Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino both draw heavily from their cinephile roots for inspiration in their own films. Spielberg has his 1940s adventure cliffhangers and action serials, while Tarantino routinely indulges his love of more postmodern delights: exploitation, noir, Japanese samurai flicks and spaghetti westerns, to name a few. Once you buy in to that analysis, it's easy to think of Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (Miramax) as Tarantino's Raiders of the Lost Ark, a thematically simple yet thrilling movie-house experience that virtually explodes from the screen with spectacular, heart-thumping action, droll dialog and kinetic cinematography. Like much of Tarantino's previous work, it's primarily an exercise in style. Kill Bill is a straightforward tale of revenge -- unrelenting, bittersweet revenge -- lethally delivered with humor, splashy swordplay, severed body parts and geysers of blood.
That's not to say that the film is completely devoid of complexity, subtlety or soul. Uma Thurman, for instance, does an ace job of imbuing her character (an ex-assassin hellbent on exacting revenge against her sadistic, double-crossing former employer and his crew) with just the mix of pathos, irony, gritty determination and barely contained rage one would expect from a woman so deeply wronged. And while many of the villains (with the notable exception of Vivica Fox's assassin-turned-homemaker-turned-assassin) are portrayed as one-dimensional killing machines, they are one-dimensional killing machines the likes of which we rarely have the pleasure of meeting in American cinema. There's Daryl Hannah's bitchy, eye patch-wearing master of disguise; Lucy Liu's icy, psychotic lady mob boss; and Japanese actress Chiaki Kuriyama's delightfully sadistic mace-wielding schoolgirl. And while the film unfolds in a way that leaves no doubt as to whom the hero here is, you can't help but admire and take perverse delight in the way the film's villains conduct their villainy.
Special features on the DVD are modest in number but worthy. The Making of Kill Bill: Vol. 1 featurette, for example, is highly watchable, as it stars the always animated Tarantino himself, leading viewers through the film's conception, execution, and (partial) completion. Likewise, the full-length performances of the all-fem Japanese garage rock band, The 5,6,7,8's (portions of which appear in the film), are a gas. But of course you can expect a blockbuster DVD sometime down the road that unites Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, which is now in theaters.
Publication date: 04/22/04