Kill Bill, Volume 1

Kill Bill is gorgeous and ice-cold. Pure formalism. Where Tarantino’s earlier films were filled with humanity, with unforgettable characters and genius dialog, Kill Bill reduces these to an absolute minimum. Nothing is allowed to interfere with the pure kinetic beauty of the fight scenes. That is to say, Kill Bill is to Pulp Fiction as Kubrick is to Howard Hawks. In fairness, Kill Bill never feels anal or constipated the way all of Kubrick’s films do. Nor is Tarantino doggedly repetitive, the way Kubrick insists on being.
All the set-ups, all the elements of cinematic form in Kill Bill are fantastic: the decors, the camera angles, the editing of the fight scenes are so brilliant that they reveal in comparison how lame and unimaginative nearly all other English-language action cinema is. Even Lord of the Rings, powerful and lyrical as it is in bringing to life its (admittedly) dubious source material, can’t hold a candle to Kill Bill in terms of sheer visual inventiveness.
As for the citations and allusions: I got the sense that nearly everything in the film was sampled from one or another obscure samurai or martial arts film that I don’t remember or (more likely) haven’t seen. The effect was like the best hip hop: the film is rich in its web of references, and this works even if you don’t know what the references are to.
But Kill Bill‘s formal mastery and meta-cinematic referentiality comes at a price. Near the very start of the film we read the title: “Revenge is always best served cold” (which Tarantino, with characteristic cinephile in-joke wit, tags as an “old Klingon proverb”). And this story of Uma Thurman’s revenge is indeed served cold. The film is so utterly devoid of emotion it feels reptilian. (Perhaps I am slandering reptiles?). The fight scenes are awe-inspiring, but they have absolutely none of the sense of fun that makes Tarantino’s models, the Hong Kong fight scenes, so exhilarating. Nor is there any of the sense of fatality that imbues Leone’s (and others’) spaghetti Westerns, another obvious source of Tarantino’s iconography.
Even Tarantino’s racial obsessions are cut to the bare minimum. Uma Thurman gets the people of color out of the way in Volume One, killing Vivica Fox and Lucy Liu; in Volume 2, to be released next year, she will get to go after the white villains, Daryl Hannah, Michael Madsen, and David Carradine (unless Carradine is a fake Asian, as he was in the frequently-Tarantino-referenced Kung Fu).
So Tarantino has proved that he is as brilliant a visual director as he is a writer/director; but at what cost?

2 Responses to “Kill Bill, Volume 1”

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