It has been a long six year wait for the hordes of Quentin Tarantino fans out there including myself and I got what I expected. Everything was spiraling in a wrong direction from the moment Miramax co-chief Harvey Weinstein forced QT to split Kill Bill into two volumes. The decision was supposedly ideal for both QT and Harvey "Scissorhands" - who has gained notoriety throughout the industry for cutting films short. The split would not only double marketing costs but also result in a plethora of changes to the original script. Whether the split would have a negative or positive effect was difficult to tell.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 is the story of a professional assassin (Uma Thurman), referred to as The Bride, who is attacked, beaten, shot and left for dead on her wedding day by her employer and lover Bill (David Carradine). She wakes up from a four-year coma and is out for the blood of those who betrayed her. She starts off with Bill's posse of female assassins - her former colleagues (Vivica A. Fox, Daryl Hannah, Lucy Liu) and his associates unleashing cold-blooded revenge in the way of the Samurai.
The splitting of the film did allow QT to apply the script to film in true chapter style. This makes it easier for Tarantino to employ his trademark incoherent and non-linear approach to chronology – the chapters flip back and forth. Right from the first scene, you're thrown right into the thick of things. While the plot couldn't be simpler, its fast-paced execution couldn't be more intricate. It comes as no surprise then that QT and crew spent a grueling five months shooting the film. Visually, it's a joy to behold. Shot in Los Angeles, Beijing, Mexico and Tokyo – QT for once leaves urban settings for the picturesque and does so quite brilliantly. The excellent soundtrack containing retro classics backs up the film perfectly.
Barely half-way through the film, one thing becomes apparent – the tribute Kill Bill is to all the films Tarantino grew up on. It's delivered as a montage of martial arts flicks, Exploitation and B-movies of the 1970's along with a bloody touch from a Monty Python feature, a passing acknowledgement to his favorite Star Trek film and his favorite TV show Kung Fu. Even Thurman's yellow suit is the identical one that Bruce Lee wears in Game of Death. Martial Arts Icon Sonny Chiba is also handed a cameo. While Jackie Brown was reverence to QT's ego, Kill Bill is reverence to his cinematic favorites – the plot plays second fiddle.
Laden with stylish Anime, split-screen imagery and Shaw Bros style zooming, Tarantino blatantly employs style over substance which proves to be the movie's ultimate downfall. The split also gave QT the liberty to use extended sequences in both Volumes. The result is long drawn out fight sequences (which were gracefully choreographed) which soon becomes tedious to watch. Another negative is the absence of QT's renowned quirky dialogue which is replaced by cheesy one-liners borrowed largely from the above mentioned era. The acting is just about adequate with Thurman largely unable to depict the aura of a vengeful vixen. The talented Carradine and Madsen hardly feature.
A Tarantino film without violence is just not a Tarantino film. The blood-fest in Kill Bill is of unprecedented levels. Just like the movie, it becomes fruitless to take the violence seriously as it is stylized to such an extent that the geysers of blood and dismemberment become extremely exaggerated and cartoonish. QT also drains certain sequences into Black & White imagery which reduces the overall feel of on-screen brutality and helped the film escape the NC-17 rating.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 is by no means a gem or masterpiece. It's definitely not a dreadful effort but by Tarantino's high standards, this is arguably his 'worst'. However, any verdict on this movie or the cast in a way remains futile and premature until one watches Vol. 2 (which will out early 2004). Whether both films together make Tarantino's gory ride a memorable one will have to be seen. - Snider Rodrigues