Kill Bill Volume 1 will always have a special place in my heart for two reasons. Firstly it was the first 18 Certificate film I ever saw at the cinema and as a result it was the first Tarantino film I saw at the cinema too. Thinking back, it might have been the first Tarantino film I saw at all although I can’t quite remember if I bought my VHS copy of Pulp Fiction a little earlier. As a seventeen year old who at the time had little interest in movies beyond the latest American Pie I was awe struck by Kill Bill and I’ve seen it several times since. The movie, as it makes clear during the opening credits was the forth film from Quentin Tarantino and followed a six year break since Directing his third film, Jackie Brown. Although originally intended as one feature the movie was split into two separate films due to a four hour run time and Kill Bill Volume 2 followed six months after Volume 1 in 2004.
This is perhaps Tarantino’s most highly stylised film to date and takes in an assortment of styles, genres and techniques. The Director and story weave from genre to genre, picking up pieces of revenge, Hong Kong martial arts, exploitation and Japanese samurai movies as it progresses in a non linear manner through its plot. The film is separated into chapters which themselves often feel like short films. Each chapter takes from a different style, genre or era and occasionally the style will change mid chapter. The plot focuses on the character of The Bride (Uma Thurman), a former member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad who is beaten and shot in the head by her former colleagues. She wakes up four years later to discover her fiancé and unborn daughter are dead and sets about reaping her revenge on those who attacked her and killed her family. Each chapter tells a portion of her revenge tale.
Revenge has become a mainstay of Tarantino’s back catalogue with films like Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained being fuelled by vengeance. Revenge is touched upon in Jackie Brown and Death Proof too but Kill Bill marked the first time that it consumed a Tarantino picture, and consume it, it does. The Bride’s single motive is retribution and during the 111 minutes of the first volume she slices her way through hundreds to get to those who have wronged her. Kill Bill’s dialogue isn’t quite as spectacular as some of Tarantino’s earlier films but the story is just as enthralling. I like how it jumps back and forth, beginning in the middle before going back to a, but not the beginning. On first viewing it can be a bit daunting to piece everything together but after several viewings it fits together as well as if it was linear. As with most Tarantino films it only gets better with multiple viewings.
As well as having a greater understanding of the overall story and discovering little half hidden gems, multiple viewing do give the viewer the chance to notice mistakes and inconsistencies. One I thought of last night was that when The Brides wakes from her four year coma she is unable to use her legs due to the muscles withering away. Her arms though appear to be as good as new. Shortly after she wakes she kills a man and steals his car but has to wait thirteen hours until she is able to drive away. I couldn’t help but think someone may have searched for the murdered man’s car sometime within those thirteen hours. These are probably silly points to make as later the same character dispatches of dozens of highly trained samurai sword wielding Yakuza so perhaps the realism shouldn’t be commented on too much. The fight in question forms the stand out set piece and is a thirteen minute battle of swords, chopped lips, squirting blood and martial arts trickery. The scene is a magnificent thing to watch and there are noticeable stylistic changes that take place during it. A few minutes into the mayhem the normal coloured cinematography suddenly changes to a highly contrasted black and white style. The change works a treat and several minutes later the style changes once again to a silhouetted battle in the dark against a bright blue background. The whole fight is a visual joy and precedes the film’s final showdown with O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) which takes place in a spectacularly beautiful Japanese garden. O-Ren’s back story is another particular highlight and is yet another departure from traditional storytelling and told using Japanese Anime.
Kill Bill Volume 1’s style is certainly bold but for me it works. This is slightly at odds with my traditional view of overly stylised movies. Zack Snyder for instance is one of my least favourite Directors but there is something about Tarantino’s genre-mashing and style-stealing which endears me to him. Even though I know there isn’t much originality in Kill Bill and that most of the ideas, stories and styles have been used before, the way it all fits together just works and looks great. The soundtrack is also fantastic and happens to be the first movie soundtrack I bought. Opening with Nancy Sinatra’s version of Cher’s Bang Bang (My Baby Shot me Down) the film blends musical styles as the visual styles mash and melt together. Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood and The 126.96.36.199’s Woo Hoo are personal favourites. Ode to O-ren Ishii by the soundtrack’s producer RZA is another one I loved ten years ago. As well as a great soundtrack the film also makes great use of sound effects.
Uma Thurman gives an excellent performance as The Bride and she picked up several high profile awards nominations including at the BAFTAS and Golden Globes. She caries the film on her shoulders and has a chameleon like ability to alter her character as necessary. Lucy Liu is also very good and plays completely against type. It was great to watch her daintily decapitate and pour scorn. Sonny Chiba is great in one of the film’s funnier scenes and Battle Royale’s Chiaki Kuriyama was deeply sadistic but a firm favourite amongst my teenage friends and I. Overall there is little I can fault with Kill Bill Volume 1. The overly stylised look won’t be to everyone’s liking and some may prefer a single film but I think that the pulp style and genre mashing works really well. It is possibly Tarantino’s most Tarantino film and is him at his most unruly and wild. The story is engaging, the action is intense and the blood splattering violence is magnificent. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve seen Kill Bill Volume 1 and it will probably be a few more until I see it again but it’s the sort of film that I find my eyes drawn to on a dull evening and its re-watch value is as high as anything else on the shelf.
- Quentin Tarantino offered Uma Thurman the role of The Bride as a 30th Birthday present.
- Blood squibs weren't used and instead Tarantino insisted that bloody spurts be done in the fashion made popular by Chang Cheh: Chinese condoms full of fake blood that would splatter on impact.
- Despite being bleeped out in the film, the name of The Bride is revealed on her plane tickets to Okinawa and Tokyo.
- The Wilhelm Scream is used twice during the main samurai fight.