Kill Bill Volume 1

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Disappointing, Yet Entertaining: Kill Bill Vol. 1

Oct 13, 2003 (Updated Oct 14, 2003)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Great homage to a number of different exploitation genres.

Cons:Tarantino doesn't seem to really respect the films he's paying homage to.

The Bottom Line: Definitely worth a look, but not quite everything I'd hoped it would be.


Before Quentin Tarantino burst onto the domestic film scene with his 1992 film Reservoir Dogs, he’d spent a great deal of time watching movies. Much has been made of Tarantino’s stint as a video store clerk, his love for Black exploitation, Italian horror, Hong Kong action cinema (with Reservoir Dogs often being ripped on by the cynical amongst us as a plagiarized version of Ringo Lam’s City on Fire) and Japanese yakuza cinema. Tarantino is the fanboy’s fanboy—an uber-geek with a professed love for trash cinema and an encyclopedic knowledge of the genres that make up the field. This unbridled enthusiasm has glimmered just beneath the surface of his earlier films (most notably Pulp Fiction). However, it is only now, with the release of his fourth film, Kill Bill Vol. 1, that he lets his passions run wild—and the result is an intriguing, yet sloppy, piece of entertainment.

To catalogue all of the films and genres Tarantino borrows from in this feature would eat up another 1,000 words of review space—and is, perhaps, the film’s greatest problem. Tarantino is so enamored with paying homage to the things he loves he forgets to inject any of himself into the film. Everything in Kill Bill is inspired from somewhere else—the spurting blood of countless samurai epics (most notably the Lone Wolf and Cub films), the wire-fu that has come to mark countless Hong Kong martial arts movies, the fight choreography of Yuen Wo Ping, the revenge plotline of more action movies than I can count, and even Uma Thurman’s outfit for the final showdown. Nothing in Kill Bill is unique—it’s entirely comprised of things we’ve seen before (well, some of us, anyway…I doubt that the mainstream audience catching this film is familiar with any of the stuff that’s been borrowed—I mean, for Christ’s sake, I was the only guy who even got excited when Sonny Chiba’s name appeared on the screen) all refracted through Tarantino’s own pop-culture obsession and mixed with his Grand Guignol aesthetic sensibilities.

That being the case, I should have loved Kill Bill--and maybe, in time, I will. However, I can’t shake my main feeling of disappointment with the film…and Tarantino in general. While no one will ever win an argument proclaiming that QT doesn’t love these films he emulates, I don’t think he entirely respects them—and that’s the difference between us. I respect the work of men like Kinji Fukasaku, Sonny Chiba, Takashi Miike, Kenji Misumi, and countless other men who’ve made or starred in the films that inspired Kill Bill. I’m not sure I can say quite the same thing about Tarantino, though. Everything in his film is played with a sort of sly, winking at the audience, ‘we all know these movies are shit’ sort of way. I expect more from Tarantino, who’s been seen as something of a champion of these forgotten subgenres as new audiences discover them for the first time.

But, if that’s really the case, why not make (at the very least) a semi-serious film with all of these elements? Why go so campy? Why choose such incongruous music (particularly during the final showdown between Uma Thurman and Lucy Liu)? Why get Sonny Chiba to be in the film and then completely waste him?

The other problem with Kill Bill is the film simply has no restraint. Tarantino flits about like a crack addict with ADD in this movie, and it’s all rather dizzying (and in some instances, tiring). The return to using chapters and a non-linear narrative (which was a technique he first really ran with in Pulp Fiction) seems more gimmicky than anything else this time out. The endless parade of chapter cards seems like a sad attempt to keep his audience up to speed with what’s happening—rather than just throwing it all up on the screen and letting the smart people figure it out on their own. In this regard, Kill Bill is something of a step down from films like Jackie Brown and Pulp Fiction. One almost has to wonder if the mainstream criticism hasn’t finally gotten to Tarantino, causing him to dumb down his own vision…

And yet, while I’ve spent the entirety of this piece railing about the problems with Kill Bill, I didn’t hate it. I even liked it at times, despite constantly being saddened by what could have been. This is the closest thing to a ‘'70s exploitation flick we’ve had in a long time, and I for one am glad to see some of my favorite subgenres getting attention again. If nothing else, I’ve little doubt Kill Bill will inspire a small portion of its audience to check out any number of blaxploitation flicks and Japanese samurai films (particularly those involving Sonny Chiba—who plays swordsmith Hattori Hanzo in this film; astute Asian cinema fans will realize that Hanzo was also a character in the Sonny Chiba film Shogun’s Ninja as well as being one of Japanese history’s most infamous ninja warriors). That alone is a good thing, particularly if it provides an alternative to having to watch Tom Cruise become a gaijin samurai in the upcoming schlockfest The Last Samurai.

Kill Bill is an enigma to me—a labor of love, but not entirely one of respect, and yet it still manages to entertain even the jaded fanboy contingent (of which yours truly is a card-carrying member). While it isn’t even close to being the film I’d hoped it would be, I’ll still be in line on opening night for Kill Bill Vol. 2--and that certainly says I must have enjoyed the original on at least some level.


Recommend this product? Yes

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