Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)

When a film opens by attributing the phrase “Revenge is a dish best served cold” to the Klingons, you know you’re in for a slightly unreal experience. Stepping away from the world of gangsters in suits and sunglasses and diving headfirst into the genre of revenge, Quentin Tarantino basically uses Kill Bill to show off the things he loves about shlocky 70s cinema, blending Chinese martial arts, Japanese samurai, and Itallian Westerns, adding liberal amounts of over-the-top violence, and finishing the mix with his unique brand of normal dialogue in abnormal situations.

The story begins somewhere in the middle, with the unnamed character of The Bride (Uma Thurman) hunting down the former members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, a group of elite hitmen to which she once belonged, as revenge for killing her unborn daughter and nearly killing her. The action sequences are throwbacks to another time of filmmaking, using practical wire effects to have characters defy gravity and spraying rooms with sachets of extremely vivid and extremely fake blood. The violence is hillariously overblown, without even a little hint of the darkness found in Reservior Dogs or Pulp Fiction despite the high body count. Much of the film is clearly referencing other films, but it never relies on the viewer having seen the film being referenced to understand what’s happening. Unlike a Family Guy gag, where the entire joke is the reference, Tarantino uses his breadth of knowledge of film to showcase what makes those old dubbed drive-in double-features worth watching, collecting stand-out scenes and editing them together into a personal highlights reel. It’s easy to dismiss Kill Bill as mindless violence – and it really is pretty mindless, for the most part, since The Bride begins her journey bent on revenge and never once deviates – but the love and reverence for the subject matter is right out in the open: the elaborate choreography, the characters painted in broad, iconic strokes, the lengthy speeches before key fights to show just how big a badass each participant is. This film is a love-letter to a brand of film many critics would dismiss out of hand as bad or unworthy of attention, showing that you can put memorable moments on screen and not touch deeply on things like character or social context and opening up that niche genre to a generation that wasn’t around to experience it the first time.

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