37. Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Sonny Chiba, Julie Dreyfus, Chiaki Kuriyama, Gordon Liu, Michael Parks

Sometimes, a good old fashioned revenge story is all you need. As there is generally not much more to them than “protagonist is wronged, protagonist tracks down the villain, villain gets their comeuppance,” it falls on the director to get creative. In the case of “Kill Bill,” this meant that Quentin Tarantino was able, as he was with his three previous feature-length efforts (“Reservoir Dogs,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Jackie Brown”), to show us what sort of movies he grew up on or with which he is otherwise enamored. This creates a very special director/audience bond that I think is significantly undervalued these days.

Originally conceived on the set of “Pulp Fiction” by Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman, the plot revolves around a former assassin known to us only as The Bride (Uma Thurman), who four years earlier was beaten up, shot and left for dead at a wedding chapel in El Paso, Texas by the very people she used to work alongside. The trouble is that the Bride was also pregnant, and is none too pleased when she wakes up from her four-year long coma. From there, she makes it her mission to first will her limbs out of entropy, and then to go after the five people responsible for her predicament. In true Tarantino-like fashion, the movie is presented in a non-linear manner, and as such we are shown the Bride tracking down and dispatching her second target, Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), in the movie’s first scene following the prologue and opening credits. The rest of “Kill Bill Vol. 1” then is devoted to the Bride tracking down her first target, O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), including a beautifully animated sequence telling O-Ren’s ultra-violent origin story. As a result, instead of the question of IF she will succeed in her mission (How else would there be a “Vol. 2” if she doesn’t?), the question turns to HOW she will succeed. Vol. 1 leaves three names left on the Bride’s Death List: Bud (Michael Madsen), Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) and Bill (David Carradine).

Everybody here does a great job. I would never have considered Uma Thurman as an action hero until this movie’s release in 2003. David Carradine, although his face is never shown in Vol. 1, is finally given a second iconic character for which he will always be remembered. But I think the scene stealers here are Sonny Chiba and Chiaki Kuriyama. Tarantino has a habit of forecasting people he wants to work with in future projects by doing a bit of name-dropping in each of his scripts. In “True Romance,” for which he wrote the script but did not direct, the main character played by Christian Slater is a huge Sonny Chiba fan through his “Street Fighter” movies (not to be confused with the videogames or Jean-Claude Van Damme film adaptation of the same name). Tarantino also is a fan of Sonny Chiba’s Japanese TV show “Kage no Gundan” (aka “Shadow Warriors”). The characters played by Chiba throughout each series are all named Hattori Hanzō. Chiba’s sword-maker in “Kill Bill” is simply meant to be the latest Hattori Hanzō. As for Chiaki Kuriyama, who plays O-Ren’s bodyguard Go-Go Yubari, she presents as great and memorable a one-on-one challenge to the Bride as any of the five on her Death List. Tarantino found Kuriyama by watching the 2000 film “Battle Royale,” which I am convinced must have served as at least a partial inspiration for the “Hunger Games” franchise of books/movies.

Tarantino’s own list of inspirations for “Kill Bill” does not end there. It includes, but is not limited to:

Sanjuro (1962), Death Rides a Horse (1967), The Mercenary (1968), Twisted Nerve (1968), Fists of Fury (1972), Lady Snowblood (1973), Gone in 60 Seconds (1974), Deep Red (1975), Black Sunday (1977), Game of Death (1978), City of the Living Dead (1980), Samurai Fiction (1998), the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone & the suspense thrillers of Brian De Palma.

The music for “Kill Bill” is also made up almost entirely of things Tarantino borrowed from other movies/TV shows. THE very best for me is “The Lonely Shepherd.” With that song’s inclusion, this movie (along with “The Karate Kid”) taught me that it’s perfectly okay to be a fan of Gheorghe Zamfir. As for the movie itself, it took a second viewing for me to really get what it was all about. As I was re-watching it for the millionth time (exaggerated, of course) for the purposes of this review, I was reminded of my feelings at the time, and it struck me that I had a similar experience with “Inglourious Basterds.” I’m thinking now I may have to give that one a second look, soon, because if I can change my mind so drastically about “Kill Bill,” who’s to say I can’t do it again?


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