Kill Bill: Vol.1 was released twenty years ago, with Kill Bill: Vol. 2 following a year later. This was Tarantino’s first feature film after Jackie Brown, which although a great film was a disappointment for some after Pulp Fiction. Kill Bill 1 & 2 are violent revenge thrillers, mixing genres and utilising a large cast of Tarantino usuals and surprising stars and perhaps marked a return to more familiar ground.
The plot follows a character known for most of the story as The Bride, her name withheld. The Bride was an expert international assassin who left her team when she found out she was pregnant and decided to get married. But her team, particularly her boss and lover, Bill, did not accept this. Their attack leaves The Bride in a coma she is never expected to wake up from…but she does. After nearly being killed, losing her child and many other loved ones The Bride seeks revenge on her old team and in particular – Bill
After 20 Years…
The story is very much broken into chapters as The Bride crosses people off her revenge hit-list, there are intense action scenes followed by quiet moments and sections of anime or odd almost comedic sketches of The Bride getting the things she needs. It jumps back and forth in time around each of these showdowns – giving the audience relevant information, showing backstory between characters etc. It crosses off many items on a Tarantino checklist: extreme violence, an interesting and unusual soundtrack, and homages to other films.
Every fight scene is amazing and distinctive and for a revenge film where everyone is an assassin that is important. There are unusual shifts in tone in these fights – for example when The Bride goes to face O-Ren Ishii she must first battle through her samurai gang, killing dozens of people and verges on cartoonish fighting and jarringly over-the-top amounts of blood with a loud pop music soundtrack. But then her encounter with O-Ren, moments later, is a one-on-one sword fight comprised of only a handful of strikes, fought in a peaceful snow-covered garden and sometimes all you can hear is the sound of water and wood of a fountain.
It is perhaps outside these fight scenes – which do contain emotion as well as action – that the film falls down. This is particularly true of Kill Bill Vol.1 where there are large sections of the film that feel like they serve no purpose. Tarantino’s inability to cut down his movies is legendary and perhaps it was better to have two films rather than one very long one, but there is certainly stuff that could be removed. Kill Bill Vol.1 also contains, in my opinion, the most shocking and gratuitous example of violence in the entirety of Tarantino’s work, and that is saying something. I don’t think an actual description of what happens is necessary but suffice to say there is a moment of horrific abuse perpetuated on The Bride (and suggestion that this has happened many times before) that has no reason to be included other than to cause The Bride more suffering.
The final confrontation with Bill is a little overblown, with long monologues and even bringing out the very convenient trope of a truth serum but it ultimately is a very good end to the movie. David Carradine plays Bill, an actor best known for the tv show Kung Fu and very much part of Tarantino’s idiosyncratic casting style and is very good as the older mentor figure, turned lover, turned nemesis.
Like all Tarantino films the soundtrack is a very important part of the film and has been chosen with care and while there are great tracks from The 5,6,7,8s and some old classics that most people won’t know (including me) what is most striking and memorable is the use of Ennio Morricone. Morricone did not compose new work but Tarantino used songs from other films. The work of the genius composer best known for westerns like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly brings tension, pathos and dread to the film, and is used intentionally to evoke the themes of westerns, and one can see the Kill Bill story told through a western – a gang turning their back on a member who then tracks them through the Wild West taking revenge.
For me looking at both Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Kill Bill Vol.2 and assessing the whole work is difficult as I do not like the first film, but think Vol.2 is great, and it’s hard to reconcile those two ideas. Certainly, the film has a huge legacy with outfits, songs, quotes quickly settling into the cultural understanding of the 2000s but does not belong in Tarantino’s top tier.
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