Chalk up Kill Bill as another triumph for Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino is quite possibly the most enigmatic filmmaker working today. With his early scripts like True Romance and Reservoir Dogs, he proved that he can combine intense action with sharp, witty dialogue while drawing on his deepest Film Noir and tough-guy movie influences to deliver the goods. His finger forever on the pulse of cool, he makes the kind of movies he likes to see, and each one he makes serves as homage to a genre he loves. This is most apparent in Jackie Brown; a movie completely pulled from the "blacksploitation" films of the seventies, but it also comes through quite clearly in Kill Bill and Kill Bill Vol. 2, which were both inspired by the best and worst of the Hong Kong martial arts films.
The Origin Of Kill Bill
As early as the principal photography for Pulp Fiction, Tarantino toyed with the idea of a "revenge" movie with action sequences and influences drawn from his favorite Hong Kong martial arts films. He discussed the idea with Uma Thurman, who was playing the supporting role of Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction and, together they came up with the character known primarily as The Bride (you never do learn her name until about midway through Volume 2). The idea was put on a back burner as Tarantino went about his other moviemaking duties. Among those chief duties were bringing El Mariachi director Robert Rodriguez into Hollywood and working to get some of Hong Kong's finest films released in America. He waited until he had both the Hollywood pull and the studio support (Miramax has been very good to Quentin, and he has been very good to Miramax) to get the movie done the way he wanted it. When he was ready, he called Uma.
The Supposed Death Of The Bride
At the start of Kill Bill we have only the vaguest concept of what is going on as we see The Bride, beaten and bloody, sniveling in fear as she is lectured about the concepts of sadism and masochism by the as yet unseen Bill (David Carradine). She has time only to tell him, "Bill, it's your baby" before she is shot in the head and sent into a four-year long coma.
It is explained that The Bride was once a member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, a group of ruthless killers for hire led by the mysterious Bill. All of the squad's members are known by code names like "Cottonmouth" and "California Mountain Snake" (The Bride is "Black Mamba"), and all are weapons and martial arts experts. The Bride had left the team (and Bill) and was attempting to start a new life, marrying a record-store owner in El Paso, Texas. During the wedding rehearsal the squad attacks, killing everyone in the little chapel except The Bride, who they merely assumed was dead.
The Bride's Revenge
After a plan to assassinate her in her sleep - in a brilliant sequence obviously inspired by the work of Brian DePalma - was called off by Bill, The Bride awakes from her coma. She then escapes the hospital by literally willng her legs out of atrophy and starts on her path of bloody revenge. Why only the muscles in her legs suffered, this is unexplained - we must suspend disbelief a bit.
The various scenes are shown out of chronological sequence in classic Tarantino style, but we are treated to a fantastic fight scene between The Bride and Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), The Bride's trek across the globe to Okinawa to seek out the legendary Hattori Hanzo (Sonny Chiba) to satisfy her need for Japanese steel (a Samurai sword), and to Tokyo where she will take on O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) and her personal Yakuza army, the Crazy 88.
In the end, much blood is shed, and The Bride comes close to death herself. She prevails, however, and manages to cross two names off of her death list.
The Kill Bill Experience
Kill Bill is a movie that is nearly impossible to explain. It must be seen to be appreciated, and while one need not be a fan of or even familiar with classic martial arts films, it certainly helps to heighten the enjoyment of the movie.
The appearance of Sonny Chiba as Hattori Hanzo, for example, is probably considered a high point in Tarantino's career - at least by Tarantino. On need only watch the beginning of True Romance to understand how much of a Chiba fan Tarantino is. Hattori Hanzo is the character Chiba played in the classic Street Fighter films. We also see that Tarantino is a fan of Japanese Anime Movies through a marvelously produced segment that provides O-Ren's back story, and The Bride's visit to Tokyo shows his Japanophile nature. He even managed to get the 5, 6, 7, 8's (a Japanese all-female rock band which specializes in sixties style surf-rock) to perform during the scene leading to the film's climax. Not since Star Wars has the influence of Asian films been so apparent in an American movie.
Too Much Movie
Tarantino has earned a reputation for shooting lengthy films, but he poured so much into Kill Bill that there was no way to release the whole of his footage as one film. Rather than leave some of his best work on the cutting room floor, Tarantino opted to make two movies at once. The audience would have to await the release of Volume 2 to finally see The Bride Kill Bill.