Kill Bill is about two things: blood-soaked action and cinematic style. No quasi-profound plot, no fancy dialogue, just check your kids at the door.
The story is very simple. A group of five assassins crash a wedding party and kill everyone... or so they think. One person, The Bride, survives. After four years in a coma, The Bride picks up some cutlery and seeks revenge.
First let's talk about the action. Kill Bill is an homage to the Kung Fu films Tarantino loves so very much. The hours he spent as a chump working at a video store really pay off in this film (and I hope I can one day say the same about my hours in the projection booth). Assisting Tarantino with the action scenes are: fight choreographer Yuen Wo Ping who also worked on Crouching Tiger and the Matrix films, and veteran Samurai film actor Sonny Chiba (Chiba also appears in front of the camera as sword-maker Hattori Hanzo). From the small-scale fight in the suburban house of Vernita Green to the massive 20-minute sword fighting sequence in act three, every moment of action is enthralling and incredibly bloody. I found myself laughing and wincing at the same time as blood, literally, sprays from the wounds of the defeated. To say this film is gorey wouldn't be as accurate as saying that the violence is just plain bizarre.
But get this: supposedly, there's a Japanese version which is even more violent than the version released in the U.S. Apparently two fight scenes are extended, and the interaction between The Bride and Sofie Fatale is shown in more graphic detail. It might be worth springing for that Region-Free DVD player after all.
Ultimately, Tarantino doesn't top the best of the East, but what he lacks in action he makes up for in style.
Kill Bill may be a tribute to Tarantino's favorite films from Asia, but it's also a tribute to Quentin Tarantino. The scene of Oren Ishii and her posse entering the House of Blue Leaves in slow motion while Tomoyasu Hotei's Battle Without Honor or Humility blasts through the speakers is quintessential Quentin. Cinematically the audience is treated silhouetted sword fighting, to some nice overhead shots, a gruesome anime sequence, some Legend-esque over-exposure techniques, and model airplanes and cities. Additionally, there are countless references to other Tarantino films. Keep an ear out for the radio tuning from Reservoir Dogs and the Red Apple Cigarettes ad.
So what doesn't work in the film? Well, the black and white sequence is a little gimmicky and some would say the anime sequence is too, although, I liked the anime and thought it was very effective in creating "the legend" of O-Ren. I also didn't like the "singing" sound that could be heard every time someone slowly drew a sword from its sheath. We saw this a lot in Crouching Tiger and it's too early to bring it back. Additionally, the sword-selecting scene and actually the whole sequence in Okinawa was too long... which leads me to my main gripe with the film...
We didn't get enough of O-Ren Ishii. Tarantino sets up this great character and then gives her only three scenes. They're three great scenes, but the fight sequence is way too short for a character as cool and powerful as O-Ren. Lucy Liu is fantastic and she clearly knows how to "be" in a Tarantino picture. I would have preferred to spend less time in Okinawa and more time in Tokyo, thankyouverymuch.
As for the other actresses, Uma Thurman is fantastic. The entire hospital sequence from the moment she awakens through the "wiggle your big toe" scene is the best work of her career. Daryl Hannah is perfectly evil and seductively vulnerable as Elle Driver, but the scene stealer is a Japanese actress named Chiaki Kuriyama. I have been a fan of hers since Battle Royale and she is absolutely perfect as Go Go Yubari, a Japanese school girl with a maniacal disposition and a mace.
Does Kill Bill: Volume One work as a film on its own? Most definitely. Moreover, there is no sign of the "filler material" that plagued the Matrix sequel; the in-between scenes are just as interesting as the action scenes. With a blend of western style and eastern action, Kill Bill satisfies both the critic and the fan in me.
Megan A. Denny
One last thing, check out this Kill Bill study guide which attempts to catalog all of Tarantino's references to old school martial arts films.