Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003) Directed by Quentin Tarantino. With Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Daryl Hannah, Julie Dreyfus and David Carradine
Quentin Tarantino’s bottomless melting pot of influences is perhaps most noticeable in Kill Bill Vol 1, his modern samurai revenge film about a woman (Uma Thurman) with a shopping list of assassinations to carry out. From a shocking black & white introduction onward, Kill Bill is one of those rarities – an entertaining movie in which style becomes substance.
Accompanied by lone tremolo guitar chords, Nancy Sinatra sings ‘Bang, Bang, My Baby Shot Me Down‘ over the titles (it would’ve made a perfect Bond theme). There’s an instant feeling of quality, like we’re in the hands of a director in the mood to show us a good time. There’s a texture to the film that seems to leap off the screen with a sense of cool elation, as cinema from across the globe is invoked in a collection of scenes and sequences fed directly by Japanese, Chinese, Italian and American influences, both mainstream and exploitation.
Thurman’s presence is a curious one – sexy with her tumbling blonde curls, yet somehow bridging a fine line between the sexes, incorporating variations of the classic Hollywood tough-guy alongside her soft femininity. Whatever she’s channeling, she’s fascinating to watch. The action sequences are beautifully designed and shot, with combinations of wire work, dizzying angles and inventive usage of the eye-catching environments.
The leftfield nature of Tarantino’s dialogue is conveyed with a knowing tone by the large supporting cast, be it Michael Parks as a Texan homicide detective or a venomous Lucy Liu as one of the ‘Deadly Viper Squad’, everyone seems to invested in the joke.
Visually, the film has a broad canvas; the dry Texas desert, middle American suburbia, crisp Tokyo snowfall (the latter feeling like something from a dream). The high style combined with the globe-trotting cultural criss-crossing affords an amount of visual depth rarely captured. It’s part of what makes the film feel so fresh and unique, even though most of what we see is directly recycled from something Tarantino loves.
Tarantino’s offbeat sense of humour is central to the fun, as the wacky violence takes on the larger-than-life appeal of a comic book, especially in the riotously over the top final act. Indeed, one captivating section describes O-Ren Ishii’s back story in the form of anime with graphic explosions of visceral violence.
Kill Bill: Volume 1 is a visually ambidextrous first half of a tempting double bill, complimented by a glorious soundscape of musical selections that feel instantly iconic. There’s inbuilt cult appeal to a film that feels like a greatest hits of Quentin Tarantino’s hyperactive subconscious.