(for a full summary of Kill Bill 1 and 2, scroll down to "What Happens?"
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Kill Bill is not a complicated movie in terms of plot. Once you know it's a revenge story you know a lot about what to expect. The real enjoyment of Kill Bill is the overwhelming sense, that Tarantino has seen an awful lot of revenge movies, grind house movies, and 1970's martial arts movies, (which have many times been the same movies,)and here was given a chance to make the film the way he'd always wanted to see it. Kill Bill is a film that feels like pure, excited indulgence. It's easy to picture Tarantino and Uma Thurman talking about the story of "The Bride" that late become this film. Rather than try to surprise the audience with a baffling plot, it delights in its own storytelling and brags about the impossible happening, only to top it with something more impossible in the next scene. We start with a woman that's been shot in the head by a master assassin. By all rights, that should be the end of the show. But Kill Bill is a list of "impossible things that could never happen." and it doesn't mind that one bit.
It reminds of the absurd stories that kids tell each other only for fun, being constantly added to with any objection. One kid might say, so the bride gets shot in the head and barely survives in a coma for four years. She wakes up and swears revenge. A second kid would interject, "But if she's been in a coma for four years, she wouldn't be able to walk." The first kid, rather than take back the beginning, amends it, says oh yeah, right, she escapes the hospital in a wheelchair and then by focusing on getting her big toe to move, she gets her legs working through pure training and will power.The second kid can only respond with, "Oh, yeah, ok, so then what happens?" The first kid might then continue, Well, then she decides to go after the people that tried to kill her, the five most deadly killers in the world. Both the kid telling the story and the one listening are hooked and the absurdity of the story, is part of the fun of telling it. It doesn't matter what could really happen, only what they want to see happen.
I've seen the idea presented that Kill Bill is part of the cinematic universe that the characters in Tarantino's main universe watch at the theatre, and I'm very fond of that idea. There is certainly a similarity between the "Deadly Viper Assassination Squad" and "Fox Force Five" the television pilot that Mia Wallace, Uma Thurman's role in "Pulp Fiction," had been a part of. Whether or not that's true, it certainly enjoys being in the film universe, and Tarantino's nods to film styles and other films only add to the enjoyment. Obviously great pains were taken to give this film the feel of a 70's martial arts film. It's certainly no accident that The Bride's yellow jumpsuit is identical to the one Bruce Lee wore. The impossible battles the bride overcomes would certainly fit well in a Bruce Lee film, or for that matter, any number of Martial Arts movies. The Invincible Martial arts teacher Pai Mei, is a staple from classic martial arts films, including those of the Shaw Brothers like "Executioners from Shaolin" It's not accidental that Tarantino shot part of the film at the same Shaw Brothers Studio in Hong Kong. The impossible feats such as Pai Mei standing on the blade of a sword are plentiful in 70's martial arts films. Tarantino didn't invent that, but he clearly enjoyed it and fully embraced the sensibility and runs with it here. He even treats the gore in traditional 70's martial arts fashion, severed limbs cause fountains of blood. Rather than go for realism he sticks with the form.
There is also the important inclusion of Sonny Chiba, who was huge in 1970's martial arts films (particularly The Street Fighter, which is mentioned and watched by Clarence in True Romance, another film Tarantino wrote.) Other touches, such as Elle Driver whistling "Twisted Nerve" a song from the 1968 Thriller of the same name about a deranged killer, changes her walk down a hospital hallway from harmless to threatening instantly. Beyond that many of his shots reference films from many genres. The Brides burial is nearly identical to a sequence in a "Django Film" Many of the Desert shots are patterned on "Once Upon a Time in the West" You could spend days comparing shots in Kill Bill to those in other films. Tarantino of course, makes no secret of being inspired by them, but he manages to make the shots his own, with the added benefit of bringing in associations from the other films, which gives the characters and the story a complexity that simply wouldn't be possible otherwise. Detractors may call it stealing shots, but in my mind, Tarantino loves paying in the same sandbox, where the toys were left by filmmakers that moved him. I haven't heard him bragging about "inventing" shots, so much as he brags about telling a thrilling and stylish story. I can easily imagine him watching a film and thinking, "Wow, that's a great shot." and then basing his own shot on it later, knowing how effective it will be for his purpose. This is a man who insists on shooting at the Shaw Brothers Studio, because the martial arts films he loved were shot there. There's no attempt to hide influence, rather the reverse. Of course, for Tarantino, every film technique is fair game. He doesn't hesitate to go from black and white to color, or to tell one chapter with animation. He has no problem letting the Bride directly address the audience either, but he fits everything together and makes it work.
