Kill Bill Vol. 1
I'll admit to it. I've been waiting for Kill Bill since I saw the trailer online over a year ago. I'll also admit to being an avid watcher of Hong Kong kung-fu and Zatoichi movies of the 70's. I own Shogun Assassin, and someday, I hope to collect all of the original Baby Cart films.
There. Now that my street samurai cred has been established, onto Kill Bill. It had great potential, judging from the cast and the trailers. Happily, it more than lived up to my hopes when I saw it in the theatres. The music wowed me so much that I bought the soundtrack for my husband for Christmas. Along with Quentin Tarantino's usual skill at matching songs to scenes for a somewhat disturbing experience, classic kung-fu sound effects abound, adding even more atmosphere for knowledgeable listeners. The distinctive Green Hornet theme accompanies The Bride as she flies to Japan, then speeds through the streets of Tokyo on a motorcycle. Somehow, it blends in perfectly, while standing out boldly as a gesture to Bruce Lee's debut on American tv.
In fact, keeping track of all of the slight (and obvious) nods to specific films (as well as towards the genre in general) is another bonus for kung-fu film fanciers. Legendary martial art star Gordon Lui plays Johnny Mo, O-ren's Kato-masked bodyguard, and Sonny Chiba plays Hattori Hanzo, the eternal swordsman reprised as swordsmith.
And now part one of this two-part tale of death, betrayal, and even more death has come to dvd, ready for consumption at home like the films which inspired it.
This release is actually very bland. Extras consist of Kill Bill trailers (all previously available online); trailers for all of Tarantino's previous films; a music video of The 5,6,7,8s, a Japanese all-female surfer rock group featured in the film; and a rather short "The Making of" featurette with all the depth of an Entertainment Tonight segment. The film itself is the released rated R theatric version. (There have been rumors of an upcoming uncut/director's cut, rated NC-17.)
Kill Bill is the story of the revenge of The Bride (Uma Thurman) upon her former fellow assassins for the ruining of her wedding and the murder of all of the guests, except for The Bride. The death tally also includes The Bride's unborn child, an emotional fact that adds fuel to her unstoppable fury. There is another survivor, hinted at the final moments of the film... I won't spoil it for you. The members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad are one-eyed Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), knife-wielding Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), cool as ice O-ren Ishii (Lucy Lui), silent Budd (Michael Madsen), and their leader, Bill (David Carradine). The Bride was also a member of the Squad. For leaving the fold, she is shot in the head by Bill. However, by some quirk of fate or destiny, she survives, but stuck in a coma.
Fast-forward four years. She awakens with only one thing in her mind: kill Bill.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 concerns itself mainly in setting up the plot, and the deaths of Vernita Green and O-ren Ishii. The retelling of O-ren's tragic past oddly suits its animated form. From Production-IG (Blood: The Last Vampire, Ghost in the Shell, Jin-Roh, FLCL), this segment fits perfectly into the rest of this very live-action film. Operatic sounds swell as blood drips off of a mattress punctured by a katana and onto the face of O-ren. O-ren, splattered by her mother's blood, stares at her burning house, the flames reflected in her eyes. O-ren straddles the dead body of her parents' now-dead murderer, eyes half-closed in ecstasy, the room covered in a shower of blood, a scene reminiscent of KITE. Death and pain are made into something beautiful, something beyond words.
The flow of the animation is very kinetic. You can feel the energy as you see bones break and flesh bend, rip and explode. For some odd reason, this segment reminded me a lot of Akira, though I can't give you a concrete reason why it did. Perhaps there is a tribute here in O-ren's skin-tight red leather bodysuit, or perhaps it's just plain old fanservice.
In any case, this scene is definitely one for old school anime enthusiasts who can watch Ninja Scroll without flinching. Except this is cutting-edge animation, so the quality is much better. Then again, if you are watching a Tarantino movie, you should already be expecting vivid violence without pity. There are no innocents in his world.
Do I recommend this movie? Yes. This is a fun trip for those who have some experience with the over-the-top nature of kung-fu films and the gushing blood spurts (see Shogun Assassin for multiple examples). The fights are wonderful to watch, but require you not to think, merely accept. This film is not meant for reality junkies.
Would I buy this film? Probably not. It doesn't have much to offer except the movie itself. I'd rather wait for an uncut version or a two-plus disc unified Kill Bill with more extras. So rent this version, but buy the next one that comes to market. Because everyone loves a good katana showdown.