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Kill Bill: Volume I (R)
Official Site
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Producers: Lawrence Bender, Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Daryl Hannah, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen, David Carradine, Chiaki Kuriyama, Sonny Chiba, Julie Dreyfus

Rating: out of 5

For starters: Welcome back, Quentin.

There isnít really a way to talk about Kill Bill without mentioning its violence, so Iíll get that out of the way now. Itís fucking gruesome. Possibly the most violently bloody mainstream American movie ever. Things, many things, are severed, intestines are spilled, heads are impaled, crushed, or both, and a lip is bitten off, believe it or not. And every single minute is thrilling, offbeat, and thisclose to taking the plunge into full-on hysterical comedy, but still never letting it slip.

Like I said, Welcome back, Quentin.

Uma Thurman plays a woman known only as The Bride (every time someone in the film says her name, itís bleeped out), a former assassin for the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (known as DiVAS, heh), who tried to get out after discovering she was pregnant and was punished severely for trying. In flashback, she tells us what happened, namely that her former colleagues invaded her wedding and murdered everyone there, including her husband-to-be and her unborn child. Miraculously, she survived, but only to end up in a coma for four years. When she awakens, thatís when things get moving.

The Bride has created a list, the Death-List Five. Her attackers are listed on it in the order she plans to kill them, culminating with the Bill of the title (Carradine, playing the elusive card nicely), her former boss and, to make things more complicated, former lover. What follows is an epic vengeance story, mythic in scope, intimate in the little details, and so rich with grind-house film lore it could keep an obscure-film buff busy for days thinking it over.

And Tarantino has been quoted as saying that Kill Bill is his grind-house movie. Itís easy to see how he makes that distinction. The violence here has a vaguely pornographic sheen to it, as if killing hundreds and getting off are two sides of the same acid-burned coin. Thereís no denying the voyeuristic pleasure you get from watching these beautiful women face off in various iconic clothes (the jumpsuit, the schoolgirl skirt, the kimono, the nurseís outfit), and certain fight scenes, particularly the near-spiritual showdown between Liu and Thurman, seem like they were staged with an eye toward the romanticís idealism: itís like the holy coming together of two warriors in love who have waited for this moment their whole lives.

Itís in those moments between the women, those moments that feed the mythology conceived in the backstory, that Kill Bill has instances of very real human emotion. Thereís regret, shame, disappointment, but, mostly, thereís just the heaviness of betrayal, with both sides, perpetrators and victim, trying desperately to make things right, but always knowing that revenge is never the remedy it promises to be. In Kill Bill, Tarantino is wise enough to realize that satisfaction more often than not is the ultimate missing link to revenge.

And if he had explored that a little more, he would have a freaking masterpiece. As it stands, though, Kill Bill is a grinder homage that never quite lets down its flippant veneer long enough to be much more than an outstanding film diversion. Tarantino is usually careful enough not to let his irony get the best of his story, but at unguarded moments, Kill Bill is too self-conscious for its own good. With Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, Tarantino weaved a nice combination of look-at-this bravado and respectful tribute, but even then you could see the seams starting to wear. Jackie Brown was less flash, more subtle genre admiration, and has been his most emotionally rich film so far. But now, with Kill Bill, I think Tarantino may have finally let his irony go on too far without check. Because, while Kill Bill may be the most exciting film Iíve seen in years, I canít shake the idea that the filmmaking is insincere.

óCole Sowell

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

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Wait for video rental.

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