Of course the selection of actors in "Kill Bill" is also notable. David Carradine, our main villain is best known for the "Master of Kung Fu" TV series, which many of us grew up with. While we know that Bill is a completely different character, knowledge of the previous role makes it easier for us to believe how deadly he is. This is probably my favorite role that Carradine's ever done. Bill is an enjoyable villain in that he's completely evil and dishonest, but not reliably so. With a straight face, he can tell The Bride that the chapel massacre was him "overreacting." Yet for all his evil, he seems genuinely pleased to discover that the Bride knew the "Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique." and knowing he's about to die, he can't help but tell her that she's his favorite person in the world. The fact that he's evil doesn't keep him from having some good points either, when he accuses The Bride of playing Clark Kent, she has to admit that he's right. While his screen time is less than most here, his presence saturates the film.
Michael Madsen's role is certainly enhanced by his role in another Tarantino film, "Reservoir Dogs." It seems that Tarantino knows how to play to Madsen's strengths. Here he's certainly a different character than Vic Vega, but we know that there's a lot of danger beneath the surface. The tension this creates in scenes such as his boss at the strip club childishly berating him, is terrific. Of all the Deadly Vipers, Budd is the most resigned to his fate, yet he isn't going to go quietly. It's strangely thrilling moment when he bests the Bride as we realize he hasn't quite given up his spirit. Of course we're just as happy when she escapes, and infuriated when Elle Driver betrays him. We learn that he didn't pawn the sword Bill gave him at all, only wanted to think so. And of course when he buries the Bride, he tells her "This is for breaking my brother's heart." It's a surprising amount of range for a relatively small scene. Of all of the characters except the Bride, Budd gets the closest to a full journey.
Lucy Liu is fantastic as O-Ren Ishii. The Bride's battle with O'Ren and her henchmen/women is certainly the most steeped in martial art films and comes across as almost a film in itself. Her scene decapitating the man questioning her heritage, tells us what to expect from her. While their final showdown comes across as a bit short, the entire sequence is enough to anchor the first film. O'Ren's true threat is her treachery and ruthlessness and her minions are a direct extension of that. That said O'Ren could never stop the Bride because as Budd points out "People got a job to do, they tend to live a little bit longer so they can do it. I've always figured that warriors and their enemies share the same relationship." As we know from the tradition of revenge movies, The Bride will live until she gets to Bill. The O'Ren scenes establish this and the fact that the Bride is not concerned about the impossible feats.
Vivica Fox is great as Vernita Green. She's out of the life now, but unlike Budd, she isn't resigned to anything. She has a daughter now and a new life, but she hasn't paid for her old one, and doesn't seem at all concerned about it. Her attempts to use her daughter as a tool to get the upper hand show us what we need to know about her character. Certainly their fight destroying everything in her quiet Pasadena home provides an interesting contrast. And of course this sets up the implication that the Bride herself is not unaware of consequences, as she tells Vernita's girl "I'll be waiting." as if we're watching the beginning of another film.
Daryl Hannah is a standout here and a treat to watch. Her Elle Driver is the most twisted of them all. She has seemingly tried to occupy the Bride's place in her absence, hardly changing her role at all in four years. We see the similarity and differences in the training from Pai Mei, the Bride gaining valuable training, while Elle has her eye plucked out. While everyone else seems to have other goals, Elle revels in the killing for it's own sake. She has little reason to kill Budd, except for the fact that he supposedly killed the Bride, which she wanted to do, and of course the ability for her to take credit for Budd's deeds. Elle is a fun house mirror image of what the Bride could've been.
