On paper, Kill Bill sounds dangerously close to Charlie’s Angels: there are many martial arts action sequences, all of the main characters are women and one of them is played by Lucy Liu. Upon closer inspection, however, the two films couldn’t be more different. Whereas Angels was just mindless fun that may have offered female viewers a sense of empowerment and certainly supplied the male audience with lots of eye candy, Quentin Tarantino’s newest film is a thoughtful and beautiful homage to classic themes and styles while remaining the most fun and exciting film of the year.
The plot of the movie centers on the character played by Uma Thurman, a nameless woman known only as The Bride, who awakes from a coma four years after she is nearly assassinated at her wedding party by an elite fighting force called the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (or DiVAS). Once a part of this group, The Bride—whose DiVAS code name was Black Mamba—sets out now on a mission of revenge, tracking down all of her former compatriots, each of whom is also code-named after a venomous serpent. Her final target, as the title suggests, is the leader of the group, known only as Bill.
The first of two “volumes” (the second to be released in February), Kill Bill focuses on The Bride’s recovery from the DiVAS’ brutal assassination attempt and the beginning of her solitary mission, in which she tracks down the first two Vipers on her hit list: O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) and Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), code-named Cottonmouth and Copperhead, respectively. Much like Pulp Fiction, the film is delivered in chapters that are presented in a thematic, rather than chronological, order. With each episode, the film adds a few more layers of depth to The Bride’s character, and the meaning behind her mission becomes clearer.
In spite of the raw simplicity of the title, Kill Bill is without a doubt one of the most complex and interesting films Quentin Tarantino has ever made. Within the film, one can see hints of all of Tarantino’s influences and tastes, but all are wonderfully adapted to fit into the unique Tarantino vision. From one scene to the next, the film shifts seamlessly from style to style, varying between blaxploitation, spaghetti westerns, Hong Kong kung fu, Japanese samurai and anime. By ambitiously employing all of these disparate styles, constituting several departures from the standard of color live-action, the film risks appearing choppy and uneven. However, in reality this is one of the film’s most valuable assets, imbuing it with a strong sense of the mythic and legendary place occupied by film in our society. As Tarantino explains in the film’s press release, “There are two different worlds that my movies take place in. One of them is the ‘Quentin Universe’ of Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brownit’s heightened but more or less realistic. The other is the Movie World. When characters in the Quentin Universe go to the movies, the stuff they see takes place in the Movie World…Kill Bill is the first film I’ve made that takes place in the Movie World.”
In placing this film in the “Movie World,” Tarantino not only positions Kill Bill as a true moviegoer’s film, but it also directly affects the style of the action. From the first fight to last, no scene is performed or shot in the same cinematic style, and all are extremely exciting. The only caution is that, in the second half of the film, the blood and gore aspect of the violence is portrayed in an almost Monty Python-esque manner that, although appropriate in the “Movie World” context, can be off-putting and even unintentionally humorous. Nonetheless, the Kill Bill’s fight scenes are the most exciting and intense of this year, particularly the samurai sword showdown at the very end.