KILL BILL: VOL. 1
Review by Michael Jacobson
Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen, Darryl Hannah,
David Carradine, Sonny Chiba, Julie Dreyfus, Chiaki Kuriyama, Gordon Liu,
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, PCM 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Features: Making-Of Featurette, Music Videos, Trailers
Length: 111 Minutes
Release Date: September 9, 2008
“You didn’t really think it would be that easy, did you?”
“You know, for a second there…yeah.
I kinda did.”
Quentin Tarantino might be absent from the cineplex from time to time, but he’s
always working, always writing, and always imagining his next big project.
Though many years had passed since his last directorial effort Jackie
Brown, fans knew that somewhere, maybe just underneath the radar, this one
time video clerk turned filmmaker was preparing his next cinematic banquet for
That vision turned out to be Kill Bill, a love testament to the
out-of-the-mainstream films Tarantino grew up loving. It was so epic, in fact, that he had to split his vision
right down the middle…but so perfect was his vision that even then, he was able
to craft two distinct motion pictures that made up a single story but were both
different in approach and concept.
Each picture could stand alone as dynamic, knockout entertainment, but put the
two together and you have something even greater than the sum of the individual
Vol. 1 came
out strategically just in time to refresh fans’ memories before heading to the
theatre for the rousing finale of Vol. 2.
Vol. 1 was both acclaimed and a little bit dismissed, depending on
what circles you moved in. For
some, it was pure exhilarating action lovingly crafted by a man who knew his
genres well. For some, it was a
disappointment because it lacked the usual quotable Quentin dialogue and marked
the director’s first true foray in to almost pure action.
But few could deny after seeing both parts just how effective and well
designed Tarantino’s complete project really was.
The story? A simple revenge plot.
A character known only as “The Bride” (Thurman) is introduced to us at
the beginning of Vol. 1 as a beaten, bloody victim.
We hear the voice of Bill (Carradine) just before he puts the bullet in
her head that could have ended the story.
As Nancy Sinatra purrs the appropriate “Bang Bang”, the credits roll, which take
us to the first big action sequence:
an all out brawl to the death between The Bride and Vernita Green (Fox), taking
place in a modest suburban home of all places.
You see, The Bride was once a member of Bill’s Deadly Viper Assassination Squad,
and Bill and his team had shown up at the chapel to strongly express disapproval
of her choosing to leave the outfit and her life of killing behind.
They wiped out the entire wedding party, but the pregnant Bride survived
in a coma for four years. She finally wakes up, realizes she no longer has a baby, and
finds a new purpose to get her out of her atrophic state and back into full
fledged Viper fighting form: she
will indeed kill Bill, and all those who stole her life from her on that fateful
day in El Paso, two of which we only get minor glimpses of in Vol. 1:
the quiet Budd (Madsen) and the vicious Elle Driver (Hannah).
Tarantino as usual toys with the time sequence for maximum effect.
He has no qualms about taking the audience away from one scene to give
them another before cutting back, but this is never done just for the sake of
flexing empty artistic muscle. He
instead manages to juxtapose scenes together for maximum dramatic impact.
For example, while The Bride slowly tries to will her weakened limbs back
into usefulness, why not take a moment to tell the story of O-Ren Ishii (Liu),
the first on The Bride’s list of people to kill?
It’s a great story in and of itself, and being a lover of many different kinds
of cinema, Tarantino even chooses to tell the story via anime.
It’s a bloody tale of murder and revenge in its own right, and
demonstrates how a part American, part Chinese, part Japanese woman was able to
rise to the rank of supreme crime lord in Japan.
Getting to O-Ren won’t be easy, so The Bride makes a quick stop in Okinawa to
meet the legendary Hattori Hanzo (the equally legendary Chiba), a master sword
maker who comes out of a self-imposed retirement to craft for her the ultimate
weapon of death. But will it be
enough to fight her way through O-Ren’s massive army of bodyguards, the Crazy
The answer to that question provides the film with its action climax, an
absolute bloodbath of a piece de resistance that proves Tarantino has mastered
yet another genre: he can now be
equated to any of the great action directors.
