BILL: VOLUME ONE (2003)
Director: Quentin Tarantino
A film's quality can be drastically altered by the enthusiasm of its participants. For example, a movie like Evil Dead 2 might only be sub-par if it weren't for the dedication of those involved both in front of and behind the camera. Such is the case with Quentin Tarantino's energetic homage to spaghetti westerns and '70s kung-fu flicks, Kill Bill. Originally clocking in at somewhere in the neighborhood of four hours, Miramax had Kill Bill halved during post-production, and the results were Kill Bill: Volume One and Kill Bill: Volume Two. Two separate films, released with a six-month interim. This review's gonna cover Volume One, so let's get cracking.
In Volume One, the story is exquisitely simple. When a pregnant female assassin (Uma Thurman) decides to leave her team of fellow mercenaries-for-hire, the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (or "DiVAS" for short), in order to get married and start a new life, her former crew shows up at the wedding rehearsal and takes out everyone there, including the bride herself. Fortunately for her but unfortunately for her attackers, the bride lives, but remains in a coma. She awakens four years later, only to discover her child is gone and that a nurse at the hospital (Michael Bowen) has been pimping her comatose body to his friends for 75 bucks a go. She kills the nurse and his latest client, then heads to Japan to meet a legendary maker of swords, Hattoro Hanzi (Sonny Chiba). The bride convinces the long-retired Hanzi to craft her a sword because she has "vermin" to kill, and sets forth with her Hattoro Hanzi steel on a quest to get revenge on the DiVAS and their leader, Bill (David Carradine). Volume One follows the bride as she hunts down the first two names on her hit list: Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) and O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu).
In an interview, Quentin Tarantino described Volume One as "kill, kill, kill" and Volume Two is "Bill, Bill, Bill." I think that's a pretty accurate description, because Volume One is all about the action. Since Volume One's share of the plot is so simple (the bride shows up and kills people), it can concentrate entirely on the bride exacting her bloody vengeance on those who tried to kill her. It's a fast-paced, visceral kung-fu movie, no bones about it. Even though most of the cast doesn't really get to do anything until Volume Two, the acting in Volume One isn't bad. Though she spends most of the movie fighting, Uma Thurman is great in the scenes in which she actually gets to play a character. I also really liked Lucy Liu as O-Ren. There should be more "former teenage assassins that become patronizing yakuza bosses that will decapitate you for questioning her" in movies.
Meanwhile, the fight scenes were really enjoyable. The choreography is just mind-blowing, so thumbs up to the stunt guys that put them together. The opening fight between the bride and Vernita is good, yet was improved on in the bride's awesome climactic fights with O-Ren and Gogo Yubari (Chiaki Kuriyama). I also liked the massive fight with the Crazy 88s, yet I disliked the fact that most of it was in black and white. Even though it worked as a form of censorship (screw you, MPAA!), it also served as an homage to the censorship done when bloody kung-fu movies used to air on television. I personally feel it was an homage that could have been done without. Considering the almost cartoonish nature of the Crazy 88s fight, the MPAA should have allowed at least the majority of the scene to slide. The most graphic violence was animated anyway (the bride's anime-style story about O-Ren's life), so maybe the MPAA should lighten up.
Speaking of the Crazy 88's fight, the makeup effects by KNB EFX are brilliant. I've long been a fan of KNB and their work, and they didn't let me down in Volume One. The score (composed by The RZA of rap group The Wu-Tang Clan) is also great, with an oriental sound that enhances the movie in a fine way. Finally, Tarantino's direction is the definition of wonderful. He crafts both volumes in a way that even viewers that aren't fans of the genres that Kill Bill fall into will probably find something enjoyable. All of Tarantino's films are enhanced by their enthusiastic director, and the two volumes of Kill Bill are no exception. Tarantino is probably the biggest movie geek in Hollywood, and the movies he makes obviously show that.
Even though it's the first half of one long film, Volume One is absolutely wonderful as a stand-alone movie. The cast's enthusiastic charm and Tarantino's creativity work wonders, so I'll give Kill Bill: Volume One four stars. While better viewed back-to-back with Volume Two, it's still a good movie that should be seen. My only hope is that one day, Miramax will release both volumes edited back together as they were meant to be seen.
Final Rating: ****