Kill Bill: Volume 1

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Starring:  Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Daryl Hannah, Michael Madsen

We continue our retro review series of the films of Quentin Tarantino with a look back at Kill Bill: Volume 1.  I have to confess Kill Bill is one of my all time favorite films.  When it first debuted in 2003, I watched it on a Friday night and went right back to the theater on Saturday for a second viewing.  Kill Bill is an action-packed, dramatic, comedic, over-the-top film that is an ode to various “revenge” themed films (i.e. kung fu movies, westerns, blaxploitation films).

Much like most Tarantino films, Kill Bill is told in a nonlinear fashion. The pregnant Bride a.k.a Black Mamba (Uma Thurman) is a former member of the Deadly Viper Squad, a group of assassins led by Bill (David Carradine).  The Deadly Viper Squad consists of O-Ren Ishii/Cottonmouth (Lucy Liu), Vernita Green/ Copperhead (Vivica A. Fox), Budd/Sidewinder (Michael Madsen) and Elle Driver/California Mountain Snake (Daryl Hannah).

Black Mamba attempts to extricate herself from her old lifestyle and start fresh by marrying a regular Joe.  In the midst of her wedding, however, her old gang storms the chapel, beats the living daylights out of her, and then shoots her in the head.  Miraculously, she survives the vicious beating, but she is left in a coma.  When she wakes up, she is no longer pregnant and four years of her life have gone by. 

Black Mamba proceeds to go on a violent quest to avenge the loss of her child.  She strategically goes about acquiring a sword from a legendary craftsman from Japan and then tracks down each member of the Deadly Viper Squad one by one, with Bill, her former lover and boss as her primary target. 

Kill Bill is an incredibly fast-paced film that takes viewers for one hell of a ride.  The plot in the film is fairly straight-forward in that the title character has been horrendously wronged and is out for revenge.  Yet somehow, the characters, the fight sequences, the setting and colorful imagery seem fresh and original.

Uma Thurman is phenomenal as Black Mamba.  When I think of the former model, I don’t think deadly kung fu, sword-wielding assassin.  To her credit, I know she underwent extensive martial arts and language training to play this role, and it paid off.  Thurman is mesmerizing in the lead role—from the hospital scenes when she awakens to find her baby gone to her confrontations with those who heartlessly violated her, she brings a range of emotions to her character.  The other female co-stars are also noteworthy.  Lucy Liu in particular is one of the most badass crime bosses that I have ever seen. 

In addition, the film’s music, helmed by RZA of the Wu Tang Clan, compliments every scene.  Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang, Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” is moving as the film opens on the shattered bride.  The eerily haunting whistle in Twisted Nerve matches Elle Driver stride for stride as she saunters down the hall to assassinate a comatose Black Mamba and Battle Without Honor or Humanity just captures the cool throwback vibe of the film.  Simply put, the music becomes a character of its own throughout the film.

There are some who have criticized the film for being misogynistic in that there are so many violent acts towards women: rape, strangulation, shooting, and brutal beatings.  In light of the recent horrific tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut where so many women and children lost their lives, it is hard not to reflect on violence in film and whether we have become desensitized to it.  To that end, I will say that Kill Bill is not for young persons or people with low levels of tolerance for violence.  It is brutal.  However, I do think it is one of the few films where we have seen a female action star who can go toe to toe with any male action star. 

Kill Bill: Volume 1 earns a sober rating.  Have a bottled water with this one.