Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Kill Bill Vol. 1

I can't pretend to be a typical action-movie fan. I don't have the pecs for it, nor do I have the patience for plots that revolve around revolvers. (Godfather or Full Metal Jacket excluded!) Somehow, though, "Kill Bill Vol. 1" has got me all worked up in a good way.

It is the latest from everyone's favourite Hollywood kook Quentin Tarrantino. His fetish for making his characters look stylish covered in other peoples blood has sustained him throughout his career. He has done the horror movie (From Dusk Till Dawn), the gangster movie (Reservoir Dogs), and even a couple of love letters to the 70's (Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown). "Kill Bill Vol. 1" is his effort at updating the samurai movie, with its themes of vengeance and betrayal, and with lots of arms and legs being sliced off by fine Okinawan steel.

Speaking purely on the directing, I think that Quentin has made a silk purse out of these sows ears. (He even makes Lucy Liu appear to know how to act!) One surprise is how Uma Thurman makes us feel sympathy for her character by concealing weakness and trying to overcome the obstacles that block her path to revenge. Even when she has a slice taken out of her back from a sword, or a chain around her neck, she never flinches and is always ready to strike back with brutal force. Somehow, action films are more exciting when the boys don't stand a chance and the ladies are kicking ass.

It is difficult to make the same tired subjects look new and bold but Quentin somehow gets the job done, from his two-second shot of Uma's blood painting a stripe across the Tokyo snow, to the frequent dismemberments and beheadings of the anonymous assasins that challenge her on a Tokyo dance floor. Seeing blood shoot out of where someone's limb used to be is not for the faint hearted, but it does make one feel a little bit of fear in the pit of the stomach. All the death creates tension and in "Kill Bill", I think that Quentin is trying to make a Shakespearean Kung Fu flick. The death is necessary to drive the plot so we shall excuse it.

The Wu-Tang Clan's producer The RZA made the score for this film and we get a healthy dose of hipster tunes, from the Japanese garage rock of the 5,6,7,8's to Spanish gunfight music (can somebody tell me what I'm supposed to call it?). I was disappointed that there were no beats, or at least none that I could throw down freestyle rhymes over, but I'm sure that the rest of the moviegoers were happy that my mouth remained shut.

The character of Oren-Ishii (played heroically by Lucy Liu) could have warranted her own movie. Her best scene is probably when she faces the Yakuza and assumes leadership of their criminal organization. When one of them questions her ethnicity (she happens to be a Japanese/Chinese American), there are bloody results. (Hint: ever see a head bounce on a table?)

I'm not saying that this is a Great Film--it is more accurately an appropriation of a genre, Quentin doing a Kung-Fu Epic, as opposed to something that tries to stand on its own--but this movie has teeth and seems willing to use them. It is a strange feeling watching Uma Thurman cleaning the blood off her samurai sword with her sleeve. Even so, "Kill Bill Vol. 1" is just appealing enough to make me want to catch the second film, so that she can finish off that list of hers (Death List #5, scrawled in a banged-up notebook).

Don't bring your kids, though! This is pure ultra-violence, in the style that Alex and his droogs would dream about. And expect a sequel.