Volume 1 is an amoral, over-the-top, blood-and-guts spectacle.
Uma Thurman is a gorgeous tower of power as the Bride. She was done wrong by her boss, Bill (David Carradine, heard but not seen in Vol. 1), and her former buds at DiVAS (Deadly Viper Assassination Squad), including O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) and Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox). At her wedding in Texas, the Bride — pregnant (by Bill) and ready to go straight and marry a civilian — is rudely surprised when the divas bust in, kill the groom, beat her senseless and leave her and her unborn child for the gravedigger. Four years later, this pussycat emerges from a coma ready to kill, kill, kill.
When the Bride, ready to pounce, visits Vernita at home, a school bus pulls up carrying Vernita’s young daughter. The Bride sees that her actions will have consequences, and we see it, too. It’s these consequences that give the film dramatic weight and make it more than chop-socky’s greatest hits. When the Bride cuts through O-Ren’s army to face her nemesis alone, there is a quiet elegance to the ritual — the scene is shot in the falling snow with a tenderness that belies the gore. I feared that Liu had become a one-trick pony, her cold-bitch shtick hitting a new low in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. But she brings fire and feeling to O-Ren. As plots go, it’s a pretty simple story of revenge in which The Bride undoubtedly is going to succeed, but like most of Tarantino’s films, and most great films in general, it’s not the story but how it’s told. Tarantino also does what he can be counted to do: spotlighting new and old talents. Here, it’s newer performers Chiaki Kuriyama and Julie Dreyfuss, while veterans Sonny Chiba and Michael Parks that have roles that certainly will lead to more work.
If one were inclined to dislike Volume 1, we could say that there’s absolutely nothing of value below the surface. Which is true — the Volume 2 is the installment that complicates the story and provides The Bride (and Bill) with deeper motivations. But that doesn’t change the fact that Tarantino knows how to fit cinema to his purpose, and he elicits the reactions he wants out of the audience. But, for Tarantino, who set aside his skill at dialogue to show he can do pure action, the film is a challenge to his ego. Who else would make his first film in six years a wet kiss to kung fu and pack it with his fetishes for ultraviolence, Uma Thurman’s feet and music from Nancy Sinatra to RZA? And who else could pull it off? Kill Bill is damn near as good as Tarantino thinks it is. Recommended.