Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
I have brought up the Kill Bill movies in a number of recent reviews, and not always in the best light. When I originally saw Vol. 1 when it premiered I thought it was an amazingly fun bit of cinema, combining Quentin Tarantino's knack for visuals and music with his love of old exploitation and martial arts movies. It was an obvious homage, but a good one, in large part because Tarantino is one of the few American directors that knows how to film martial arts fight scenes correctly.
Over the years, however, I have had a chance to see many of the films that influenced it. And, by influenced, I mean at times it felt like the movie was assembled from various parts of other movies. I have either accidentally run into them, like Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell and Lady Snowblood, or I have actively sought out movies (or plan to) like the Shaw Brothers martial arts features. Even the "I'm Buck" line was taken from a Tobe Hooper movie called Eaten Alive. The question that has lingered in my mind over the years as I have read other critical reviews of the Kill Bill films and watched the movies that influenced them was how much original material there was, or whether Tarantino just plagiarized about everything and mashed it together so that it looked original.
I honestly had not seen either of the Kill Bill films since around the time they came out, save tuning into the battle at the end of Vol. 1 and having a number of nephews and nieces suddenly spellbound at what was happening. It may be because I don't repeatedly watch movies as many people do, but my opinion of what I originally thought was one of the more successful Tarantino films (largely because he focused on action and plot rather than long side conversations) shrank over time. But, as I have recently watched the two Lady Snowblood films, I thought it was time to revisit this, if anything just to see how similar they are.
The Bride (Uma Thurman) is left for dead in a church in El Paso by her former colleagues, the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. The other members are Vernita (Vivica A. Fox), Elle Driver (Darryl Hanna), O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) and Bud (Michael Madsen), and the whole thing is led by a mysterious man named Bill (David Carradine) who, for whatever reason, ordered the Bride's death on the day of her wedding. The entire party was wiped out and they thought they killed her, but she was left in a coma.
Four years later she wakes up in a hospital and, after killing a lecherous orderly, escapes to begin her revenge. We first see her go up against Vernita, aka Copperhead, before flashing back to her clash with O-Ren, aka Cottonmouth. During this time we are also introduced briefly to the other members of the squad (although Bill's face is never shown), and learn that the Bride was pregnant at the time, so she is not only taking revenge for herself.
It is hard to really accuse Tarantino of ripping off other movies because he is so upfront about where everything came from. Lady Snowblood's theme song is played during the fight between O-Ren and the Bride and much of the other music is taken from various movies, and are all from his vast collection of soundtracks. In many interviews he has gleefully said what movies he is referencing and where. Even the animated part, which I thought was a reference to Lady Snowblood's inserts of the manga it was based on, was influenced by a Bollywood serial killer film.
All this boils down to the fact that Kill Bill: Vol. 1 should not be anywhere near as good as it is. Even knowing all this while going in for a second viewing just shy of two decades later, as soon as the fight starts between the Bride and Copperhead in a middle class suburban home I am hooked. He may have had his influences, but Tarantino is still original enough with how and where he stages his action and how he directs his films that it doesn't matter. The more noticeable thing as the movie goes on is not where everything came from, but the sheer amount of women's bear feet put in different situations because of his own personal reasons.
This movie has a great cast, with Uma Thurman being a versatile lead in a role that could have come across as one-note, and a complete complement of other actors that just make this film excel. It also helps that, like I mentioned before, Tarantino has seen enough classic samurai and martial arts films that he knows how they should be filmed. It is solely to his credit that this movie latches on and doesn't let go and make a compelling watch. There is enough here that is from Tarantino's mind that it feels like what it should be, which is grand escapist entertainment.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
Time: 111 minutes
Starring: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Lucy Liu, Sonny Chiba
Director: Quentin Tarantino