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



USA 2003 : Quentin TARANTINO : 110 mins (93 113 mins variously reported as running times)

Lucy Liu in Kill BillWere always being told by Harvey Weinstein that Miramax is the House that Quentin Built, and whatever Quentin wants to do in that house is fine by him. Well, after a tentative venture downstairs to join the scary grown-ups with 1997s Jackie Brown, he’s now retreated into the safer environs of his bedroom-universe with Kill Bill : not since the heyday of king-conman Stanley Kubrick have we seen a more spectacular case of a nervy studio indulging a genius director to such grotesquely profligate lengths.

And there’s an especially troubling back-story behind the movies protracted production period most of the filming took place in China, allowing the director to, in his own words, film the Chinese way with more flexible crews. In other words, the famously anti-union Tarantino was able to finally get far away from those pesky Hollywood practices, hire cut-rate labour and employ them for stretches of time that would be unimaginable back home in the USA.

Pompously heralded on screen and poster alike as the fourth film by Quentin Tarantino, its most definitely the least of the quartet though three-and-a-half would be a more accurate tally: Kill Bill Volume One being, of course, only 50% percent of the finished movie which will presumably clock in at somewhere in excess of 200 minutes. This sprawl, and that six-year gap since Jackie Brown, are ironic indeed, considering the fact that Kill Bill is explicitly a tribute to (or more accurately a pastiche of) kung-fu movies: a genre which has always tended towards the conveyorbelt principle of relatively short films, churned out with daunting speed: its an honourable principle to which Takashi Miike is perhaps the last great adherent.

After watching a Miike classic like Ichi The Killer, the megaviolence in Kill Bill seems like rather thin soup indeed, gently pasteurised for squeamish US multiplex audiences: in the climactic bloodbath, Tarantino bafflingly switches to monochrome. Earlier, during an especially gruesome moment, he simply cuts away to black as if shielding our eyes from the horror (just as in Reservoir Dogs his camera went on that little walk while the cops ear was being sliced off). Why? Theres not much sense asking why with Tarantino, we aren’t just entering a movie-theatre when we see one of his movies, were entering his head. And, on this evidence, that simply isn’t as interesting a place to be as it once was.

The plot this time is ostentatiously slight: a nameless female assassin (Uma Thurman, sharp with sword, dull with dialogue) tracks down her former colleagues (Lucy Liu, Vernita Fox, etc) in the Deadly Vipers Assassination Squad who, on the orders of enigmatic boss Bill (David Carradine, heard but never seen) gatecrashed her wedding with bloody results. Four years later our heroine wakes from a coma and sets off on a quest for vengeance that’s no less gore-splattered than her nuptials, presented in a series of time-hopping chapters. Theres no end of padding along the way which could and should have been excised, allowing the whole project to occupy an economic two-hour span. Instead, Tarantino doesn’t seem to know when to say cut and Weinstein would rather trust his wunderkinds judgement than take his usual route of wading in with the scissors himself.

The result has enough touches of wit and brilliance to make it just about a worthwhile, even if the film all too often detours off into the tempting dead-ends of the asinine immaturity. Kill Bill is entertaining and often fun but its a real shame that a terrific talent like Quentin Tarantino should waste his time on what is, fundamentally, a B-movie bloated and hyped out of all proportion.

by Neil Young

14th October, 2003
(seen 2nd October, UCG Sheffield CinemaDays)

for mini review, click here, for the thoughts after a second viewing click here and here for long (long version coming soon)