Kill Bill, Vol. 1
****/**** Image A- Sound A Extras C+
starring Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, David Carradine
written and directed by Quentin Tarantino
by Walter Chaw There is a palpable, undeniable perversity to Quentin Tarantino's fourth feature film, a taste for the extreme so gleeful and smart that its references are homage and its puerility virtue. I seem to find a reason between every Tarantino film to dislike him, to cast aspersions on my memories of his films, but I'm starting to think the source of my dislike is jealousy. Tarantino is the director Spielberg is too timid to be: a gifted visual craftsman unafraid of the contents of his psychic closet, and a film brat whose teachers happen to be blaxploitation, samurai epics, and Shaw Brothers chop-socky instead of John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock. And it isn't that I have aspirations of becoming a filmmaker, it's just that I want to be as good at something as Tarantino is at making movies.
In a powerhouse opening, The Bride (Uma Thurman) finds herself betrayed on her wedding day by her former employer, Bill (David Carradine)--her entire party slaughtered and herself, four months pregnant, with a bullet winging towards her brain. Kill Bill, Vol. 1 is a revenge fantasy presented as something of a shrine to the conventions of the Hong Kong and early Japanese epic tradition--the geyser sprays of Lone Wolf and Cub (and the end of Sanjuro) married to the wire-fu of master Yuen Wo-Ping and the katana-play of Sonny Chiba. More, a sting from Ennio Morricone's score for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly can be heard during a showdown between The Bride and one of her would-be assassins, O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), marking the picture as Tarantino's attempt to emulate Sergio Leone, the filmmaker he admires most.
There's a segment presented in anime, and another that jumps between colour and black-and-white in time with the pulse of the action. Kill Bill, Vol. 1 is audacious and cocksure, finding a moment in the midst of the bloodletting to honour the art of sword-making and the light comic interplay that marks most Asian action epics of the last four decades. It's more than a fabulous (and fabulously violent) action movie, it's an exercise in cinema as high pulp art; like the golden age of the pulp-art medium, the picture reflects the undercurrents and trends in American culture in what is arguably its most tumultuous period since the end of the 1960s. In the film are issues of gender identity, maternal duty, and Japanaphilia--an affection for the cultural artifacts of the Land of the Rising Sun on the rise since 9/11 provided for the United States its own dose of nihilism and technophobia, fixations that are the foundation of a Japanese culture born from the ashes of two nuclear attacks.
Fascinating and almost tactile, Kill Bill, Vol. 1 is marked by, above all things, a sense of vertiginous joy, a spirit of risk-taking mirrored by its two-part release that is not only not particularly distracting given Tarantino's built-in chapter-stops, but also demonstrative of a marvellous courage in the value of his product. Easily the most exciting filmmaker in the world right now, Tarantino is the real deal: a deceptively romantic author possessed of love for the medium and enough skill to know when to just let the power of his images and scenarios work for him. He works in film, as filmmakers should, and though a legion of Tarantino imitators strives to tarnish his rep with knock-offs high on meaningless shutter-stop pyrotechnics (see: Robert Rodriguez), the truth is that the man himself is pure. Kill Bill, Vol. 1 isn't Tarantino's best film, it's just his next film, and it's been a long time since it was this difficult first to separate a director from his work, then to separate one work from the ever-evolving, ever-maturing oeuvre. See the picture if you love the movies--it's the old iron for a new day. Originally published: October 10, 2003.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers Buena Vista's unconditional support of the Blu-ray format stands completely separate from the quality of their transfers, which goes up and down. I'm happy, nay, relieved to report that Kill Bill, Vol. 1 looks pretty sharp despite that the source prepared for its standard-def counterpart was not overhauled in any significant way. There are still traces of edge-enhancement, but DNR is likewise minimal and the insanely loud colours lose their analog bleed. If black crush is an intermittent issue (ditto some borderline banding in low-light situations), there's a new garden of earthly delights to savour in 1080p that overshadows the presentation's shortcomings. Gone is the DTS audio, alas, supplanted by a 24-bit, 5.1 PCM uncompressed option unfortunately inaccessible by yours truly at this time.
The DD 5.1 mix does return, but it's been mastered at a higher bitrate of 640 kbps and sounds more like the previous DTS track than like the DD 5.1 of the DVD. (The dialogue has that slight harshness you expect from DTS.) It's demo-worthy and strives to be; when Gogo Yubari swings a mace over her head, the whoosh-whoosh does 360s around the room--and when said mace strikes something, it does so with the sonic impact of a cannon blast. Crank this baby up. Unfortunately, these Kill Bill discs (Vol. 2 to be reviewed next week) remain shamefully light on supplementary material: In addition to the watchable but superficial "The Making of Kill Bill, Vol. 1" (22 mins.), which will tell fans nothing new, you get two unabridged performances by The 5,6,7,8's ("I Walk Like Jayne Mansfield" and "I'm Blue") plus "Tarantino Trailers" for Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (teaser), Kill Bill, Vol. 1 ("Bootleg"--whatever that means), and Kill Bill, Vol. 2 (teaser). All of these extras are in 4:3 and 480i--note, too, that the original burned-in subtitles are replaced with player-generated ones. Originally published: September 2, 2008.