After director Quentin Tarantino's rapid rise to fame with Reservoir Dogs and the classic Pulp Fiction, his third film, Jackie Brown received mixed reviews. To follow that up he decided to create movie that would pay homage to the Hong Kong action films he fell in love with as a kid. Taking themes and scenes from his favorite films, the script ended up being an unwieldy 220 pages long. Rather than cut the heart and soul out of his film, he cut it in half and made two pictures instead. This ultimately became Kill Bill Volumes One and Two, both of which have been released on Blu-ray. This first part is a fun, but very bloody, throw back to the Shaw Brothers and their ilk. The Blu-ray disc makes the film look better than it ever has on home video with eye-popping colors and a wonderful soundtrack.
Told in Tarantino's non-linear style, this story centers around an unnamed bride (Uma Thurman.) On her wedding day, when she's nearly full term on her pregnancy, a group of assassins barges in on the ceremony and kills everyone who is present: The groom, the priest, the guests, and even the organ player. The bride herself, the reason for the attack, is beaten senseless and then shot in the head.
Only she doesn't die. She goes into a coma and four years later wakes up. Her last memories are of the wedding parting being slaughtered by Bill and his team of assassins. A team she was once part of.
Seeking revenge for the loss of her fiancé and unborn child, the bride makes a list of the people she needs to kill; the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, four highly trained female killers, and they leader, Bill. With a single-minded purpose and an iron-like will, the bride prepares to hunt down her enemies by first obtaining a sword forged by the greatest living sword smith, the now retired Hattori Hanzo (Sonny Chiba.) Finely honed Japanese steel in hand, the bride sets her sights on her first victim: O'Ren-Ishii, the head of all organized crime in Tokyo who is guarded by her own private army, the Crazy 88.
Though I really enjoyed this movie, I'll be the first to admit that this film isn't for everyone. Tarantino was trying to capture the fun he had while watching old kung fu movies as a boy, and he did that wonderfully. If you've never seen an old Shaw Brothers film from the 70's you might be shocked, because Kill Bill mimics the over-the-top violence from those old films. Arms, legs, and heads go flying, and they're always accompanied by massive amounts of squirting blood. If that's not to your taste, or you can't suspend your disbelief enough to not worry when someone looses four gallons of blood, this film isn't for you.
Still with me? Good. What this movie does do is to pay homage to those old films while firmly putting Tarantino's stamp on the film. With little to no character development and almost no plot, this is a film that revels in style. It's a gorgeous film to watch, with achingly bright colors, from the bride's yellow and black outfit patterned after the suit Bruce Lee wore in Game of Death to the stark white snow covered field where the Bride faces a white kimonoed O'Ren-Ishii near the climax, every attention to detail has been taken to make every frame look impressive, and it does.
The movie also has a good share of dark humor, something Tarantino revels in. The scene at the beginning where the Bride is locked in a battle to the death with Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) is a good example. They're both bloodied from the fight, standing in a room that's been destroyed by the conflict and holding long knives at each other when Vernita's four year old daughter comes home from school. Both women put the knives behind their backs and make cheerful small talk with the little girl, making up a story about how the dog trashed the living room. While not as tension-filled as a similar scene in The Killer, it had a lot of humor that played out well. Another hilarious moment is when the Bride defeats O'Ren-Ishii's bodyguards only to hear the motorcycles of the rest of the Crazy 88's arriving. The yakuza leader asks if she really thought it would be that easy, to which the bride replies "You know, for a second there, yeah, I kinda did."
The acting is exquisite, like all of Tarantino's films. All of the female leads, Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica Fox, and Daryl Hannah, are sexy with an undercurrent of dangerous violence that makes them all the more appealing. Sonny Chiba was fantastic as the retired master sword maker, bringing an aura of power to the role that wasn't diminished by his hilarious exchanges with his assistant.
Of course the film is such a dynamic and fun adventure because of Tarantino's marvelous direction. Every scene is interesting to watch and so beautifully filmed that you won't notice that there is really not much substance there.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The AVC MPEG-4 encoded 2.40:1 image looks simply wonderful. This is a very stylized film, with every attention paid to color and the various bright tones just pop off the screen. All of the colors are solid and very bright, and the blacks are likewise inky and deep. The level of detail is excellent with even the smallest background items having tight lines. Digitally the disc looks just as impressive with aliasing, posterization, and blocking being nonexistent. The only flaw I could find, and it was a minor one, was a tiny amount of digital noise during some of the animated sequences. When all is said and done, this is a very impressive looking disc.
The audio track is just as impressive too. The disc comes with an uncompressed PCM track that is superb along with DD 5.1 tracks in English and French. The PCM track really puts the viewer in the middle of the film. During the fight scenes the sound of glass breaking and people screaming comes from all corners of the room. These noises have a great amount of directionality too. The effects are nicely panned from front to back and across the whole soundstage creating a very enveloping feeling. The background music, mostly made up of songs from other movies, has a great range and is clean and clear throughout the film. Like the video, this is a first rate presentation.
Alas, the only place that this disc falters is with the extras. Although everything from the SD edition was included, there just isn't that much here. There's a 22-minute 'making of' featurette where director Quentin Tarantino, producer Lawrence Bender, and the actresses Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica Fox, and Daryl Hannah talk about the production of the film, the movies that inspired Kill Bill, and their roles in the picture. It's a nice bonus, but only in 480 i/p.
Aside from that we only get a series of trailers and two music videos from the Japanese group the 5, 6, 7, 8's, also in 480 i/p.
When it comes to the old style vs. substance debate, I'm one who'll take substance almost every time. This film is the exception. Filled with wonderfully beautiful shots, very sparse but humorous dialog, and over-the-top violence that recalls the old Shaw Brothers films of yore, Quentin Tarantino has created a fun and amazing film that's hard not to enjoy. The Blu-ray disc presents the film better than it's ever been shown on home video before with a wonderful image and sound. Though this film isn't for everyone, it still comes highly recommended.
Note: The images in this review are not taken from the Blu-ray disc and is not necessarily representative of the image quality.