Uma Thurman carries the lead role exceptionally well. While the Bride is certainly not one that the Academy would think about at Oscar time, she manages to handle the absurdity and impossibility of her character with gravity and a straight face. Although some of the feats are so improbable that they become comic, because of Thurman's commitment to the part, we simply accept the story and cheer her on. She comes across her as a convincing action hero without a doubt. Tarantino's decision to use an almost all female cast is an interesting one and proves that action movies don't have to be just for the guys.
The supporting cast is always a big part of Tarantino films and "Kill Bill" is no exception. Sonny Chiba as the legendary Hanzo Hattori gives us both comic relief in his sushi chef guise, and respect as the ultimate sword maker. Michael Parks in dual roles as Sheriff Earl Parks and Esteban Vihaio gives us two enjoyable sequences. Chia Hui Liu also has two roles as Pai Mei and Johnny Mo, Pai Mei certainly being the most notable. His sequence gives us a strong and affectionate connection to the 70's films.
"Kill Bill" doesn't aim to reinvent the wheel, simply to construct Tarantino's version of what a wheel should be. In this case it's a story, a great big story that we only need to believe while watching it, and we do because it's so exciting to see the Bride settle the score,and we like all good stories, we just need to know what happens next. Tarantino's love of grindhouse cinema has never been a secret and he certainly gave nods to it in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, and headed a little further in that direction with "Jackie Brown" but here he dives completely in, playing with every toy in the film sandbox. It feels very much like a celebration of all the films that inspired him, but also stands on its own just fine. He must have had fun, since his next film was "Death Proof" billed as a true Grindhouse throwback. Kill Bill is such a departure from his previous films that I have difficulty even comparing them. It's a fantastic entry into the grindhouse martial arts revenge film tradition.
We're told that the "Revenge is a dish best served cold." (Old Klingon Proverb) We then see in Black and White, a bloody and badly wounded Bride (Uma Thurman) sobbing on the floor of a church. We hear Bill's cowboy boots approach on the hard wood floor, before he (David Carradine) leans down and explains while wiping her face with his personally monogrammed handkerchief, that "There's nothing sadistic about his actions." but rather "This is me at my most masochistic." The suffering bride tells Bill that she's carrying his baby. We hear a gunshot, the sound of Bill shooting her in the head, and the credits begin. We're then introduced to the five names of the actor playing the "Deadly Viper Assassination Squad" In order then continue the credits as as we watch the Bride lying still on the floor.
1. Lucy Liu as O'Ren Ishii
2.Vivica A. Fox as Vernita Green
3. Michael Madsen as Bud
4. Daryl Hannah as Elle Driver
5. David Carradine as Bill
The Bride drives a pick up truck to a nice house in a quiet upscale neighborhood and rings the doorbell. While waiting, she remembers another scene from her wedding, and one of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) attacking her. The moment the door opens she punches Vernita in the face. The two of them fight, going from fists to knives pretty quickly. They pause their fight however, when Vernita's young daughter, Nikki gets home from school. Although Nikki notices the place is trashed, Vernita blames the dog for the mess. The two women insist that everything is OK. The Bride asks Nikki how old she is, and mentions that her little girl would be about her age now.
We learn that Vernita and The Bride were both members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, Vernita is "Copperhead" and the Bride was "Black Mamba." The Bride says she won't kill Vernita in front of her child and they plan to meet later to finish the fight. However, Vernita attempts to shoot the Bride with a hidden gun, and the Bride responds by killing her with a throwing knife as Nikki walks back into the room. The Bride tells her to come find her when she grows up if she "It was not my intention to do this in front of you. For that, I'm sorry, but you can take my word for it, your mother had it coming." She tells Nikki if she can't get over it "I'll be waiting." The Bride leaves in her pick up which we see is labelled "Pussy Wagon" She crosses Vernita's name off the number 2 spot on her "Death List Five" We see that O'Ren Ishii is already crossed off.