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Tarantino hits his stride with “Kill Bill”

C. Spencer Beggs | Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Kill Bill: Volume 1 has Quentin Tarantino’s dirty little fingerprints all over it – the movie plays like a vanity piece. But not that that’s bad, because if there’s a director that deserves a vanity piece, it’s Tarantino. Kill Bill is the fourth full-length feature he’s directed, but he has already established himself as one of the great directors of American cinema. And Kill Bill proves to be a tour de force of his genius – his self-referential, tongue-in-cheek genius – but genius nonetheless.

The film is about a woman known as The Bride (Uma Thurman) who wakes up from being in a coma for four years after she was savagely beaten and left for dead at the altar by a shadowy underworld kingpin named Bill (David Carradine) and his four-person team of ruthless killers, the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. The Bride, or Black Mamba, a codename by which she was once known, sets out for revenge on her former lover and his dirty-dealing henchwomen and henchman.

But nevermind the plot. Kill Bill isn’t too concerned with plot; it’s a simple revenge story told in a very stylized way. Revenge is the only motivation in the film. At first it seems odd to watch a film with no motivation, but therein lies one of Tarantino’s annoyingly brilliant flourishes: By removing the reason for a story, he can focus on the telling of it.

Kill Bill is a samurai movie. Well, it’s a samurai movie seen through American eyes. Tarantino uses a lot of kitsch and cliché in the film, including an extended anime sequence for one of the character’s back stories, which seems slightly insensitive at first; by the end, however, it’s apparent that Tarantino isn’t trying to make a samurai film, but give us a new interpretation of one.

Like Tarantino’s other features – Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown – Kill Bill is extremely violent. It has been called the most violent movie ever made, which is a debatable claim, but it is certainly one of the most artfully violent.

Where Tarantino really shows off his genius is in the beautifully constructed fight scenes with their precision choreography, artful cinematography and earth-shaking sound editing. The fighters move with a Matrix/Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon superhuman grace, but unlike the slew of Matrix wannabes, Kill Bill manages to retain the drama of the fights without the physical laws of nature. The Bride, though a fierce warrior, does get hurt and leaves open the question whether she will live through the second volume of the film, which will be released in theatres next February.

Tarantino has really hit his stride with Kill Bill, and he knows it. Every second of the film is dripping with Tarantino’s cocky, self-righteous and damned artistic personality. Kill Bill is a terrific film that quite perfectly demonstrates that Tarantino is truly a master of his craft.

Contact C. Spencer Beggs at beggs.3@nd.edu