No 325 - Kill Bill Volume 1
Director - Quentin Tarantino
It really bugs me when films are released in two parts with cliff hangers. I don't mean films like Lord of the Rings but films like Kill Bill, or the Matrix sequels. Films shouldn't end on a cliff hanger. It feels unfair.
This is where DVD comes in. I chose to sit and watch Kill Bill as a whole, however I will review them in two parts. Otherwise it'll mess up my numbering.
Volume 1 tells the story of The Bride's recovery from the wedding massacre and the first two of her kills in her quest for vengeance. In typical Tarantino style, these are told out of sequence.
I have an odd relationship with Tarantino. I love Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds blew me away but I have found his other films a bit lacking and I can't pin point what it is exactly. After all his musical choices are inspired, his visuals are stunning, he writes interesting stories and simply fantastic dialogue. Yet, the whole is less than the sum of its parts. It is a strange (and not very common) view point. What it does mean however, is that his films are full of inspired and beautiful little moments.
Volume 1 seems to be made up of two sections, one section dedicated to O-ren and another dealing with everything else. What makes this story shocking is how almost nobody in it is nice. Of course we are dealing with assassins and mobsters and the Yakuza, we don't expect niceness. But when The Bride lies in hospital comatose, her nurse pimps out her unconscious body.
We are living in a harsh world.
The grittiness of the first half of the film is intercut with a few wonderful moments. The key one that I wish to talk about is the introduction to O-ren. Told through a fabulous elegant and flowing anime scene. It is clear that Tarantino had a lot of styles he wished to experiment with. By splitting the film up into chapters he can give each chapter a distinctive visual style and give himself artistic freedom to change at will.
This works well as a technique in Volume 1, but doesn't work quite so well in Volume 2.
Despite a couple of chapters dealing with the grittiness of The Bride's coma and a very savage fight scene with Vernita Green, the Bride's real focus is O-Ren, and the films main visual style is an almost cartoon level of excess. A stylised eastern exploitation film.
This helps to dull the fact that there is a lot of violence in Kill Bill. A lot of death.
The Bride kills everyone who crosses her path. From sickos like Buck through to Oren's personal army. But whereas in the gritty real world of the film's first half we have knives through the chest or a slit ankle (wince). Once we enter Japan, the deaths become cleanly lopped of limbs and gushing gushing fountains of blood. This is cartoon violence bought to life.
The film's central point, and key triumph, is the battle with the Crazy 88 - O-Ren's personal army. It begins slowly, introducing the army in twos and threes. Then it introduces GoGo, O-Ren's insane schoolgirl bodyguard. She is played perfectly (and terrifyingly) by Chiaki Kuriyama. I have only ever seen her in this and Battle Royale and both times se has played terrifyingly insane assassin school girls. I hope she doesn't get typecast, but she does it so well.
Each of these battles are short sharp and savage and whilst GoGo's fight is the most elaborate, her death is the most restrained, for a section which seems to favour fountains of bloody.
After each of these short frantic bursts, the rest of the crazy 88 begin as does a massive fight scene that feels like it may go on forever. Shot in black and white or in silhouette against a blue background the whole fight is presented in a stylised way, making the violence far more acceptable. It is the same thing that makes Sin City a watchable film, the cartoonification of the horrific violence.
I heard that it had to be done in order to stop the film receiving an X certificate, but it works. In Asia there is a full colour un edited version of the fight.... but I think that would lose some of the quality of the piece. By presenting in such a stylised way it allows the savage savage black humour to seep through. There is something quite amusing in the myriad of limbless people hobbling away from their encounter with the Bride.
I am a sick and twisted individual.
At which point I feel it is time to discuss the film's greatest strength (and arguably Tarantino's greatest strength) - The soundtrack.
The songs in Volume 1 lean towards the east and combine beautiful and elegant pieces with Tarantino's more familiar funk and soul tunes. I heartily recommend you check it out. It is a fabulous collection of music and is vital to one of the finest moments in the entire film. The Bride's show down with O-Ren.
Visually, the film couldn't look more eastern. We are in a Japanese garden it is snowing, it is night. It is serenity personified. Except for the two circling figures, brandishing samurai swords. Over this there is the almost primal beat of Santa Esmerelda's cover of Don't Let me Be Misunderstood. The mix of Latin American sounds and Eastern Visuals works perfectly and the rhythm of the fight is immense, a strong choreography tying the visuals in with the sound with such grace.
I remember seeing it at the cinema and it gave me goosebumps, little moments like that are why Tarantino deserves the credit he gets, followed by the cut aways to the peaceful garden, it allows the scene to move at quite a gentle pace, before the savage (but again, essentially restrained) scalping.
It is an excellent ending to O-Ren's story. But the film chooses to end with a bloody cliff hanger.
Alas, I must do the same. Because although I've watched Volume 2. I don't have time to blog it right now.