It’s been a long wait for a new Tarantino film. The critical acclaim but box office blues of Jackie Brown (1997) seemed to scare the king of cool under a rather large reclusive rock, but after a long hibernation he’s back with a vengeance. Or rather, Uma Thurman’s back for vengeance, she’s got to Kill Bill, and Tarantino’s back in the driving seat, with his foot so far down he’s leaving skin on the highway!
We open with the terrible near-death of The Bride, Uma Thurman, at the hand of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. Lead by the enigmatic (but, in volume 1, never actually seen) Bill (David Carradine), the squad beat The Bride to a pulp and Bill seemingly ends the story, putting a bullet into her head. Of course, days later, the Texan sheriffs investigating discover you can’t really kill Uma. Four years in a coma, a new metal plate in her head and a bloodlust like no other, The Bride awakens, and starts the hunt for The Deadly Vipers and, of course, Bill. We learn The Bride was once ‘Black Mamba’, a member of the Assassins, who tried to leave the fold: the only way you escape is if the Vipers no longer exist, so that’s exactly what Uma’s going to achieve! First off, Copperhead (Vivica A. Fox) meets the end of Uma’s knife. Then we get the real show of Vol. 1 as Uma hunts down O-Ren Ishii, aka Cottonmouth (Lucy Liu), who has become the Yakuza boss of Tokyo during Black Mamba’s coma, and now has her own iconic entourage and personal army. But as Uma seeks out her Ishii, no one’s going to stand in her way …
The story aside, which is probably the best Tarantino’s ever penned, Kill Bill is one of the most amazingly shot films in a long time. Each frame oozes artistry. Every set captures everything about the Hong Kong action films/Yakuza gangster flicks/Spaghetti Westerns/anime extravaganzas that Tarantino is both paying homage to, and proving how much more you can do with these genric traditions. Take the story of O-Ren Ishii, for example: we begin with an origin story of the murder of Ishii’s parents told in glorious sinewy anime style, complete with torrents of blood from every wound, and the revenge-of-the-11-year-old orphan. Cut from that to the material world as Black Mamba convinces retired Samurai swordmaster Hattori Hanzo (Sonny Chiba) to craft her the only weapon that could defeat Bill’s (who wield his own Hanzo blade, having been a student of the swordmaster in decades gone by). Then segue to a brilliant buzzing Tokyo restaurant scene (complete with a Japanese girl-band doing Elvis covers) with Ishii and her ilk, and a showdown as Uma kills off all 88 of Ishii’s army (whose attack looks remarkably like the Agent Smith clones scene from Matrix: Reloaded, one of a thousand filmic homage moments), takes down Ishii’s inner circle and then chases Ishii outside where we cut from the metropolitan restaurant to the most idyllic traditional Japanese garden setting, complete with water-feature and drifting snow, for the Samurai-style showdown between these former assassins! While words could never capture the brilliance of these scenes, suffice it to say, your eyes will be all a-tingle with every shift, scene change and kung fu kick! And don’t even think you’re going to resist buying the soundtrack with everything from Nancy Sinatra’s ‘Bang, Bang’ to original music from RZA.
The first line of Vol. 1 is David Carradine’s “I bet I could fry an egg on your face right now, if I wanted to.” By the end of Kill Bill: Volume 1, that’s exactly how you’ll feel, but with any luck your head won’t explode in the chasm of anticipation before Volume 2 graces the million multiplexes in February next year.