In many ways we all owe Jackie Brown a huge debt of gratitude…
After Quentin Tarantino’s third film failed to make the same critical splash as his first two movies, there was a sense that QT’s attempt to go slightly mainstream kind of backfired. Based on an existing work and cutting back heavily on the twisted timeline nature of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, 1997’s Jackie Brown felt like the motormouth auteur was too restrained for his own good, so when he returned in 2004 with Kill Bill, the course correction was impressively excessive.
Crafting a pulp, comic book universe alongside his muse Uma Thurman, “Q & T” delivered something utterly unexpected, a throwback, female led, martial arts, action extravaganza that took all of Tarantino’s usually obsessions (revenge, shuffled timelines, pop culture, feet) and dialed every single one of them up to oblivion.
It was time to thrill with Kill Bill.
After her simple, makeshift wedding gets shot to pieces by her sadistic boss, Bill, a mysterious, pregnant, ex-assassin known to us only as The Bride languishes in a coma for four years. Content to let her slumber in oblivion, the shadowy Bill calls off his team, The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad and life goes on as they all goes their separate ways. However, when the Bride suddenly wakes up to find herself without child, the talented killer drags herself out of hospital, gets herself fighting fit and makes a list detailing her four former teammates and her lover/murderer Bill with the aim of wiping them off the face of the Earth.
While the movie starts with The Bride going toe to toe with Vernita Green (Codename: Copperhead) in the living room of her suburban living room, the tangled timetime actually has her go after O-Ren (Codename: Cottonmouth) Ishii first which brings up some interesting challenges.
You see, since her time in the Assassination Squad, O-Ren has climbed the ranks of organised crime in Tokyo to become the leader of the Yakuza which means that she not only has lunatic, 17-year old, schoolgirl Gogo as her bodyguard, but a small army of sword wielding soldiers known as the Crazy 88 as well.
The fact that she has her work cut out for is something of a fucking understatement, but to even the odds (barely) she swings by to persuade Bill’s old teacher and legendary swordsmith Hattori Hanzõ to forge her a blade that will aid her in her bloody quest.
Tackling every foe head on as honor demands, The Bride has to wade through oceans of spilled blood to get the payback she demands, but even if she succeeds, this is only Vol. 1 – she’s still a long way from Bill, yet…
If you thought QT was guilty of pilfering images, themes and styles before, Kill Bill Vol. 1 finds him at possibly the most light fingered of his entire career. Borrowing huge amounts of imagery from everything from Hong Kong Kung Fu epics to Italian Giallo thrillers to even a splash of Blaxploitation here and there, this is Tarantino’s delirious love letter to the grungey flea pits of Grindhouse cinema long before the joke got driven into the ground. Expanding his repertoire far beyond coffee shop convos and endless mexican stand offs, by going more “immature” with his style, Quentin proves he’s never been more fully rounded as a filmmaker.
As a stylistic choice, it’s one he’s never looked back from as he’s subsequently utilised his unorthodox plotting and tenuous grip on reality on every film since. Using David Bowie on the soundtrack and killing Hitler in Inglorious Basterds? That’s Kill Bill. The over exagerated characters in The Hateful Eight? That’s Kill Bill? Excessive usage of perpetually perky ex-stuntwoman Zöe Bell in virtually every film since? You best believe your ass that’s Kill Bill.
In fact every daring, off beat decision the director has made since making that first step into movies that featured heightened reality and fucked with conventions has pretty come from the freedom that this eccentric actioner has given him to explore.
Of course, those in the know remember that Kill Bill was meant to be one huge gargantuan movie and that Miramax reasoned that no one would come and watch a four hour Kung Fu movie, thus splitting it into two parts much like the Bride does to a member of the Crazy 88 during the bonkers “final” showdown and so as a result we have a lightning fast story that’s freed of the pressures of actually having to finishing this roaring rampage of revenge and so it just has fun.
It has so much fun in fact, pound for pound it may just be Tarantino’s most entertaining movie hes made as his storytelling style neatly slices off the fat, leaving no filler whatsoever. The cast who actually manage get their moment in the sun are great with Uma Thurman going above and beyond to reinvent herself as a relentless killing machine while still giving the Bride a distinct personality that avoids the usual moody hero in a mission trope. As the featured members of the Assassination Squad, Vivica A. Fox and Lucy Liu create very distinct characters who both have their relatable sides (mother and bound by honor respectively) that stop them from becoming full-fledged, cackling cartoon villains.
However, among the cool tunes, snappy dialogue and glorious Pussy Wagons, where Quentin impresses the most is with the incredibly capable fight scenes with the vicious, opening brawl whetting the appetite for the huge battle set in a restaurant called the House Of The Blue Leaves where the movie easily makes a mockery of The Matrix Reloaded, a movie released the same year that also featured a single hero fighting off innumerable suited assailants but without the use of dodgy CGI.
Breezy, violent and very, very funny, this feels like Tarantino completely unchained and untethered in a way we’d never seen him before – the anime origin of O-Ren is fucking sublime and the fights were shot with actual crews that worked on numerous Hong Kong action epics – and the playfulness the movie afforded him super charged his career far beyond mere gangsters with guns.
Simply put, Kill Bill kills.