Revenge is never a straight line. It’s a forest. And like a forest, it’s easy to lose your way…
Dir. Quentin Tarantino
Runtime: Volume 1 – 111 Minutes. Volume 2 – 136 Minutes.
Rating: (Both) 18.
Starring: Um Thurman, David Carradine, Daryl Hannah, Lucy Liu, Michael Madsen, Vivica A. Fox
NOTE: I know that “Kill Bill” is split across two films, but I’m still only going to write one review. Tarantino (apparently) wanted wrote this as a single film and later split it up due to the runtime. If it’s good enough for him to write it as one, then it’s good enough for me to write as one blog rather than two. Feel free to complain in the comments 😀
After getting the “tricky 3rd” film out of the way in the shape of “Jackie Brown” (1997), Quentin Tarantino returned with an epic film in 2003 – or more accurate, two epic films in 2003 and 2004. “Kill Bill” takes its influences from a variety of different areas, from grindhouse films of the 1970’s, samurai cinema, blaxploitation films, and spaghetti westerns too.
Uma Thurman stars as the bride, Beatrix Kiddo – code named “Black Mamba”. She works for a unique group of assassins called the Deadly Vipers which is headed up by Bill (David Carradine), a.k.a. “Snake Charmer“. His group of assassins include Elle Driver, a.k.a. “California Mountain Snake” (Daryl Hannah), O-Ren Ishii, a.k.a. “Cottonmouth” (Lucy Liu), Vernita Green, a.k.a. “Copperhead” (Vivica A. Fox), and Budd, a.k.a. “Sidewinder” (Michael Madsen).
After finding out she is unexpectedly pregnant, Beatrix Kiddo decides that she needs to get out of the gang for the safety of her unborn child. She fakes her death and leaves to make her own life, which includes settling down and getting married. Bill does not take too kindly to this, he takes his revenge on the person he believes killed Kiddo, but then becomes more enraged when he finds out the truth about Kiddo. He leads his deadly vipers to Kiddo and executes her at her wedding, leaving her and her wedding party for dead. Miraculously Kiddo does not die, she is left in a coma and eventually found again. Before she can be killed again, for good this time, she escapes and plans her own revenge for the death of her unborn child. To do the job, she is going to be pushed to her limits and tested at every turn, but as flashbacks show us, she has trained hard for it. While on her mission of vengeance she learns many things about herself and the circumstances she finds herself in – each step brings her closer to Bill.
Fun Fact: Remember in “Pulp Fiction” (1994) when Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) tells Vincent Vega (John Travolta) about her failed TV pilot for “Fox Five Five“? She mentioned that the group had a leader called “Somerset O’Neil” and also featured; “Raven McCoy” (Mia Wallace’s character) – the “deadliest woman with a knife“, a “Japanese Kung-Fu Master“, a “black girl who was a demolitions expert“, and a “French girl whose specialty was sex“. Sure, it wasn’t an out-an-out hint at the Viper’s in “Kill Bill“, but it wasn’t far off despite being 9 years previous.
While this film is split into 2 films, with a reported 3rd film on its way in 2022, I am going to handle it as a complete work. That will save me writing two different reviews, and the continuation of the story makes for a better write up anyway. The plot of “Kill Bill” has similarities to “Lady Snowblood” (1973) and “The Bride Wore Black” (1968), both of which feature a lone female taking revenge on groups of people that have wronged her (and both of which are great films!!). There are however heaps of other influences on show here, from the yellow tracksuit that Kiddo wears which looks like the clothing Bruce Lee wears in “Game of Death” (1972), to the animated sequences which pay homage to Japanese anime such as “Golgo 13: The Professional” (1983) and “Wicked City” (1987).
There are the usual hallmarks of a Tarantino film present, which have followed him from his previous films and feature in his more recent films too. These hallmarks, or auteur signatures are violence, strong language, twists and turns, a narrative which is not always linear, lots of style in the cinematography, and a cool soundtrack. If you are wondering, then yes, there are bare feet on display her, like Tarantino’s other films, and the foot to eyeball scenes is a lovely visceral example of a trademark of the directors being continued.
Fun Fact: Keep an eye open for “Red Apple” cigarettes when Kiddo is at the airport. This made up brand also features in other Tarantino films too. In fact, look closely and you might just find Samuel L. Jackson among the dead bodies at the wedding massacre, and of course Tarantino cameos as one of the “Crazy 88“.
