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Kill Bill: Vol 1

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  Kill Bill: Vol 1 Review
Tookey's Rating
6 /10
Average Rating
6.60 /10
Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Daryl Hannah
Full Cast >

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino

Released: 2003
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 112

Uma Thurman plays a professional killer understandably annoyed when five former colleagues spoil her wedding day by murdering her groom, the guests, and (she assumes) the baby she was carrying inside her. Five years later, awaking from a coma, she embarks on a killing spree, culminating in a finale where she butchers about 90 people. The result is reminiscent of how Charlie's Angels might have turned out, had it been directed by Genghis Khan.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Brilliantly directed and highly entertaining as long as you donít stop to think about its deeper implications, Quentin Tarantino's fourth film is a 112-minute gorefest.

The film does have style - lots of it. Bob Richardson's camerawork is fluid and makes ravishing use of colour and light. The fight sequences choreographed by Yuen Woo-ping (who did the Matrix films and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) are expert, though his techniques are already starting to look over-familiar. But the whole thing, unlike most of the heroine's victims, could have done with far more ruthless cutting.

There is no good reason why Tarantino couldn't have brought out Kill Bill at a normal feature length. Some would-be comic by-play between a Japanese swordsmith and his assistant is desperately unfunny, and the sequence when they manufacture a weapon for the heroine seems endless.

It's easy to see how Volume 1 could have been cut down to 90 minutes or so, enabling the whole story - which on the evidence of this first half is scarcely enough to sustain a B-movie - to have come in at well under three hours.

Kill Bill sets out to be a pastiche of 1970s martial arts movies. Every sequence contains at least three references to other pictures - some of them Brian de Palma movies which were themselves pastiches of Hitchcock.

But Tarantino is obsessed with his grand guignol visuals, and fatally uninterested in making us care. We learn nothing about our heroine.

Story development, dialogue and characterisation are stripped to a minimum. This might not matter, except that Pulp Fiction showed that unconventional story-telling, sparky dialogue and deft characterisation are three of Tarantino's most formidable strengths.

Whereas Tarantino's first three efforts were films about gradations of evil, degrees of desensitisation, Kill Bill is itself an evil, desensitised film.

It was hard to watch Tarantino's earlier pictures without suspecting that audiences might respond to the style, violence and sleaze without perceiving their moral underpinning.

The central defect of Kill Bill is that now Tarantino is 40 and old enough to know better, he has lost more than just the plot: he seems to have mislaid whatever there was of his humanity. He is so busy recapturing the callous cool of the violent oriental cinema he giggled at in his teens that he can't be bothered with any human or moral dimension at all.

He has grotesquely failed to mature. Everything he lays before us has the narrow-mindedness of the geek, the arrogance of the sociopathically insulated film buff, the self-indulgence of those who surround themselves with sycophants.

For example, he uses the casual, repetitive raping over five years of our comatose heroine for two purposes: one is gross-out laughter; the other is to create an easy justification for vigilante-style retribution. She takes her vengeance by literally biting out one rapist's tongue, and savagely hammering another one's head into a pulp with a steel door.

And why does Tarantino return again and again to the scene which motivates her quest for revenge: the massacre on her wedding day, which leaves the guests and groom dead, and her shot through the head? He doesn't use it to make us care more, or to explain some important plot points - such as whom she was marrying, or why the massacre took place. No, it's more like a blood-spattered shoot for Vogue, with the heroine modelling blood and bruises for our delectation.

Quentin treats Uma throughout as a sado-masochistic icon. He examines her cuts and bruises with wrapt, leering attention.

He has tried to excuse the violence in Kill Bill by arguing that it is deliberately stylised, unrealistic, cartoonish.
(At one point, he briefly shifts genres into cartoon, and the characters are no more caricatured than they are in his live action sequences.)

When dozens of characters have limbs amputated, they spurt blood in a way that seems like a tribute not so much to kung fu films as to the extremely silly scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where John Cleese had all his extremities lopped off.

But here we don't laugh - certainly not after the twelfth or thirteenth time we see someone staggering about with gushing stumps instead of arms or legs. The intention is to distance us from any pain the victims of such violence would feel in real life. Tarantino clearly regards such stylisation as "cool"; but actually it comes across as cold, inhuman, even psychotic.

The fetishistic delight that Tarantino takes in visually caressing swords, blades and innumerable acts of extreme sadism is only too real. Kill Bill is shot with a lip-smacking delight in brutality that makes the ear-slicing scene in Reservoir Dogs look genteel.

By glamorising violence and leaving morality out of Kill Bill, Tarantino is of course making a moral decision - and a worrying one. For I don't think it is fanciful to see in Uma Thurman's deliberately flat, iconic character an image of America.

Tarantino is no fool, and he knows how to make young American juices flow. He senses that the USA is in the mood for revenge, that it is prepared to kill those who have hurt it, and without being too pernickety about any innocents who get in its way. Kill Bill is a post-9/11 movie, and the nastiest, most cynical and exploitative one yet.

As an admirer and defender of Pulp Fiction, I went into Kill Bill with high expectations. I came out feeling sickened and depressed. A once promising talent has become the P.T.Barnum of pornographic violence.

On the strength of this first half, Kill Bill looks like cruel, fascistic propaganda in praise of America's right to indulge in extreme violence and slaughter whenever it feels like it. Kill Bill is expertly made in many ways, but then so was Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will. And at least she edited it properly, and didn't try to flog it to the public in two self-indulgent halves.

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