Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #48

A Roaring Rampage of Revenge

Also Known As: Kill Bill: Volume 1

Country: USA
Language: English, Japanese & French
Runtime: 111 minutes
BBFC: 18
MPAA: R

Original Release: 10th October 2003 (USA)
UK Release: 17th October 2003
First Seen: cinema, October 2003

Stars
Uma Thurman (Pulp Fiction, My Super Ex-Girlfriend)
Lucy Liu (Charlie’s Angels, The Man with the Iron Fists)
Vivica A. Fox (Independence Day, Sharknado 2: The Second One)
Daryl Hannah (Splash, Wall Street)
David Carradine (Death Race 2000, Q: The Winged Serpent)

Director
Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds)

Screenwriter
Quentin Tarantino (True Romance, Django Unchained)

The Story
Left for dead by her former teammates, highly-skilled martial artist the Bride awakes from her coma with one thing on her mind: to hunt down her would-be assassins in a roaring rampage of revenge.

Our Hero
The Bride, aka Black Mamba, aka [bleep], is a deadly assassin out for revenge against the gang of former associates who tried to murder her, in particular their leader, Dave. No, wait, that’s not right. What was his name? Anyway…

Our Villains
The five former members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad who were involved in the Bride’s ‘murder’. In this film, that amounts to Veronica Green (aka Copperhead), who has settled down as a suburban mom, and O-Ren Ishii (aka Cottonmouth) who is now the leader of the yakuza, commanding a veritable army of ninjas. You’ll have to wait ’til the next film for the other three members to turn up properly, including their leader, Bob. No, wait, that’s not right. What was his name?

Best Supporting Character
O-Ren Ishii’s ultra-violent head bodyguard, teenage schoolgirl Gogo Yubari. Proficient with a weapon that I’ve just learnt is called a meteor hammer. How awesome is that?

Memorable Quote
“That woman deserves her revenge and we deserve to die.” — Budd

Memorable Scene
The House of Blue Leaves: after calling out O-Ren Ishii, defeating her six bodyguards, and meteor hammer-wielding Gogo, the Bride turns to face O-Ren herself… when the sound of dozens of motorbikes roars outside. “You didn’t think it would be that easy, did you?” In flood O-Ren’s yakuza army, the Crazy 88, surrounding the Bride. The fighting begins, and when our hero bloodily plucks out one of their eyes, the film smash-cuts to black & white to obscure the ensuing bloody bloodbath of bloodletting.

Memorable Music
Tarantino once again raids his record collection to create the film’s eclectic soundscape. The stand-out track is surely Tomoyasu Hotei’s Battle Without Honor or Humanity, the theme from New Battles Without Honor and Humanity (aka Another Battle), which has been co-opted into endless TV montages since it appeared in Bill. Of course, there’s also the cover of Woo Hoo by the 5.6.7.8’s, which contains the immortal lyrics, “woo-hoo woo-hoo-hoo, woo-hoo woo-hoo-hoo / woo-hoo, woo-hoo, woo-hoo woo-hoo-hoo.”

Truly Special Effect
In his quest for authenticity to the ’70s martial arts movies he was homaging, Tarantino forbid the use of either CG blood or modern physical methods. Blood spurts were achieved in the same way the Shaw Brothers movies did decades earlier: condoms full of fake blood that splattered on impact.

Making of
The big battle with the Crazy 88 (see: memorable scene) is in black-and-white everywhere apart from Japan (and in The Whole Bloody Affair single-film cut (see: next time)). This is partly an homage to US TV screenings of kung fu movies in the ’70s and ’80s, when censors insisted scenes of extreme bloodshed be obscured by the removal of colour. However, the scene was meant to be in colour (hence why it still is in Japan), but the MPAA demanded the scene be somehow toned down — hence why Tarantino threw in the old TV technique. So it is an homage, but one brought about for the same reason as the originals.

Next time…
Originally shot as one film, Kill Bill wound up way too long and so was split in half for its initial release, with Vol.2 coming out six months later. Tarantino has long promised a single cut version, known as The Whole Bloody Affair, and since 2011 a version of that has screened a couple of times at the L.A. cinema he co-owns. No luck for the rest of us, though. Rumours persist of a Vol.3, which Tarantino always said he wanted to wait ten to fifteen years to make, so we’re in prime “maybe now?” territory.

Awards
5 BAFTA nominations (Actress (Uma Thurman), Music, Editing, Sound, Visual Effects)
2 Saturn Awards (Action/Adventure/Thriller Film, Actress (Uma Thurman))
5 Saturn nominations (Supporting Actor (Sonny Chiba), Supporting Actress (Lucy Liu), Director, Writing, Cinescape Genre Face of the Future Award – Female (Chiaki Kuriyama))

What the Critics Said
“Quentin Tarantino’s giddy homage to the movies he grew up with at the grind houses — the Hong Kong chop-sockies and spaghetti Westerns and samurai and blaxploitation flicks. […] There is no ironic overlay in Tarantino’s movies, no ‘commenting” on the pop schlock he’s replicating. He simply wants to remake in his own way the kinds of movies he’s always loved, and he’s about as uncynical as a movie geek can be.” — Peter Rainer, New York

Score: 85%

What the Public Say
“post-modernism retains an awareness of the past, and examines how the past can be reshuffled into something new and exciting. The idea is to take pieces, tropes and archetypes from past-movements and to reshape them, deconstruct them and reference them, ultimately, with the goal of transcending them. And Quentin Tarantino, as a director, understands this process. […] Kill Bill is something of a post-modern masterpiece, and whilst it never really goes beyond the surface of its tropes, it remains one of the most impressive and entertaining movies of the 2000s.” — Carl, some films and stuff

Verdict

If Tarantino had pulled his finger out and bothered to release The Whole Bloody Affair in a way most of us could see, I might’ve bent my own rules and allowed that on. As it is, faced with Kill Bill possibly taking up two whole spots on my hotly-contested top 100, I opted to include just the first half. Back when the two parts came out, I might’ve made a case that Vol.2 was better. Perhaps it still is — but Vol.1 is certainly the more iconic.

Last year’s Hateful Eight seemed to provoke a lot of “my personal ranking of Tarantino films” posts, which just proved that everyone has a very different take on the ordering of his movies — Kill Bill came last in its fair share. It’s an interesting step in QT’s career, marking a shift from talky American crime dramas to wild genre homages. Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction may be more innovative, but the style and shape of Bill is a herald for what was to come in Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. I like those two even more, but its appropriation of ’70s kung fu styles keeps Bill distinctive and largely enjoyable.

#49 will be… a Black comedy-mystery.

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