Uma Thurman is the avenging angel in this long-awaited fourth film from Quentin Tarantino. Intense gory martial arts action
Crime boss O’Ren-Ishii (Liu) paces the gallery of the House Of Blue Leaves, watching her subordinates take on The Bride (Thurman), a samurai-sword wielding blonde dressed in a natty, blood-stained yellow tracksuit. As The Bride disembowels and decapitates a dozen yakuza flunkies, pausing only to rip out the eye of one assailant to uncork another plume of blood, one wonders: what does all this mean for feminism?
The first volume of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill sees women stalk one another as remorselessly as Sergio Leone’s nameless gunfighters. Men hardly get a look in. The face of the titular Bill is concealed from us throughout. In place of machismo, we have a ferocious femininity – the snarl of a mother protecting her child. A different strain of aggression drives this action movie, maternal yet predatory. Tarantino riffs on this with his opening fight where the Bride and Vernita Green (Fox) break off from their knife duel when Green’s daughter returns from school.
The Bride is after vengeance. After taking a beating at the hands of her former colleagues from the The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, the final bullet to her head is delivered by Bill, who also happens to be father of the unborn child. Waking from a four-year long coma, the Bride clutches at her empty womb and unleashes a feral howl. It is a searing moment from Thurman, who showed up to work on the film only two months after giving birth. What does this mean for feminism? Hard to say, except perhaps that hell hath no fury like a heavily pregnant woman gunned down on her wedding day.
A self-conscious interweaving of numerous exploitation genres – in this volume, the influence of Japanese samurai movies and the ultra violence of Takeshi Miike (Ichi The Killer) are particularly strong – unfortunately one also thinks of McG’s Charlie’s Angels films. Superficially, at least. What with all these kick-ass chicks and Lucy Liu strutting her stuff. In fact, Kill Bill is the anti-Charlie’s Angels. It is a deliberate riposte to the cartoon kung fu, lukewarm Matrix leftovers, and shoddy CGI – what Tarantino dismisses as all that “computer game bullshit” – that Hollywood has been dallying with while the director was away. Where McG’s franchise speeds you through its incompetence, Tarantino dawdles to shade in more characterisation, to fill in back story, to embellish every inch of the plot before marking it with a signature flourish. The director of the 90s is back and he might as well have signed the right hand corner of every frame.
Unfortunately, he is so brimming with ideas and ambition that his film had to cut in two to meet the needs of distributors. Miramax took this course of action rather than edit their one-time wunderkind. An unsympathetic studio might have trimmed the extended anime sequence about O’Ren-Ishii’s troubled childhood, for example, although this is an intense treat depicting events almost too agonizing and heartbreaking to witness in live action.
Kill Bill arrives at a moment in mainstream movies – between the second and third Matrix films, before the final part of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, ahead of another bloated Harry Potter installment – where Hollywood is willing to test the bladder strength and patience of its audience like never before. Whether it is the fashion for director’s cuts or DVD deleted scenes, it is a contemporary truism that art is best served if the excised portions are restored. With this spirit in mind, the dividing of Tarantino’s epic into two volumes may be seen as a victory for integrity. However, cynics may suggest that numerous installments mean punters shelling out more times for the same film, both in the cinemas and again for the various extended DVD editions.
Whichever way you want to slice it, this is only half a film. Though it contains many pleasures – and it’s great to see such an influential director returning with such a stylistically exuberant work – it is missing the classic satisfying element of any story: an ending.
Verdict A blood-stained love letter to exploitation movies that seems to be missing a few pages.