You remember that thing about turning the other cheek? Well, turns out that Black Mamba (Uma Thurman) doesn’t believe in it. What she does believe in however is good, old-fashioned revenge, and she gets more than her share of it in Quentin Tarentino’s latest flick, Kill Bill: Volume 1.
After having been in a coma for four years, Mamba suddenly wakes up, but is still plagued by her last memories: while at her wedding rehearsal. She was attacked and left for dead by her ex-boss Bill and a group of professional assassins who answer to his every command. But even shooting her in the head wasn’t enough to kill her, and Mamba isn’t too happy with the way things were left.
When she finally comes to, she only has one idea on her mind: find the five killers she holds responsible for her demise and the death of her unborn daughter, and make them pay with their lives. “It’s mercy, compassion, and forgiveness I lack,” says Thurman’s character, “not rationality.”
Tarentino does not waste a second in setting up his story. Opening with a close-up of Mamba’s beaten up face washed only by her tears, an image that is incredibly painful to watch, he then jumps right into the first fighting scene, Mamba finally getting some payback first against Copperhead (Vivica A. Fox). This fight and every one thereafter are impressive in the skill that they require both in front and behind the camera.
The same attention to detail can be seen in Tarentino’s choice for his soundtrack. Just as the story unfolds in many different locations (Texas, California, Japan), Tarentino made sure that the music clearly reflected the sources of his inspiration, from Asian music to the scores that usually accompany old westerns. The juxtaposition of such diverse musical styles makes for a strangely enticing sound experience.
This aspect of the movie also relates to Tarentino’s exercise as a whole. Of his own admission, his purpose with Kill Bill is to find the similarities that abound in some of his favourite genres (Kung-Fu, western, anime) and tie them together with a common thread. The result is a genre-bending, unique piece of filmmaking.
All the usual Tarentino elements are here: excessive violence (even more so than in all of his previous films combined), a good dose of pulp, and humorous dialogues and set-ups to boot. With so much humour in the midst of all this violence, it’s sometimes hard to tell whether it is there to relieve the tension or accentuate it. It’s the type of ambiguity good movies are made of.
Kill Bill is also the ultimate “woman power” flick (not the type you’ll hear Oprah talking about though), owing a lot to the exploitation genre that made Pam Grier famous. Uma Thurman gives a very strong performance, one deserving of an Academy Award nomination that will never come. They’ll give an Oscar to Jim Carrey before ever considering handing out an acting award for a Kung-Fu movie.
Mamba is quite possibly the toughest chick in cinema history. She’d beat Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley and all of her clones from the Alien series with both hands tied behind her back. However, she has to settle for the strong women that she comes up against in this first instalment.
When she finally gets to fight men at the end of the movie, almost a hundred of them are needed for her opponents to be equal. But, of course, they are not. In the best Kung-Fu style, she takes them down one by one in one of the most amazing fight sequences ever shot (with barely any computer graphic images).
With its share of cut-off limbs, blood spurts, rape, pedophilia, and murder, Tarentino knows how to make his audience question whether they should be enjoying themselves so much at the sight of such crude images. But hey, I’ll take this any day over the sentimental, melodramatic disappointment that called itself Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.