KILL BILL: VOLume 1 written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, produced by Tarantino and Lawrence Bender, with Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Daryl Hannah, Vivica A. Fox, Sonny Chiba and Gordon Liu. 95 minutes. A Miramax production. An Alliance Atlantis release. Opens Friday (October 10). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies. Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
If Kill Bill: Volume 2 turns out anything like Volume 1, why did Miramax's Harvey Weinstein think these films would be too long as one three-hour movie? Kill Bill: Volume 1 moves like a rocket through a variety of explosive, over-the-top action sequences that owe huge debts to the Asian action cinema of the 70s and 80s. Tarantino has never been afraid to wear his influences on his sleeve. Kill Bill even includes a huge shout-out to Brian De Palma's Dressed To Kill involving a split screen and Daryl Hannah in a nurse's uniform.
Uma Thurman plays The Bride, who is targeted on her wedding day by members of the elite assassination squad she once belonged to. They murder her groom and the entire wedding party. But The Bride wakes up after four years in a coma with one thing on her mind. That thing requires a really good samurai sword.
People make a big mistake when they think Tarantino's kidding, and that somehow his encyclopedic knowledge of trash cinema of the last three decades indicates that he's not a "serious" filmmaker.
He may be joking at times - casting Chiaki Kuriyama as Lucy Liu's bodyguard and dressing her in the same school uniform she wore in Battle Royale is a supreme film geek in-joke. But you don't spend $50 million of Miramax's money and double your shooting schedule in progress unless you're hugely ambitious and very serious.
A number of magazine articles by people like Susan Sontag have decried the death of film culture among younger audiences. These screeds really boil down to a complaint that young film freaks, who have easy access to more films than anyone has ever had before, aren't spending their time watching Bergman, Antonioni and Fellini. Which is like aging baby boomers complaining that young rock musicians aren't spending their time studying Little Richard records.
Tarantino constructs an aesthetic universe out of Ennio Morricone scores, Sonny Chiba's Street Fighter movies and cheap weird crime pics and attempts to transcend it by burrowing into it. He's no more joking around than Godard was when he dedicated Breathless to Monogram Studios, the Poverty Row manufacturer of cheap noirs and westerns.
On one level, Tarantino's oeuvre is an homage to those films. The first credit announces that this film was shot in "Shawscope" - a wide-screen ratio claimed by the Shaw Brothers in the 60s and 70s. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon could have made that claim. But Ang Lee seeks to turn the wire-work wuxia film into something elegant, while Tarantino, working the same territory, is lowdown and dirty. I haven't seen this many unscheduled amputations and arterial sprays onscreen since my undergraduate years at the Rialto Theatre on Bank Street in Ottawa: three movies, 65 cents.
Tarantino wants to make the ultimate cheap grind-house exploitation film, even if it costs $50 million. Yes, there's an attendant irony there, and I'll bet he's aware of it. To get to Lucy Liu's Tokyo crime lord, The Bride doesn't simply have to get through four or five bodyguards. That would be too easy. She has to defeat a small army before she gets to Liu for the climactic showdown.
Which sets up the three fights in Volume 2 (February 20, 2003 - mark your calendars), where her opponents will be Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah and David Carradine as Bill, whose face is unseen in Volume 1.
This isn't for everyone. It's not tasteful, "serious" and adult. It's not The Hours. But Uma Thurman swinging a samurai sword makes a more serious statement about something than Nicole Kidman wearing a fake nose.