Review: Kill Bill: Vol. 1

The film’s constant bloodletting is more desensitizing than provocative.

Kill Bill: Vol. 1
Photo: Miramax Films

Quentin Tarantino isn’t a filmmaker—he’s a disc jockey. And thanks to the almighty Harvey Weinstein, audiences won’t get to see his entire Kill Bill compilation for another year (warm up those DVD players!). Until then, you’ll have to settle for the soulless mixtape that is Kill Bill: Vol. 1. Revenge is a dish best served cold. So says the half-film’s opening maxim, which the director more or less uses as an apologia for the icy, paper-thin madness that ensues. The Bride Wore Black meets Charlie’s Angels when Uma Thurman’s nameless protagonista (referred to as The Bride) wakes up from a four-year coma and decides to eliminate the titular mob boss’s motley crew of assassins who put her there. For volume one of Kill Bill, Thurman’s killer babe gets to play the samurai with Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) in Los Angeles and O-Ren Ishi (Lucy Liu) in snowy Japan. Elle Driver (Daryll Hannah), who’ll presumably meet her end in Kill Bill: Vol. 2, gets a mere cameo here when she pays The Bride a visit at the hospital worthy of “Melrose Place.” Chiaki Kuriyama, as a school-girl-cum-bodyguard, more of less steals the film. Her scenes are Tarantino’s only attempts at social provocation, toying with the innocent nymphet fantasies common to Japanese culture and turning them upside down. Everything in the film is a joke: the gargantuan intertitles, the caps lock used for some of the English subtitles, the chopsocky music, the recycled catch phrases (“Silly Rabbit, Trix are for kids” and “Even Steven”), the Star Trek references, and so on. The only thing missing from the film is the self-congratulatory laugh track. Yes, some of the gags are funny, but one or two were bound to stick when you have 20 or 30 of them flying at you at once. But, even then, who gets the credit: Tarantino or the film’s editing? Kill Bill: Vol. 1 is essentially a pop-culture wanker’s failed multimedia experiment, a vacuous junk heap of dorky gags and riffs, violent anime and offensive slapstick. Tarantino repeatedly tortures The Bride before allowing her to summon her rage. Thurman makes for a remarkable woman warrior (her performance is certainly more emotional than the film that carries it), but it’s unfortunate that her empowerment rituals depend on Tarantino’s permission. The film’s angry violence is expertly cued to the noise-and-funk on the soundtrack, but the constant bloodletting is more desensitizing than provocative. Which is more or less the problem with the film: Tarantino is too busy making shout-outs to every other film under the sun to ever make his own, let alone have an original idea.

 Cast: Uma Thurman, Daryl Hannah, Vivica A. Fox, Lucy Liu, Michael Jai White, Chia Hui Liu, Sonny Chiba, Larry Bishop, Chiaki Kuriyama, Julie Dreyfus, Chris Nelson, Bo Svenson, Michael Madsen, David Carradine  Director: Quentin Tarantino  Screenwriter: Quentin Tarantino  Distributor: Miramax Films  Running Time: 111 min  Rating: R  Year: 2003  Buy: Video, Soundtrack

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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