Main cast: Uma Thurman (The Bride/Black Mamba), David Carradine (Bill), Lucy Liu (O-Ren Ishii/Cottonmouth), Daryl Hannah (Elle Driver/California Mountain Snake), Michael Madsen (Budd/Sidewinder), Vivica A Fox (Vernita Green/Copperhead), Chiaki Kuriyama (Go Go Yubari), Julie Dreyfus (Sofie Fatale), and Sonny Chiba (Hattori Hanzo)
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 is one of the campiest movies I’ve ever seen. Ripping off Japanese anime movies without any subtlety or grace, Quentin Tarantino’s much-hyped “comeback movie” is as fun as it can get by being a bloated comic book movie from a man that attends live American Idol 2 shows.
Our heroine is a former assassin codenamed Black Mamba. The viewer is never told her name. The credits call her The Bride. And in this movie, details are so far sketchy but all I know is that her enemy Bill and Bill’s four henchmen from the Deadly Assassination Vipers Squad (Elle Driver, Vernita Green, O-Ren Ishii, and Budd) killed her husband and the wedding guests (as well as the priest, tsk tsk) and shot the pregnant bride in the head. Four years later, she is awakened from her coma by a mosquito bite and, after taking bloody revenge on the hospital attendant that pimps out her unconscious body, goes after Bill and the four assassins with singular vengeance. That’s it for the plot, really.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 is a movie that tries very hard to be clever by incorporating a cute and sunny soundtrack straight from the 1960’s even as the Bride smashes her enemies’ heads into pulp or slashes her katana through limbs and heads. As this movie is a cheerfully camp movie that steals from the best and most exaggerated elements of anime, I am more than happy to play along this time. The Bride starts off by despatching Copperhead, now a housewife in the suburbs, and then the movie goes back in time to show how the Bride got rid of O-Ren Ishii first. O-Ren, unlike her former compatriots, has not retired from the team – she’s moved on to bigger ballgames now by becoming the leader of the crime bosses of the Tokyo underworld.
After regaining her use of her limbs and getting a katana from the legendary Okinawan swordmaker Hattori Hanzo (Sonny Chiba in one of the best performances in the movie), she then goes after O-Ren and her Crazy 88 Fighters. Boy, Tarantino really goes full out to capture what makes the Japanese culture tick, warts and all, from their murder of the English language, their tastes in bad music, to their schoolgirl in uniform fetish (O-Ren’s psychotic teenage bodyguard is wearing one). And since this is Japan, every one carries a sword instead of a gun. I don’t know how the Bride can get to take a sword with her onto the Okinawa-Tokyo flight but any movie that has blood gushing on and off like a well-behaved faucet from the stump of a neck can’t be expected to follow the laws of logic, I guess.
This movie works like magic because of its unapologetic and cheerful embrace of the violence it espouses like a dramatic new religion. Some of the most gruesome – and hence the most enjoyable – scenes in this movie is the violent genesis of O-Ren Ishii the assassin and crime leader, entirely shot as an anime sequence. The way the choreography works, it’s like a glorious homage to samurai animes like Rurouni Kenshin or even contemporary Japanese anime-influenced video games. There’s beautiful poetry in the scene where O-Ren and our “Warrior with Golden Hair” face each other in an artificial snowy Japanese garden, with much of the amusing irony coming from the fact that we have two women trying to kill each other and coming to admire each other for their embodiment of the chauvinist samurai code.
This movie can’t be called feminist despite having two memorable leads played by Lucy Liu and Uma Thurman – I sincerely doubt it has any positive -ist values that will inspire its audience to be better people. Tarantino cheerfully exploits the male moviegoer’s ever-going fascination with two strong women pounding on each other in this movie, but that’s good, isn’t it? Especially when I have such a good time watching this cartoon noir made life.
If we clean up the gore in this movie, there will be nothing much left. But sometimes I need to just stop thinking too much and enjoy releasing some pent-up frustrations and demons by vicariously enjoying and cheering on the sight of our heroine murdering everyone that screwed her over, and this movie is the perfect outlet. I don’t know how the second instalment will fare when the movie moves away from the excesses of Japan to the more mundane America, but I am intrigued enough by Uma Thurman’s occasional portrayal of vulnerabilities that humanizes her killing machine character as well as by the cliffhanger revelation at the end.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 may not be highfalutin art, but it’s fabulous blood-drenched camp done with style.