Retro Review: Kill Bill Vol.1 & 2

Volume One

The maniacal mind of director Quentin Tarantino has always been fixated with the world of samurai and kung-fu action genre films. The director has embraced a lot of films in the vein of those old subtitled Bruce Lee movies we all loved in the 1970s. But were they really that great that they need a double-film homage to them. That is basically what the two films that comprise the “Kill Bill” films are.

Tarantino’s first entry in his revenge series finds the central character, battered and beaten bride-to-be character only known as “Black Mamba” (Uma Thurman), left for dead as her whole wedding party is wiped out by the “Deadly Viper Assassination Squad” (or DiVAS) masterminded by “Bill” (David Carradine).

When “Black Mamba” awakens from her coma she plans out the vicious extermination of the DiVAS. By the end of the film, two of her prey will fall and Mamba will be knee-deep in blood. The film co-stars Michael Madsen, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Daryl Hannah and Julie Dreyfuss as the DiVAS.

Tarantino’s passion and obsession with the genre is evident in every frame of his latest film. Tarantino’s no-holds-barred action and blood reigns throughout his film and the director seems to be having a lot of fun showing how much he loves what he is filming.

He loves the look, intrigue and animation of oriental culture but I am not sure if he understands its majesty and soul. Akira Kurosawa, one of the greatest filmmakers of all time embraced the samurai genre and created the immortal “Yojimbo”. That film is probably the greatest of the genre and why didn’t Quentin try to emulate the majesty of that film instead of crazy linear kung-fu films? If you want to homage this genre why not look to the best.

I really loved the performance from Uma Thurman who shows that she has a lot of will and stamina to go through this film. What Tarantino must have put the actress through must have been grueling. Her performance does ring through as a treasure incased in all the blood flung throughout this ultra-violent film. She is magnificent.

There are some obvious tributes to the films of the martial arts genre. One being Uma Thurman’s yellow jumpsuit in film’s giant battle scene is very reminiscent of Bruce Lee’s immortal costume in “Game of Death”. Uma’s victims in that scene are all wearing masks that are very eerily similar to Jet Li’s “Black Mask” movies. Tarantino’s subtle homages could also be seen as a criticism that Bruce Lee would wipe the mat with Jet Li and how much Tarantino loves old school vs. new school kung fu movies. At least that’s what I saw in it.

When I went into this film I was curious to see if Quentin’s 200-plus page script had put some depth inside this basic revenge scenario story. There is very little depth here but the script was probably so huge because Quentin put every little detail into his obsessively calculated action sequences. Quentin is great at doing over-the-top action scenarios drenched in 2 coats of blood and that is basically all “Kill Bill” is.

In some ways, “Kill Bill” is lost in translation but in others it is a blood-soaked, limbs-detaching, samurai-sword ballet of utter billiance.

(4 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.

Volume Two

I have thought long and hard to how I was going to write this review. How does a critic review the second half of a larger movie? Instead I decided to review the whole film while keeping in mind to what I gave the first entry in the series.

For me the first film was an opus to Quentin Tarantino from Quentin Tarantino. It was filled to the brim with witty dialogue, bloodied corpses and oodles upon oodles of stylish flash. I didn’t really get it. By the time the first film ended I was disappointed.

I washed the slate clean and started again with the sequel baring in mind some of the scenes in the first film. As the film develops, a lot of secrets are unveiled as we learn about the Bride and her relationship with Bill. The film looks at where the Bride trained to become an expert killer and we learn more about how the rest of the Viper Squad relate to Bill. We even finally find out the Bride’s actual name.

The second chapter begins with The Bride hunting down trailer-park reject Budd (Michael Madsen) who is another member of the Viper Squad. After Budd, that will leave just one-eyed Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) and Bill (David Carradine) left in her murderous sweep. As the film unfolds a lot of shocks, surprises, details and secrets make Volume 2 a lot more enjoyable and interesting.

When you actually bring both pieces of Quentin’s “chick-with-samurai-sword” epic together you have amazing entertainment that also reflects back onto some of Quentin’s favorite things which are “spaghetti westerns” and “kung-fu epics”. I like that the second half more because it has some quieter moments and a purpose.

Also I have to credit the strength and ability of Uma Thurman. There has never been a role like this in Hollywood and never such a brilliant performance by a woman in this genre. She is breathless.

On the flipside, Carradine has never been this cool since he shaved his head in “Kung Fu”. The legendary actor eats up scenes as he matches wits, swords and kisses with co-star Thurman. Quentin has delivered this actor from Lazarus Pit like he did with Travolta in “Pulp Fiction”.

These two outstanding performances are the glue that holds together the Kill Bill epic and it is easy to see why. Quentin may love long forgotten kung-fu movies but he does know the brilliant in them.

As one complete film, Kill Bill could become Tarantino’s best work to date.

Kill Bill: Vol.1 (4 out of 5)
Kill Bill: Vol.2 (4 out of 5)
Kill Bill complete (4.5 out of 5)
So Says the Soothsayer.

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