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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Kill Bill: Volume 1 (review)

Cult Film of Personality

(Worst of 2003)

You know that rude, crude, jerking-off gesture, the one usually accompanied by a rolling of the eyes and an “Oh, pul-leeze!” They invented that for Quentin Tarantino. We might have been able to guess — from the way he has seemed, over the last decade, to be everywhere doing nothing, like his mere presence, his mere sneezing on a project, was cause for celebration — how madly in love with himself he is, how much a believer in his own legend he is, but you’d still never be able to imagine how embarrassingly masturbatory Kill Bill is.

This is, we are informed, “the fourth film by Quentin Tarantino,” like we’ve all been on tenterhooks holding our breath for the last six years while he meticulously and deliberately crafted this boon for us mortals. It would have been out sooner, of course, if not for his handpicked star Uma Thurman’s untimely pregnancy, but — in one of many hilarious nuggets to be found in the press notes — Tarantino imagines, stretching to compare himself to Josef Von Sternberg and Thurman to Marlene Dietrich, that “film history will thank” him for holding up production to wait for her. *thwapt thwapt thwapt*

It’s not that there’s not stuff to like in this fanboy goulash of martial arts, spaghetti westerns, and chixploitation. It’s funny, at first and for a while, the overblown half homage, half parody of things a lot of the proudly geeky love. Thurman (The Avengers, GATTACA) is a former member of the all-girl Deadly Viper Assassination Squad — the name is perfectly full of love and snark — out for revenge after the rest of the squad tries to kill her on her wedding day. Why kill her? We don’t know. Doesn’t matter. It’s Tarantino’s excuse for a bunch of scary babes, the kind the fanboys love to be terrified of, to fight each other while he ransacks genre film.

And fight they do, with knives and guns and samurai swords, in retro jogging suits and geisha getups and sexy-nurse outfits, slick and smooth like Lucy Liu’s (Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, Chicago) crime lord, O-Ren Ishi, or crazy-ass nutty like Daryl Hannah’s (A Walk to Remember) Elle Driver. It’s the ransacking that gets tiresome, that makes you wish Tarantino would just get over himself already. He’s so determined to demonstrate how cool and retro he is that that becomes the driving force of the film: how much crap that the with-it kids will think is wicked awesome can he cram into one film… er, two films… er, one film chopped in two? Oh, look! It’s Kung-Fu‘s David Carradine! Here’s some Sergio Leone twang. There’s Hong Kong chop-socky. Chapter cards and black-and-white stuff and some Sam Peckinpah and bleeping out Thurman’s character’s name whenever someone mentions it and, of course, the anime sequence — *thwapt thwapt thwapt* — and the soundtrack culled from Tarantino’s own supercool-hip-retro personal music collection that’s probably on actual vinyl. We get it, Q.T. — you’re the king of cool.

Bill is so chock full of all this desperate love-me shit that it undercuts the really good stuff. One scene, in a sushi bar in Okinawa, for instance, drags on forever because Tarantino is pissing his pants with excitement that he actually was able to cast the legendary Japanese star Sonny Chiba. Story matters that could have been dealt with in a few moments instead take long, long minutes, all because Chiba is reprising the character, Hattori Hanzo, from a show that Tarantino watched as a kid as a subtitled import on UHF TV. It doesn’t matter how cool Chiba’s presence is or how much our childhoods in the 70s have acquired a veneer of neatness that we’d never have ascribed to them at the time: All the “Hey, it’s Sonny Chiba!” stuff should be a bonus, the icing on a yummy cake, a gift to geeks — it should not be the entire point of the endeavor. But it is, and it’s so distracting and so wearying that the bits that come later that would have been laugh-out-loud funny can barely elicit a chuckle, we’re so worn out from watching Tarantino play with himself.

“When you get to the end of Volume 1,” Tarantino says in the press notes, “you’re exhausted. You’re ready to take a break.” Oh, pul-leeze. We’re ready for a break all right, but not for the reason he thinks — it’s more like, Crap, it’s only half over? There’s no need for Kill Bill to be three-plus hours long, no need to have chopped it into two volumes, except that Tarantino is indulging himself and everyone let him get away with it. He’s got the I’m-so-cool excuse for this, too, of course: “This is supposed to be my version of a grindhouse movie, and the very idea of a three-hour grindhouse movie is a contradiction in terms. It seemed pretentious, whereas two 90-minute grindhouse movies seems more apt.”

But Kill Bill isn’t two 90-minute movies — cripes, Volume 1 can’t even limit itself to 90 minutes. And it’s only half over. So get ready for the fourth-and-a-half film by Quentin Tarantino, coming soon. *thwapt thwapt thwapt*


Watch Kill Bill Vol. 1 online using LOVEFiLM‘s streaming service.


MPAA: rated R for strong bloody violence, language and some sexual content

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
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