Movie review

Kill Bill: Volume 1
Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu
Daryl Hannah, Vivica A Fox

Director : Quentin Tarantino

Kill Bill: Volume 1Long awaited and much hyped, Quentin Tarantino's fourth film is a two-part tale of revenge set amongst a ruthless gang of assassins, who kill one of their own on her wedding day, but fail to finish the job. Four years on she's wide awake and looking for Technicolor, limb-severing payback. Sounds promising, but one can't help wondering if Tarantino's got anything interesting left to say . . .

In many respects this film delivers faithfully on its promises, with a fantastic, and relentlessly stylish soundtrack constantly underpinning sequences of unbelievably slick and jaw-droppingly shocking violence (which makes much of The Matrix Reloaded look like a tantrum in the Early Learning Centre). This film is pure, unadulterated eye-candy for gore-geeks. A laudable tribute to a nostalgic genre, an adolescent fantasy where revenge acts as the pretext for a sexually charged violence-fest in which bloodshed, humour, realism and action blur into one long, sadistic pantomime.
    Uma Thurman is stunning as the grief-wrecked bride with eyes that glimmer with fury and blood-lust at every gruesome death she inflicts on her path of revenge. Her character made stronger by managing to retain a degree of mortal vulnerability throughout her epic battles. Lucy Liu (as O-Ren Ishii) is utterly convincing (if completely one-dimensional) in a role which she inhabits with gleeful malice. And Chiaki Kuriyama (Battle Royale's Takako Chigusa) is wonderfully menacing as the 17 year old bubblegum bodyguard, Go Go Yubari.
    The violence is certainly stomach churning, but what is truly shocking is the speed at which you become desensitized. When the first head rolls and the first blood fountain erupts, you flinch involuntarily, but before long the whole audience is laughing as limbs fly casually across the screen, and the body count rises as fast as the frame rate. And what else can you do but laugh?

Tarantino hasn't broken any rules here, he's just playing by a different set. In the dark, unforgiving and nihilistic world of the so-called 'grindhouse' genre, each life is simply a different dance with a grisly death, so we should lay aside our Disney-tinted sentimentality from the outset. And although it clearly pays homage to a long line of '70s kung-fu, anime, western and samurai movies, I can't help feeling that bringing them into the mainstream has undermined the very essence of what made them 'cool'. Such movies have their rightful place on the bottom shelves of the local video shop, and the occasional late night double bill at your favorite art house. They work because they stay within the tightly cast restrictions of their genre, but thrust them into the bright lights of mainstream culture and they feel distinctly incomplete and ultimately lacking. This film may be technically flawless, but it often feels soulless and devoid of the 'spark' which made Pulp Fiction into a modern classic.
    What separates this film from the underground classics it is trying to emulate, is that here, the director's story is entirely self-indulgent. It's not actually the story of the central character at all, rather, a well-edited collection of Tarantino's favorite scenes – a homage to his own catalogue of memories of the films which, he confesses, "I used to get off on." It ultimately fails because Tarantino doesn't believe in the story he's telling, being utterly preoccupied with the genocidal body count and leaving the action to carry the film. But even the action - despite it's fast paced, slickly sequenced, dizzyingly mixed cocktail of genres and ultra violence - fails to live up to its own expectation, leaving a swimming pool of blood and a bucket of limbs, but not a lot else.
    Quentin Tarantino treats his characters with a callous detachment - almost distain - which is unsettling, making him hard to trust and eliciting a similar detachment from the audience. Even the dialogue - which in previous films was cutting edge and innovative - often sounds stagnant and unnatural, and as such, what should be classic lines often sound like a monologue straight from Tarantino's overworked imagination, and not the characters themselves.

In the end the issue of the 'two films' isn't such a big deal, and by the time Kill Bill: Volume 1 has finished, the decision almost makes sense. But it's not the marketing of the film I have a problem with; it's the film itself. I don't object to the comic book graphic violence, it's what's missing in between that bothers me. In a desolate vision of apocalyptic vengeance, the lack of human identification detracts from the audience's ability to engage with anything they're watching. This is a spectator sport, and you get the feeling that Tarantino no longer cares. He's making his movie, his way. And fair enough, but I emerged feeling unmoved, uninspired and slightly uneasy at the prospect of sitting through another two hours of more of the same. Ultimately this is an ambitious pastiche of retro coolness which disappointingly fails to add up to more than the sum of it's parts.

:: Tom West

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