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Nik Huggins

Published October 17th, 2003 | by Nik Huggins

Kill Bill Review

Classification: 18 Director: Quentin Tarantino Rating: 4/5

Kill Bill is Quentin Tarantino’s affectionate treatise on the entire compendium of Asian filmmaking that turns out to be the most plainly worded love note to Cinema that the writer-director has delivered so far. Awash with invention and shrouded in the distinctive style and attention to detail that invigorated audiences some time ago; Kill Bill is more of a flourish of pure creativity than a film in the traditional sense. This will inevitably draw detractors pining away over the dearth of snappy dialogue and rambling situationalism in this latest offering. But decrying the films’ healthy serving of self-indulgence, homage and pretence seems vaguely misplaced, because as pure spectacle Kill Bill is so damn entertaining.

This first volume in a two-part saga is composed, initially, as a straightforward tale of revenge, however very soon just a hint of something more complicated begins to emerge along a characteristically non-linear narrative path. A startling pre-credits opening sees “The Bride”, Uma Thurman, with the kooky dial cranked up to ten, shot down and left for dead on her wedding day along with the entire congregation (including the priest) by the assassination squad she used to head up. Working on the orders of obscure crime boss Bill (David Carradine apparently, although it’s hard to tell) the team leave their former comrade comatose and more than just a tad annoyed. Five years later she’s awake and intent on killing every m*therf*cking last one of them.

As The Bride seeks her prey, the pieces of the plot emerge in the form of chapters, and slowly snap together into a tantalising maze of surprise and misdirection that manages to keep the viewer guessing and enthralled. Clearly demarcated, each segment unfolds a discreet, shorter episode that impacts on the Bride’s task. Her quest to find the perfect Samurai sword for her specific brand of slicing and dicing and the elaborate back story of one enemies’ rise to prominence in the Japanese underworld display Tarantino’s eagerness to contrast mood and tone across the entire spectrum of Asian Cinema. From the customs and iconography of feudal Japanese culture that featured so heavily in the films of Akira Kurosawa to the incorporation of an entire segment devoted to Anime, old Quent is more than happy to deliver a whistle stop tour of eastern film culture and serve it up on a bed of severed limbs.

And make no mistake: limbs do fly, blood does gush, corpses pile high. The catalogue of cartoon violence is fully comprehensive, but hard to see as anything other than deliberately OTT. It becomes evident that Tarantino really enjoyed committing these scenes of martial arts mayhem to film. As henchmen are despatched over and over again and The Bride’s blood lust rises the fighting choreography becomes increasingly intricate and expansive, with no shortage of comical relief. The space of the film opens out to facilitate the rapidly increasing body count and more complicated dance of death. A Tokyo restaurant provides the final arena of confrontation and the setting for those iconic images of a blood splattered Bride in overkill mode, yet it is in the closer more intimate fight scenes that the film shocks, as the full extent of her hostility is displayed.

Uma Thurman, having a hand in the creation of the character was always going to be the natural choice to play her and she brings all the awkward elegance of a baby giraffe, but with sharp swords, to the single-minded intent the role demands. Tarantino extents his usual magnanimity to the bad guys, exploring their motivations as fully as the Brides’ own. The close affinity The Bride shares with her quarry only heightens the final confrontation that occurs in this first instalment, and suggest more to come in part two. A final lingering revelation cleverly installed to set up the second volume ensures that The Bride’s task is going to be more than a simple matter of hacking and slashing.

Tarantino has constructed a highly artificial screen world in which to unfold his funky baroque bloodbath. And sometimes the interchangeable infusion of styles and influences that shift from scene to scene take time to bed down in the mind and can be slightly overwhelming. Ostentatious camerawork, hyperrealist set design and a musical score that sees rockabilly transplanted to the land of the rising sun jarringly combine to underpin the fact that what is being witnessed here is the contrivance of a mind hopelessly devoted to movies. An amalgamated mish-mash of culture and genre spews out as tumultuously as the red stuff from the myriad wounds, amputations and decapitations that take place within. The only way to deal with it is to sit back and gorge on it all, there’s not enough time to mentally tick off all the movie references.

The sheer theatricality of Kill Bill will put some viewers off. Bearing witness to the pet project of a director unchecked by constraint or convention will undoubtedly ruffle some feathers, but it appears that Tarantino has finally accepted that he may never top Pulp Fiction. Only by presenting such a detailed and painstaking slice of operatic showmanship can he shake off the earthy, realist mantle he wore throughout the nineties. A change is as good as a rest, Quentin has had both and the results are startling.

Tarantino seems happy making the films he wants to make in exactly the way he wants to make them, and would be delighted if the enthusiasm he has thrown into this project has provoked a few of us into joining him for the ride. When someone is having this much fun making a film it appear just plain rude not to accept the invitation.

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