Kill Bill Vol 1 & 2 (2003, 2004) dir. Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Lucy Liu, Darryl Hannah, Julie Dreyfus
**** and ***
Both “Kill Bill” films have been recently released on Blu-Ray. Unfortunately it’s the same North American version with that especially bloody section of the Vol 1 finale diluted to black and white. Fans will know that audiences in other more liberal markets got to see that wonderful sequence in bold and beautiful full bloody colour. Apart from this omission, the films are a glorious addition to the growing Blu-Ray library and showcases brilliantly Robert Richardson’s sumptuous cinematography.
With today’s eyes it’s hard to imagine the two "Kill Bill" films as one. During production Tarantino intended the film to be watched as a whole, but during post-production it was reported that Harvey Weinstein suggested breaking it into two films. Though I find it hard to accept that Miramax would bank roll a single 4+ hour film for mainstream release in the first place, this is the official story.
Years later, “Kill Bill” is still a thoroughly enjoyable experience, a return to the wild idiosyncratic cinematic exuberance which Tarantino enchanted us with in “Pulp Fiction”. While “Reservoir Dogs”, “Pulp Fiction” and “Jackie Brown” were all influenced by numerous films and genres-favourites of his youth, Tarantino showed off his influences most proudly and undisguised in “Kill Bill”.
Vol 1 opens with the classic 1960’s “Shawscope” logo announces to us that this will be his “Kung-Fu” movie. But “Kill Bill” is many other things – a 70’s revenge exploitation film, a Spaghetti Western, an Italian horror film, and for one sequence even a Brian de Palma thriller homage.
Debate will rage on forever which film is better, but for me, Vol 1 is a more satisfying experience.
Each chapter in Vol 1 seems to trump the one previous. Let’s go through the order: Chapter 1 contains the knife-fight scene, a well-choreographed and humourous battle between Vivica Fox’s Vernita Green and Uma Thurman’s The Bride. Chapter 2 contains the marvelous hospital sequence including Tarantino’s split-screen homage to De Palma’s “Dressed to Kill”, which precedes the hospital escape sequence. Tarantino is at his cockiest when he cuts to his anime flashback scene establishing O-Ren’s backstory (book ended by Uma’s wiggling toe). Chapter 4 slows down the pace but also warms up the tone. The Bride’s conversation with Hattori Hanzo cleverly builds up to the reveal of his famous Samurai swords – a key plot point in Vol 2. And of course the film ends with a series of escalating fight sequences in the House of Blue Leaves.
Vol 2. takes the pace and exuberance down a few notches after the rambunctious finale in Vol 1. Vol 2. is constructed like a spaghetti western. Most of the action takes place in the desert, either at Budd’s trailer, or Bill’s rural compound and is paced with the same calm, quietness as the great Sergio Leone classics. The highlight of Vol 2. is the Bride’s flashback to her kung-fu training in China bookended by her dramatic escape from her buried coffin. We also see for the first time the title character, Bill. He’s played by David Carradine, famous for his role in TV’s “Kung-Fu”, but also a number of great 70’s films which also influenced Tarantino to cast him. Tarantino characterizes Bill as a soft-spoken humble man. I can understand why Tarantino plays Bill with this zen-like cool, but we never get to see the ‘sadistic’ Bill Tarantino hypes up for us. Arguably this results in the film’s dialogue-heavy anti-climax at the end of the second film.
Both volumes of "Kill Bill" couldn’t exist without the other, while Vol 2. doesn’t reach the melodramatic grandeur of Vol 1., the second film is a more serious character-driven film. What we learn about The Bride, Budd and Bill himself rounds out all the playfulness of the first film and deepens Tarantino’s masterpiece beyond the superficiality of an homage film. Enjoy.
“Kill Bill Vol 1 & Vol 2” are available on Blu-Ray from Miramax Home Entertainment
Here's the full colour 'House of Blue Leaves' sequence: