Review by J.T. Johnson
In 2003, Quentin Tarantino was all set to release his epic tribute to the Hong Kong martial arts films from the 1970s. A small snag was hit, though, when Miramax wanted him to trim the film’s runtime. Instead of doing that, though, Tarantino decided to split the film into two parts and I’m so grateful that he did because we ended up with two great yet distinct films that tell one legendary martial arts story.
In “Kill Bill: Volume 1”, we are introduced to the bloodied and beat down Bride (Uma Thurman) on the day of her wedding. She is also pregnant and just before a man named Bill (David Carradine) puts a bullet in her head, she reveals that the child is Bill’s. Fast forward four years later and the Bride wakes up from a coma and we learn that before she escaped her former employment, she was an assassin for the sadistic crime boss Bill and part of the elite Deadly Viper Assassination Squad.
Now that she’s lost her only attempt at a normal life and her unborn child, she sets out on a bloody quest for revenge. She has five people on her list and we open with her going after the second person on the list, once again showing Tarantino’s knack for telling a nonlinear story. After she deals with that situation, we jump back in time and the rest of the film tells us how she started her bloody trail of revenge and how she went after O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), the first person on her hit list.
This first volume is a straight up revenge flick and it seems quite content with being just that. We learn a little more about the Bride as she prepares for her mission. The only thing we don’t learn here is her name, which is conveniently bleeped out anytime anyone mentions it. That’s a clever way to show that she is nothing more at this point than an efficient and deadly weapon. She’s a force of nature that has no name.
Thurman’s commitment to the role is absolute. She handles Tarantino’s worthy dialogue with ease and makes this purposefully over-stylized story seem natural. Thurman also proves to be quite the action star as she takes part in highly choreographed fight scenes that take an old school approach to how they’re pulled off and they’re also quite bloody as well.
Tarantino is in rare form with his screenplay, as well. We get several great monologues as usual, but he is also at the top of his game as he makes his sometimes strange dialogue not only harken back to the many Hong Kong films that inspired the movie, but he also makes it sound like it’s how we all speak every day of the year. No word feels out of place and everything seen in the movie has its proper place in the story.
There is even a wonderfully animated segment that tells us the origins of O-Ren, the Bride’s primary target for this first film. It is a beautifully done and wonderful homage to all the great Japanese anime that has come before it. It also allows the audience to swallow some of O-Ren’s crazy origin a little bit better than if it was filmed in live-action.
Unlike other Tarantino films, there aren’t really any points where the film slows down. It frantically follows the Bride on her bloody path that eventually leads to an insane fight with the Crazy 88, O-Ren’s personal army… and yes, it feels like she takes on all 88 members.
The movie then ends with a hell of a revelation that definitely complicates things for the Bride in “Kill Bill: Volume 2”. Like any good author, Tarantino knew exactly where to end this first part and I remember that when I first watched the film in theaters, I couldn’t wait to get to “Volume 2” six months later. Things do slow down a bit in the second volume (but in a good way), but in the meantime, I urge you to either enjoy this film for the first time if you’ve never seen it or revisit this wonderfully made film if you haven’t checked it out in awhile.
It’s a bloody good time!