Kill Bill Volumes I & II (2003-2004) Director: Quentin Tarantino
“Revenge is a dish best served cold – old Klingon proverb”
A study in dramatic irony packed full of homages to B-Movies, Blaxploitation, Spaghetti Westerns, Samurai Movies, and others, Kill Bill is an enticing tale of revenge which takes us through some of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite classic cinematic tropes. In the film, Tarantino offers tons of fun for those who can stomach his usual bloodbath against the backdrop of a typically depraved, materialistic world. As with his other films, I’m not sure if there is all too much depth here, but Kill Bill is nevertheless a fun ride from one of the world’s great encyclopedic film buffs. As the movie unfolds, we (in the audience) gradually become aware of a dark and vengeful plot which leads one woman to requite the people who wronged her. Four years ago, a pregnant woman known only as “The Bride” in the first film (Uma Thurman) is jumped during a bloody massacre on her wedding day inside a tiny chapel in El Paso, TX. Everyone inside the chapel is brutally murdered, except the Bride who narrowly survives, abeit in a comatose state.
Four years later, she suddenly awakens in a hospital after a mosquito lands upon her. As often is the case in Quentin Tarantino’s films, this world is filled with indulgent, petty, immoral, violent, and hedonistic people. As such, the Bride’s lifeless comatose body has been pimped out for cheap sexual thrills by a male nurse. Naturally, she awakens and slaughters these men before managing to escape. It is now her life’s mission to exact vengeance on the four killers who once attacked on her wedding day. They are members of an assassin group known as the Deadly Vipers which is led by a mysterious man known as Bill. Each assassin in the Vipers represents a unique sub-genre of filmmaking while our protagonist, the Bride, mirrors Bruce Lee in a bright yellow tracksuit.
Told out of order, the Bride visits the suburban home of Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) –an intriguing contrast between a safe American middle-class suburb and a violent assault between two female battle-hardened warriors– but their knife fight is interrupted by the arrival of Vernita’s daughter. The distinction between the innocence of children and the viciousness of violent revenge is stark throughout this film. Moments later, Vernita is killed by a throwing knife in her kitchen. The Bride says she wishes her daughter did not have to witness her mother’s death, and that if she ever decides to come after her, the Bride will be waiting. Next, she pays a visit to a sage-like swordsmith name Hattori Hanzō (Sonny Chiba) who breaks his vow not to craft another sword so that she may have one in order to kill Bill.
Next, we see the Bride as she flies to Japan to kill the former Deadly Viper O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) who has since become the head of an elite assassin group under the yakuza. This leads to an extensive scene of stylized violence as the Bride battles hordes of henchmen, including the squad known as the Crazy 88 –limbs are severed, heads are lopped off, eyes are plucked out, assassins are bludgeoned, and blood is spattered everywhere (the scene cuts to black and white which avoided an NC-17 MPAA rating). After she triumphantly defeats all foes, the Bride steps outside. Snow is gently falls in the house’s private garden as the Bride fights O-Ren to the death (O-Ren is eventually scalped). The first film ends with one of Tarantino’s characteristic scenes from inside a car trunk. The Bride has kept alive O-Ren’s assistant whom she mutilates in exchange for information and then sends her to Bill as a warning. There are few things audiences love more than a story of justified vengeance.
In Volume II, we return to a black and white flashback of the day the El Paso massacre took place. We learn of the Bride’s real name: Beatrix Kiddo (a former member of the Deadly Vipers) and that she was once in a relationship with Bill, and that her unborn child was actually Bill’s. Apparently, her child has survived these four years, as well. We are offered flashbacks of her Kung-Fu training under Pai Mei (Gordon Liu, Bruce Lee allusions abound) coupled with her attack on the next Deadly Viper, Budd, the brother of Bill (Michael Madsen) who lives like a trashy hick in a broken-down trailer in the remote desert. When she tries to invade his trailer, Budd shoots her point blank with a shotgun (somehow she does not die) and she is buried alive inside a wooden box. However, remembering her training, the Bride breaks free. At the same time, Elle (Daryl Hannah) the fourth Deadly Viper assassin comes for Budd. She has an eyepatch –she lost her eye years ago when Pai Mei ripped it out during her training so she later poisons and kills him. At any rate, she offers Budd a suitcase of money for the capture of the Bride but inside is a poisonous black mamba snake which kills him. Then the Bride breaks into the trailer for a dramatic sword fight that only concludes when she gouges out Elle’s other eye.
The dramatic finale takes place in Mexico as the Bride tracks down Bill along with her four-year old daughter B.B. She explains that she initially left the Deadly Vipers when she found out she was pregnant with Bill’s child in order to give her daughter a better life. Bill explains that he ordered her death when he found out she was still alive and getting married. They battle until the Bride uses the infamous “Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique” which finally kills Bill. In the end, the Bride walks away with her daughter B.B. to start a new life.
Kill Bill was initially conceived of by Uma Thurman and Tarantino together during production of Pulp Fiction (though production was delayed when she became pregnant). There were apparently some challenges behind the scenes –Tarantino pushed Uma Thurman to complete a car chase stunt she didn’t want to do, and she crashed the car injuring herself. She asked for the footage of the crash but Miramax refused. Years later, she went to the police for the crash footage while Harvey Weinstein was facing his notorious downfall for widespread accusations of sexual abuse.
Since this was initially intended to be released as a single film, but was divided at the recommendation of Harvey Weinstein, I decided to review both parts together. Replete with allusions to all sorts of Samurai-Kung Fu-Grindhouse-Spaghetti Western flicks, many of which I’m sure went over my head, Kill Bill is an impressive tale of revenge, creatively told in episodic non-linear chapters, at one point even switching to an animated narrative (and I even picked up a couple of Star Trek references), made by one of the most celebrated modern directors. Tarantino is an absolutely brilliant and playful director who has made some of the most intriguing films over the past few decades –perfect for the right kind of moviegoer. Sadly, as I’ve gotten older I have been drawn to Tarantino’s movies less and less. It’s merely a matter of personal preference, though I will admit Kill Bill is a captivating movie that definitely hooked me. All things considered, Tarantino is the master of bloody vengeance. His films often force us to examine which forms of violence audiences will justify as legitimate –the torture and murder of Nazis in Inglourious Basterds (2009), the bloodbath against slaveholders in Django Unchained (2012), and the vengeance of a wronged mother in Kill Bill (2003-2004).