Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Kill Bill : Vol. 1



USA 2003 : Quentin TARANTINO : 110 mins*

notes on second viewing

  • Works better the second time when you know what the deal is. But its still (literally) incoherent, and there are still several moments when the movie seems to grind to a complete halt: the Sonny Chiba Man from Okinawa section (chapter 4 of 5) is almost entirely superfluous, and hard to avoid the suspicion its mainly there so that Tarantino can work with one of his favourite actors. And it isn’t even as if Chiba has that much to do he’s used much more wittily in Takashi Miikes Deadly Outlaw : Rekka. The climactic Showdown at the House of Blue Leaves (chapter 5) becomes rather numbingly repetitious: more like a video-game than a movie, with the unnamed** heroine ploughing through dozens of cannon-fodder yakuza. And isn’t the sequence of battles off-kilter? Surely the Bride should dispose of the Crazy 88, and then move on to O-Rens inner circle of which Go Go should definitely be the last. As it is, the films highlight the Bride/Go Go battle comes too far from the end, casting everything after into bathos.
  • Kill Bill is a male fantasy of female revenge, peopled by caricatures. The overlong, animated section The Origin of O-Ren (chapter 2) slots in very smoothly, as none of the other figures we see are really three-dimensional either: the anime tribute has moments of jarring crudeness, with cackling Japanese villains that veer uncomfortably close to caricature: as do Hattori Hanzo and his assistant, who are introduced as standard-issue comedy-orientals.
  • Its tempting but very unhelpful to compare Kill Bill with Tarantinos three previous films this is an altogether different kind of project than either Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction or Jackie Brown. And its equally unfair to compare this movie with previous rampages of revenge such as Point Blank: Kill Bill is no masterpiece, but enjoyable enough if taken on its own terms. Tarantino makes this somewhat difficult, however, by casting Chaiki Kuriyama and Jun Kunimura in roles very similar to the ones they played in the superior Battle Royale and Ichi the Killer: schoolgirl-assassin Gogo Yubari and gangland kingpin Boss Tanaka respectively.
  • Lucy Liu in Kill BillKuriyamas brief but very memorable turn as Gogo is one of the films few unequivocal successes: her demure giggle when Thurmans character suggests she surrender without a fight is one of the quietest but most perfectly-judged gestures in a film overflowing with sound and fury. Whatever his excesses, Tarantino serves the useful function of introducing mainstream audiences to off-beat talents like Kuriyama other examples here include French actress Julie Dreyfus (as O-Rens assistant Sofie Fatale who should surely have been on the Brides Death List), and Japanese girl-rock band the 5,6,7,8s, who feature in the early stretches of the Blue Leaves section.
  • Peripheral figures like Kuriyama, Dreyfus (a real find) and Liu do much to keep Kill Bill watchable. But there’s a troubling flaw at the centre: Uma Thurman. Supposedly Tarantinos muse, the leggy actress acquits herself well with a samurai sword, and at times she seems to be going through the wringer in her extremes of gruelling physicality: don’t be amazed if this performance is rewarded with her second Oscar nomination. But can Uma actually act? Her delivery of dialogue often simply isn’t up to scratch, a major problem when Tarantino is in full-blown verbose mode. Shes arguably more fluent when speaking Japanese, and audibly stumbles during one bit of narration when describing O-Rens power struggles as Shakespearean-magnitude. (Unless its the character who’s supposed to be inarticulate maybe this is why Tarantino has her say she’s trying to will my limbs out of entropy, when she presumably means atrophy).
  • Pam Grier wasn’t any more comfortable with dialogue in Jackie Brown but that film was much more of an ensemble piece, and Pam/Jackie could coast always along on attitude. Kill Bill places much more of a burden on its heroine, and there are moments when this feels like Thurmans inadequacies are being somewhat cruelly exposed. This puts an unintentional spin on the already-famous first line (as uttered by the unseen David Carradine): Do you find me sadistic? His last line, however, is even better tipping the whole two-part movie over into delirious melodrama.

by Neil Young

15th October, 2003
(seen same day, Odeon Newcastle)

first seen 2nd October, 2003 : UGC Sheffield

for original review, click here for short version and here for long (long version coming soon)

* Various running-times have been given for Kill Bill Vol.1, from 93 to 113 minutes. Timing given in Variety magazine tallies with that shown to local press on 15th October: hand-timed at 110 minutes, 45 seconds (of which approximately seven minutes are end-titles). This version differs slightly from that screened to national press in Sheffield on 2nd October. Main action originally ended with shot of Uma Thurman in bike gear saying they will all be as dead as O-Ren. Then cut to written and directed by Quentin Tarantino with additional section (featuring Michael Madsen and Julie Dreyfus) as epilogue inside the end-titles. New version includes the epilogue as part of the main action. Written and directed by title card now appears after Julie Dreyfus close-up. It worked better the first time.

** Though listed in the end titles (as well as on the films posters) as The Bride, the character played by Uma Thurman is pointedly never referred to by name or rather, she isn’t referred to audibly. In 2 (chapter 1), her name is stated twice, and in The Blood Spattered Bride (chapter 2) once, but on both occasions it is coyly bleeped out, as if it were an obscenity on a radio-edit of a rap record. Shes only referred to as The Bride by the El Paso father-and-son cops during this section we find out that on the marriage license her name is given as Arlene Machiavelli.