The acting cast across both films is phenomenal. There is an exciting mix of actors, some of whom are first timers to a Tarantino film, and others who have been in his films before. The show is built around Uma Thurman though. Tarantino came up with the idea for the film while doing “Pulp Fiction”, he is said to have worked on it while living in New York between 2000 and 2001. During this time, he spent time with Thurman and her new child Maya. According to reports he even halted production while Thurman was pregnant because he believed that in her, he had found the star he wanted to carry the film. She is also credited as a writer in this with Tarantino, going by the moniker “U”. In my opinion, she really did not disappoint. She has a wonderful character arc which sees her grow and develop as the film progresses. She is not an unbreakable killing machine and often has to think fast and act equally speedy. There are times where it looks like she meets her match, but she is quick to react and never gives in. A good performance is something I can say for the majority of the cast; I never thought I’d see Daryl Hannah be as mean on-screen, or Michael Madsen so hopelessly void of enthusiasm and fight.
There are some good, albeit over the top at times, action sequences throughout the films. If you have ever watched any Japanese samurai films, or spaghetti westerns, then the amount of carnage and blood shed in this film will come as no surprise. Yet Tarantino manages to elevate the action and kill count to ludicrous levels which adds a lot of fun to the film. When I say that at times it is over the top, this is something that cannot be escaped, but then who wants to. I watch films for the fun and the thrills, for the imagination used and suspended disbelief. When John Wayne rides into town and single-handedly takes down all the bad guys – this is not realistic. When Lord of the Rings has a small group of people facing off against Wizards, Orcs, and the armies of darkness – this is not realistic either – but I will still buy a ticket. So, when you watch Kiddo face off against the “Crazy 88” and the cinematography sudden flips between what looks like a 1950’s music and then to a black and white samurai slasher film don’t be surprised. When you hear a five-point palm exploding heart technique being described, take it with a pinch of fantasy salt will you.
Fun Fact: Almost 500 gallons of fake blood was used in this film, although the black and white fight sequence hid some of it so that the censors would pass the film. It wasn’t all about censorship in that scene though, it’s also stylized as a homage to other sword slashing films of the 1960’s and 70’s.
The film unfolds in different chapters each telling a particular story which contributes to the journey the film takes you on. In parts it reminded me of some of the comics I have read previously, one stands out, and that is “Lone Wolf and Cub” which was created by Kazuo Koike and artist Goseki Kojima. The comic of this is split into different volumes, 27 in total for the comic with six films (starring Tomisaburo Wakayama) produced too. It was no surprise to see the condensed American version of this, “Shogun’s Assassin” (1980), feature in the later parts of the film as Kiddo watches a movie with “X” (I do not want to give away who). In recent interviews Tarantino alluded to a Volume 3 being produced in or around 2022, which seems fitting with other interviews he has done for other films when he claims he is striving for a film trilogy, something which seems easier in literature than it is in film. He wants to create his own “Dollars/ Man with no name” trilogy, and volume 3, if it is indeed true, will mark the completion of this with “Kill Bill”.
You may read that there is 2011 version of these two films which is merged into one, “Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair”. That has a runtime of over 4 hours compared to Volume 1 and 2 which run at 1 hour and 51 minutes, and 2 hours and 17 minutes. Do not worry, you are not missing out one anything if you go for this 2011 version – although getting this would be a feat in itself as it has mainly been for private or special screenings only with no home media or theatrical release. The main differences are that there are extended animation sequences, there is more gore which previously got cut, the “Crazy 88” fight is in colour opposed to black and white, and the story of Pai Mei is shown with more details added.
I really enjoyed the “Kill Bill” films. They are bloody and brutal, but they are artistic and fun too. The acting is brilliant from all the characters being portrayed, and the writing that makes them is excellent. As with his other films, this Tarantino film has divided audiences, some clamour for dialogue describing French Cheeseburgers instead while disliking this, some preferred the intricacies of a bank job gone wrong. I prefer these films and this story to “Pulp Fiction” any day of the week. Perhaps it is because of the brutal films I grew up with as a child, but these sings to more from an entertainment point of view because it feels like a comic turned into a film. Not for younger audiences due to the content, but this is a hell of a ride for the right audience.