Quentin Tarantino has, so far, made fewer movies than I have fingers. Yet his films are so distinctively stylistic that every time a new one comes out everyone from the Cannes Film Festival to the Academy Awards pays attention. This explains why when the first trailer for “Kill Bill” came out it proudly said “Miramax presents the 4th film by Quentin Tarantino” as though it was the announcement of a major event. Given the sight of Uma Thurman surrounded by sword-wielding henchmen to the tune of yet another great Tarantino soundtrack, it did indeed look like an affair to remember. When that first trailer came out, Miramax had not yet announced their decision to split the film in two. Given the full film’s four-hour running time, it did make logical and not just financial sense. The man does like to write a lot of scenes, but whether they involve blood flow or word flow, they are always excellent scenes.
This film came out in October 2003, a few months after my family and I had moved back to Québec City after an 8-year stint in South America, and two months after I had turned eighteen. So two things: number one, I was finally able to see American movies the month they were released in America and not four months later, and number two, I could walk into a theatre and watch whatever I wanted. Not that had stopped me from watching “Reservoir Dogs” or “Pulp Fiction” beforehand, but it was great to walk into a movie theatre with my older brother to see a film filled with bloody carnage and lines like “I collect your fucking head.”
As with many Tarantino films, “Kill Bill” is a tale of revenge featuring one tough leading lady. Uma Thurman plays an assassin who goes by many names; but mostly goes by The Bride since she was gunned down on the day of her wedding along with her fiancé and all her friends. Bill (David Carradine), her former employer did not take kindly to her leaving his organization and so he ordered the rest of the DIVAS (Deadly Viper Assassination Squad) to walk into her church and shoot everyone dead, despite the fact she was clearly pregnant at the time. Yet as fan favourite Sheriff Earl McGraw (Michael Parks) notices when examining her body, she is not quite dead yet.
Four years later The Bride awakens from a coma and is understandably upset upon realizing she has a metal plate in her head and no baby in her belly. After escaping the hospital and stealing a pickup truck with the world’s least inconspicuous name (Pussy Wagon!), she begins to plan her revenge. She makes a list of the people involved in the massacre and leaves Bill for last. A simple plot, but the way this plot unfolds is as usual uniquely Tarantinoesque.
The story does have a clear beginning, middle and end, but the structure is fractured. We first see The Bride going after assassin Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), yet the list shows she is second on the list, and number one has already been crossed off. The fight between the two happens after an even bigger battle in Japan, but all movies are rarely shot chronologically, so maybe Tarantino is reminding the audience this is just a movie.
In fact the film is filled with touches that highlight the fact this is nowhere near a place we call real life. When The Bride’s real name is mentioned, it is bleeped out for the simple reason of preserving the mystery of her identity for as long as possible. During the ultra violent battle between The Bride and the army of henchmen fighting for assassin O-Ren Ishi (Lucy Liu) so much blood is spilled the screen suddenly turns to black and white. During flashback scenes that tell O-Ren’s violent origin story, Japanese anime is used to show her traumatic childhood and rise to crime boss of Japan. I think this is Tarantino saying “this is violent, but fun violence. Enjoy.” Will do sir.
Yet in the middle of all the severed limbs, there is a message here. After killing Vernita, The Bride notices the assassin’s 4-year-old daughter was standing in the doorway. Before leaving she tells the girl if she still feel bad about it when she grows up, The Bride will be waiting. This highlights the problem with killing for revenge: as long as the person getting killed has friends or family, the conflict could go on forever. The Bride wronged Bill, so he had her shot. The Bride wakes up and kills Bill’s assassins. These people could know people who will want to avenge their death and could go after her later (Kill Bill Vol. 3?). Maybe this whole cycle of death could be avoided if these maniacs would do the smart thing and not pick up a weapon in the first place.
The film’s violent content was certainly shocking the first time around, and after seeing it in theatres my brother assumed I wouldn’t want to see Volume 2. He assumed wrong. Maybe a couple of years before I would have been taken aback by the violence, but by the time this first Volume came out I was in fact desensitized by the violence. I went from being scared of the bloody scenes in the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to enjoying the sight of a man being decapitated and blood flowing out of his head like a fountain. It felt great to be eighteen.