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FIVE STAR FILMS #68: KILL BILL Vol. 1 (Quentin Tarantino – 2003)

Kill Bill could only have been made by Quentin Tarantino. His fourth film (or fourth and fifth if classify Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 as distinct entities) is informed by an unparalleled adoration and encyclopaedic knowledge of martial arts cinema. From the Shaw Brothers to U.S T.V series Kung Fu it’s a veritable cornucopia of homages and nods but done with his unique ability to integrate the mayhem into dreary boring life. At its very core though it’s a revenge epic, and you hear the influences and echoes of Sergio Leone (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly specifically). After the measured reception of Jackie Brown in the wake of the titanic Pulp Fiction, Tarantino wanted to make a splash; a bloody, vengeful splash indeed. It’s going to be almost impossible to hone in on only five reasons why Kill Bill Vol. 1 belongs in the Five Star pantheon …

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1. “Me at my most Masochistic”

I’m not sure that there are many more striking opening shots of a film than the beaten and bloodied face of Uma Thurman’s Bride filling the entire screen. The monochrome palette makes the blood look like tar and the only unsullied part of her once beautiful face are those piercing eyes. Hearing David Carradine’s gravelly low tones fills you with curiosity and dread. Who could do such a thing? Who could do such a thing and remain so frighteningly composed? In an act that feels more insulting than tender, carves a path through the blood and grime on her face with his personalised handkerchief. His attempt to somewhat un-sully his actions are totally in vain. Hearing Bill psycho-analyse his state of mind during this moment further enforces that you’re dealing with a “mad dog.”

For a scene that unfolds with a patient grace, Bill’s escalation to holding a gun to the clearly incapacitated Bride’s head is even more shocking. The Bride’s deadened, teary eyes light up like a furnace as she faces the gun after being beaten to near death being totally defenceless. The final gasp for mercy whispers through a blood-filled swollen mouth… “Bill, it’s your baby…” BLAM! It’s so good in fact that analysing it isn’t enough, here it is.


2. “If you’re still feeling raw about it, I’ll be waiting.”

Picturesque suburbia was not the location you’re expecting to see an epic showdown between mortal enemies; but that’s exactly what happens when the Bride tracks down Vivica A. Fox’s Vernita Green. That first moment that they lock eyes and the siren like wails of that musical sting call out for the ensuing action you’re not sure what to expect. The fight is fierce, the environment is a weapon and the beating doesn’t glance off of the warriors. Heads get dents/bumps, the layer of broken glass strewn throughout the house frosts uncovered skin and knife blades carve skin like spoons move soup. At its height though, looking out toward the calm of suburbia, Nikkia gets off of her yellow school bus and walks back toward the door. The wordless agony on Fox’s face, imploring the Bride’s compassion and mercy in that moment shows that our heroine has the morality that her antagonists don’t. As she sends Nikkia into her room there’s discussion of mercy, but the Bride won’t have it. She’s rational, and for innocent bystanders she’s compassionate, but she will have vengeance. Once Vernita lulls the conversation into civility she tries to catch the Bride unawares (firing a gun at her through a cereal box) she pays for her insult with her life. Plucking her knife from her chest she turns to reveal that Nikkia has witnessed her mother’s murder. With a silent innocence she looks to the Bride for an explanation. Uma delivers this incredible line:

“It was not my intention to do this in front of you. For that I’m sorry. But you can take my word for it, your mother had it coming. When you grow up, if you still feel raw about it, I’ll be waiting.”

Tarantino actually toyed with the idea of making a third Kill Bill film set ten years after the end of volume two, and it was speculated that Nikkia would be coming after the Bride.


3. Audacity

That’s the only way one can describe Tarantino’s beautiful anime digression into the origins of O-Ren Ishii. Amongst the plethora of Asian cinematic influences you take a trip into a gorgeously impressionistic vision of the Yakuza’s disregard from human life, and authority. Surely due to utter heinousness of the content, to make the film releasable there would have been a practical decision that animation can get away with more than live action. Yet apart from the whimsy or superficiality, it’s also an extremely deft stroke of audience manipulation. Firstly, as an artistic rendering that’s so vastly aesthetically different from the rest of the film, you’re detached from the fuller story arc. Secondly this is The Bride’s story; a rich and detailed real-life rendering of something so unhinged and grotesque would firstly have pulled you towards away from our protagonist’s cause. It makes the diminutive Oren an epic larger than life villain capable of heading the Yakuza.


4. That score

Beginning with a two literal bangs (I’m sorry I couldn’t help myself) Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang – (My Baby Shot Me Down) kicks off an amazing and totally off the wall selection. From composing royalty like Bernard Hermann, country from Charlie Feathers, soul from Isaac Hayes, T.V scores like Al Hirt’s Green Hornet theme and music composed specifically from the movie by The RZA and Charles Bernstein.


5. The Big Boss

“O-Ren Ishii!! The Bride calls out Lucy Liu’s Cottonmouth as she’s holding Julie Dreyfus’ Sofie Fatale hostage. Q.T pulls the camera back and the Bride is wearing martial arts cinema’s equivalent of the Superman suit. Her yellow track suit with black stripes is the same that Bruce Lee wore in his final (unfinished) film The Big Boss. Kill Bill is riddled with these details, nods to a plethora of Asian cinema such as Lady Snowblood (Toshiya Fujita – 1973), Ichi The Killer (Takashi Miike, 2001), Lone Wolf and Cub: Babycart to Hades (Kenji Misumi, 1972), Fists of Fury (Lo Wei, 1972) and many, many more. There’s just become such a powerful association of that rich golden yellow and those thick black stripes with Lee in his final film and one of the most badass female characters that’s ever existed. Watching her cut a swathe through Oren’s Crazy 88 is just a marvel.


Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino (The character of The Bride conceived by Uma Thurman & QT)

Uma Thurman … The Bride
Lucy Liu … O-Ren Ishii
Vivica A. Fox … Vernita Green
Daryl Hannah … Elle Driver
David Carradine … Bill
Michael Madsen … Budd
Julie Dreyfus … Sofie Fatale
Chiaki Kuriyama … Gogo Yubari
Shin’ichi Chiba … Hattori Hanzo (as Sonny Chiba)
Chia-Hui Liu … Johnny Mo (as Gordon Liu)
Michael Parks … Earl McGraw
Michael Bowen … Buck
Jun Kunimura … Boss Tanaka
Kenji Ohba … Bald Guy (Sushi Shop) (as Kenji Oba)
James Parks … Edgar McGraw
Sakichi Satô … Charlie Brown
Jonathan Loughran … Trucker

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