Ponty always delivers some of the most thoughtful and poignant film reviews, and this week’s installment is no different. He’s really nailed the essence of these films, which are properly understood as two parts of one larger film.
I’m also impressed with Ponty’s rigor in making his picks; he’s much more intentional about his choices than I am. I’m impressed with the way he considers his picks carefully, and it’s apparent that he really struggled with what to put into this #4 slot.
But, wow, what a pick! When these flicks came out in 2003-2004 I was just starting college, and managed to largely miss them. I always thought (and still somewhat do think) that the title is stupid, but it does say what the flicks are about.
There’s where any stupidity ends. The Old West meets The Mystical East, all with Uma Thurman slicing and dicing through baddies. It’s grindhouse and kung-fu and everything trashy and awesome thrown into one super-long flick.
Number 4 has been a blooming nightmare. I could have used several films in this slot. In fact, I’d started to write a couple of reviews for this space until I changed my mind. At first, it was the Lord of the Rings Saga (2001-3). Then it was the Spanish thriller Intacto (2001). I’d thought about including the French romantic comedy Amelie (2001) and then, after much head scratching and many cigarettes, I remembered that Tyler and I would be doing a honourable mentions slot, to go in before our top choices, so it didn’t matter what I went for.
With that in mind, I’ve opted for Kill Bill, Volumes 1 & 2 (2003-4). You may say it’s a cop out, putting two movies in one slot, but I don’t see it that way. It’s all one story just like Lord of the Rings, The Godfather (1972) and so many more. And while I’m a huge fan of Tarantino and his early hits, Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994), Kill Bill is an amalgamation of all of Tarantino’s early influences and loves, blended together perfectly in a superb revenge flick, brutal in parts, insightful and amusing in others. Tarantino’s love of old fashioned rock and roll, soul, and funk takes centre stage, as it does in all of his movies, as well as some seriously good forays into Manga, bringing together the past and the present and making it look slick in the process.
The film focuses on a young woman known only as The Bride (Uma Thurman). Gunned down at a wedding rehearsal by assassins known as The Deadly Vipers, she returns from certain death to enact her revenge on her would be killers, leading to her eventual showdown with their leader, Bill (David Carradine).
The pacing is perfect, giving us plenty of time to not only get invested in the characters but their various backstories, so much so that when The Bride makes it to the end, you know how hard she has fought for it. And while the focus often switches – from live action to Manga, black and white to colour, past to present – there’s nothing confusing, rushed, or distracting about it. It all works. You never feel that the variety of techniques displayed in the film are overly pretentious or intrude onto what is a great story. That’s one of the things that made Tarantino a genius in this industry. He gave us characters we could become invested in, a plot that had style and substance and added his own particular touch to make it smooth and easy to watch, despite the violence and bloodshed.
One of the things I loved about this movie was Tarantino’s distinct direction. It’s a revenge movie, yes, but it plays, in many ways, like a comic book. The Bride, in one of the first scenes, pulls up at the house of Vernita Green, one of her would be assassins. It’s a picture perfect house in a nice suburban neighbourhood, toys and kids’ playthings on the lawn. From this scene alone, you know what kind of life Green has taken since leaving the Vipers. The Bride notices this after she presses the doorbell, a short close up followed by a look over her shoulder at the toys littering the lawn. Green opens the door and the camera quickly zooms into the face of The Bride, flashbacks of the attack blended into a face full of rage, revenge music lifting the tension before, bam, her fist flies into Green’s face and their fight begins. Every scene, from the moment she leaves her car to the start of this fight could have been plucked straight from a comic. Partway through the fight, Green’s young daughter is seen through the window getting off a school bus and moving towards the house. The mis-en-scene shows us two heavily bloodied women in the foreground and a little girl walking in the sunshine in the background. A bizarre picture but it works and the film is littered with scenes like this.
From the kill or be killed fight in Volume 2 which leads the hitwoman to abandon her attempt to kill The Bride because she finds out the latter is pregnant or the very chilled but menacing encounter with Bill in the last moments of the second film, Tarantino has no issue playing with our expectations, constantly surprising his audience with very normal and moving moments in environments where you’re expecting something very different. That said, you always know you’re watching a Tarantino movie, mainly because of the music and the violence, both of which are done superbly. He also introduced us to the delights of the 5,6,7,8’s, a Japanese all girl rock and roll band, who play in the club where The Bride attacks O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Lui).
Each of the Deadly Vipers have their own story, their past and their present and each of these features have their own distinct style. With O-Ren, we find out how she became the killer she is through a brilliant Manga segment.
Budd (Michael Madsen) recognises The Bride’s desire for vengeance but is unwilling to go quietly, resulting in a great capture in which The Bride remembers her own training, with the magnificently bearded Pai Mei (Gordon Liu), a frightening martial arts expert who puts The Bride through hell. The title of this sequence – “The Cruel Tutelage of Pai Mei” – says it all.
Ellie Driver (Daryl Hannah) is, to put it bluntly, psychotic and David Carradine, as Bill, is as charming as he is threatening. Uma Thurman, though, deserves all the plaudits she got for her performance. She plays the role of her life in this film. Yes, it helps that she’s surrounded by an excellent cast, all of whom perform outstandingly, but every emotion, she nails on perfectly. If martial arts are not to your liking nor the various subtleties of Quentin Tarantino, then you should at least watch it for Thurman’s execution. Stunning in the action sequences, stirring in her many moving scenes.
Because of the way the movie was made and the fact that it was split into two, we’re given the opportunity to invest in all of the characters, not just the main players. The Bride’s foray to Okinawa to find a fabled Japanese swordmaker gives us one of the most revered and poignant moments in the film, when The Bride receives a sword he previously vowed not to make in a very respectful ceremony.
This is a film that blends the old world with the new (elements of the Old West, the new Orient and the Yakuza are heavily on show), giving us fables as well as wisecracking wit and, Audre, I know you’re not overly happy with cussing but this is a film that everyone should watch. It’s nowhere near as bad, on the cuss-o-meter, as previous Tarantino incarnations but it contains many memorable scenes and some moments of true genius, expert film making at its best.