It’s clear he’s taken tutelage from the best, and his lessons all come to
fruition in a spectacular and gleefully over-the-top sequence that combines
incredible stunts, superbly and challengingly choreographed fights, delicate
wirework and some of the best camera movements you’re likely to see in this year
or any other year.
Credit Uma Thurman, who delivers a believable performance in a role that
requires intense focus and single-mindedness.
She was obviously well trained in the martial arts and in handling a sword, and
her crucial physical displays of prowess make the action sequences work, while
her investing of the character with heart and soul inspires us to follow her for
the duration…even beyond the ending, when we know there’s more story to come.
For true cineastes, Tarantino lovingly dips into his big bag of inspirations to
enthrall us time and time again.
From the opening display of the classic Shaw Brothers’ logo (one of Hong Kong’s
premier martial arts film studios of the 70s) and the old fashioned “our feature
presentation” title screen, he holds nothing back in his attempt to craft an
experience of pure filmmaking. The
quick camera zooms into the eyes and the exaggerated sirens are indicative of
these old films, while the mournful flute sounds and one on one showdowns
reflect the classic spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone and others.
The set up for the big fight scene at the end, with its constant
steadicam shots and omnipotent points of view call to mind the work of Brian De
Palma, as does the occasional use of split screen to enhance suspense.
But the real genius of Tarantino in this movie is that whether or not you can
pick up on the pieces of homage, you’re going to be thrilled and entertained by
this spectacle. True, it’s one of
the bloodier movies of recent memory, but the violence is all highly stylized as
in the days of the old swordplay films.
The blood flows in fountains instead of oozing in puddles.
Limbs and other body parts fly all over the place, but there’s a
heightened cartoon like quality to it all.
In other words, I don’t think this is the kind of film where you have to
question yourself about enjoying it.
Kill Bill Vol. 1
is simply a supreme cinematic achievement on many levels; a film made by a film
lover for film lovers. Vol. 2
even manages to surpass it…but that’s a story for another time.
I have to confess, these movies were amongst the ones I was most looking forward to seeing on Blu-ray, and I wasn't disappointed. In fact, while watching it, I was giggling like a schoolgirl all the way through, at least on the inside. This high definition transfer is a spectacular revelation from the start. Watch The Bride and Vernita Green battle it out in suburbia and look at all the mundane details of the house in every corner. Or check out the anime segment with O-Ren and you can really see the pencil sketches that shaped the drawings. But best of all is the way Tokyo looks...colorful, bright, vividly detailed, and expansive. When the plane comes in, you really feel like you've arrived. And I haven't even mentioned the showdown at the House of Blue Leaves, with the crystalline snow and beautiful coloring. There are many shots in that sequence that I wanted to freeze frame and use as a postcard. This is what Blu-ray is all about!
Choose the uncompressed audio and you'll get a whole new listening experience. As many times as I've seen the movie, I was delighted to find that there were subtleties and nuances in the soundtrack that I'd never noticed before. And again, right from the start, when you see the aftermath of Bill's massacre. The sounds of footsteps echoing off the wooden floor or empty shell casings rolling around...even the desperate breath of The Bride. And that's not even an action sequence. When the swords swing and the body parts fly, you're in for an overwhelming, dynamic, and fully open surround sound treat. The music, some of which is period, some of which was geniusly provided by The RZA, sounds more forceful and potent than ever.
Features * *
The only mark against this disc is its lack of generosity in the features
department. The main extra is a
making-of featurette containing interviews with Tarantino, Thurman and many of
the cast members. It’s mostly
interesting for Tarantino citing his inspirations and sources for the film.
There is also a pair of performances by the 5, 6, 7, 8’s and a gallery of
all Tarantino’s trailers, including one for Kill Bill Vol. 2.
The teaser for the first Kill Bill is easily one of THE best
trailers I’ve ever seen…interestingly enough, they digitally changed the red
stains on Uma’s yellow jumpsuit to brown so they looked like mud instead of
blood for the “all ages” trailer!
Kill Bill Vol. 1 is a bloody, thrilling spectacle that returns Quentin Tarantino to the place where he belongs: on the big screen and in the hearts of film lovers everywhere. This is his best work since Pulp Fiction. Vol. 2 is actually his best work ever, but for now, we'll consider that discussion unfinished business.