Review: Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003)
Starring Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Chiaki Kuriyama, Sonny Chiba, Gordon Liu, Kenji Ohba
Fight Choreography by Yuen Woo Ping
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
“Revenge is a dish best served cold.”
–-Old Klingon Proverb
For years Quentin Tarantino has made films that hearken back to the films that he loved from the 70’s: crime films, black exploitation films, and guys-on-a-mission movies. He’s paid homage (or ripped off, depending on what side of that fence you sit on) to all of these films, but, to this point, his crowning achievement may very well be Kill Bill.
Kill Bill’s story revolves around The Bride (Thurman), an assassin who was part of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad led by the enigmatic Bill (Carradine). The operative word is “was” as she is seen after being beaten by the other members of her Squad, and finally shot by Bill as the film opens. We then fast forward to the home of fellow assassin Vernita Green (Fox) an expert knife fighter whom The Bride comes to take her revenge, but finds the venue not what she expected. We then are treated to flashbacks to show how she survived being shot, to how she gets a truck named “Pussy Wagon”, and her journey to Okinawa to have a special sword made by Hattori Hanzo (Chiba, who also played the character in his Shadow Warriors TV series in 1980).
The Bride then makes her way to Japan, to settle the score with O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), who controls the Yakuza, with her crazy sidekick Gogo Yubari (Kuriyama) and her right hand man Johnny Mo and his Crazy 88’s. The Bride intended to murder and kill her way to a confrontation with Bill, who has secrets of his own that could change everything…
Kill Bill is first and foremost a revenge film, and one of the best of its kind at that. Uma Thurman, in what is probably her best role, is fantastic as The Bride, and is able to convey the vengeful emotions that can make you sympathize with her, even though she is really no better than any of the people she dispatches in the film. You don’t get to see David Carradine much, but his voice and presence is felt throughout the entire film. You barely see Michael Madsen at all in this film, but sets himself up nicely for the next. Vivica A. Fox makes the most of her small role, and provides a good mix of menace and vulnerability. Lucy Liu is the main antagonist for this film, and she pulls it off nicely. Gordon Liu, who probably should have the name “Master” in front of his name, like the Brits get knighted and called “Sir”. Gordon doesn’t have much to do acting wise, but he’s cool doing it. Sonny Chiba, on the other hand, shows he hasn’t lost any of his on screen charisma, and while he doesn’t get to fight, does a great acting job, especially his hilarious back and forth with long time friend and protege Kenji Ohba in the sushi house scene. The only disappointment is there wasn’t more of them. Chiaki Kuriyama is great as the insane Gogo, and pulls off the craziness really well. Daryl Hannah, like Carradine and Madsen, makes an appearance and sets her character up very well, but we don’t get into her character until the next film. The anime that tells the story of Oren Ishii is fantastic, and takes what could have been something ho-hum in live action and makes into a great scene in animation. My one gripe, if I have one, is that for a film that features so many Japanese characters Tarantino couldn’t get Yasuaki Kurata into the mix? I think there is scientific evidence that exists proving Kurata makes everything 100% better.
Yuen Woo Ping does his normal masterful self in choreographing the fights, and it was pleasant to see him doing so for an American film without tons of wire harness stunts. The opening fight between Thurman and Fox is simply a fantastic way to set up the film, as it is so well done, and both women look way more convincing as martial artists than anyone in the later Matrix films. That fight, a brutal mix of knife play and hand to hand combat is masterfully shot, and sets up everything else in the film nicely, even though the style of choreography changes as the mood of the film does.
The Bride’s fight with Gogo is also great, and features the most wire work in the film, and I think that was done to pay homage to the films that DO use wire harness stunts, as the sound effects puts everyone on notice that yes, they are doing something unreal. The crowning achievement here is the fight between Uma Thurman and the Crazy 88’s, which is a bloody masterpiece of severed limbs and gigantic blood sprays. The fight with Lucy Liu is also well done, but there are a lot of far away shots, so it’s hard to tell how much of it is them or their stunt doubles.
Kudos to Tarantino for mentioning Charles Bronson and Chang Cheh in the film credits.
Kiai-Kick’s grade: 10
A fantastic achievement of a film by Tarantino that respects and pays homage to the kung fu and samurai sword films of the 70’s and early 80’s. A well-told story that never lets up, and finishes in an exciting and bloody climax!
NEXT: Shu Qui, Karen Mok and Zhao Wei take on Yasuaki Kurata in So Close!