When I was thirteen years old and sitting in theaters for one of the Matrix sequels, a trailer came up for “the 4th film by Quentin Tarantino”. This was the first I’d ever heard of the man who would, seven years later, be my favourite director currently working in Hollywood. And at the time, I had no idea who he was. All I knew was that his 4th film looked really, really cool. It must have been Matrix Reloaded, cos the only trailer that still said Kill Bill. I followed the movie’s production online and found out that it was being split into two movies in post- for two reasons: first, to sell more tickets; second, so that no one would have to sit through four hours of movie. I’m the kind of titanic idiot who listened to all 60 minutes of Metal Machine Music, so I don’t watch Kill Bill Vol. 1 or Vol. 2 any more. Instead, I watch a fanedit of both movies in one, as it was always meant to be.
Kill Bill comes from a time in Tarantino’s life where he suffered “epic-itis”. After Jackie Brown, every movie he wrote turned into a four-hour movie marathon, combining all of his favourite parts of many disparate genres of film. This was when he started developing Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds and his career graduated from the small LA crime scene onto the world stage of movies that are movies about movies. Kill Bill was uniquely suited to be split into two features. It’s a two hour ode to Kung Fu followed by a two hour ode to the Western, following the epic story of B██████ █████, and her revenge on the people who killed her and her unborn child on her wedding day. But the Bride (Uma Thurman), as she is known, isn’t an ordinary woman. She’s a retired assassin, who used to go by the codename of Black Mamba, a former member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (or DiVAS for short). And the man who dealt the “fatal” blow to her head with a handheld cannon was her former boss and lover, Bill (David Carradine).
That’s the plot to this four hour butt-numb-athon, and it’s a satisfyingly simple framework on which to hang one of the most elaborately staged love letters to action and exploitation cinema ever filmed. This movie is made of such a fanboyish charm and filmed with such an obviously overflowing glee that it may be Tarantino’s most idiosyncratic work. This movie could never be made by any other man, for no other man would have the encyclopedic knowledge of film necessary to love all of the parts this movie is made of. The biggest cinematic allusion in this movie is perhaps the very premise of a team of five foxy assassins starring Uma Thurman, who previously played Mrs. Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction–an actress who starred in a pilot for fictional series Fox Force Five. The overall plot is taken from Lady Snowblood. The Bride’s jumpsuit is identical to Bruce Lee’s from Game of Death.
It was with this feature that Quentin Tarantino’s career changed gears and he became a big-time filmmaker. Genre became a plaything, something to be sampled like tiny courses of food over an epic buffet. His movies became flashier and glossier, gaining a complexity in cinematography beyond even the prettiest shots in Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown. The script, despite a large amount of it being improvised during filming, is one of Tarantino’s finest, featuring cracking dialogue and a Shakespearean structure befitting the scope of the action. Not a lot of movies with this runtime can boast improving on subsequent viewings, but Kill Bill manages the feat. Not many of the movies this length can boast music as tastefully selected and written as this film, and it’s a compliment to both The RZA and Robert Rodriguez that their music doesn’t feel out of place in a Quentin Tarantino film. As this is his only film with original music to its scenes, it’s nice to know that it’s well done.
Upon release of the second half of this movie, it was instantly debated as to which was better. While comparing the two parts of this movie is sort of like comparing halves of a single book, the comparisons hold up. The first half of this movie is used to establish the rules of the universe in which this story takes place. The second half of this movie introduces plot, character motivation, complexity beyond I kill you and you die. Killing is no longer seen in a glorious or glamourous light, instead shown to be as brutal and savage as it is in life. The reasons behind this lie in character, as the Bride has stopped killing people she likes and is instead killing those she either hates or is most betrayed by. It’s really very interesting. Whereas the first half has been accurately summed up as a two hour action scene, the second half is deliberate, contemplative and realistic. The final blow of the film represents more than vengeance and a saga complete, because it’s been so imbued with meaning by the previous four hours.
All that I’ve said here in praise of this film has to inevitably be balanced out by some flaws. First, this movie is four hours long. Now, I’m not saying long movies are worse than short movies, I’m saying long movies are harder to pace than short movies. Tarantino and his editor Sally Menke worked a wonder with this feature in keeping the pace up over four hours, but it does spend most of its runtime winding down from the climactic battle at the House of Blue Leaves. It’s a great movie, or rather, a pair of great movies joined at the hip, acting as its own sequel after an absent intermission. The performances from the entire cast are–as per Tarantino’s usual–superb, but there are no standout performers above the rest. It’s an excellent epic, and a film any crew member should be proud of being involved with. However, Tarantino had yet to find a way to use movies about movies to say something meaningful, so the experience–while emotionally profound–comes off as unusually shallow for him. It’s a shallow epic, like Pulp Fiction, but that shouldn’t stop it from being seen as one of the greats. THREE AND A HALF STARS