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Q.T.'s steel fetish 

A review of Kill Bill Vol. 1

click to enlarge You go girls.
  • You go girls.

Q.T.'s steel fetish

*Kill Bill Vol. 1 (R)
Miramax

In Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino taught us that redemption is always possible and that being a hit man is really cool. In Jackie Brown, he became smitten with chicks with guns. In Kill Bill, the poster child for up-from-the-video-counter auteurism has undergone a staggering apostasy.

He's now into chicks with samurai swords.

The standard Tarantino dismissal is that the man is spiritually bankrupt. Despite an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema, and a remarkable knack for unearthing forgotten R & B hits (not to mention forgotten movie stars), scratch beneath his flashy surface and there's just, well, more surface.

This may be true. Take away the ironic pop culture posturing and the violence, the snarky verbal savagery and the violence, the allusions to European (and now Japanese) cinema and the violence, and it's hard to see much evidence of any inner core of profundity, much less humanity.

But to borrow the Meatballs shibboleth, sometimes "it just doesn't matter." A friend in the film business once remarked how she'd never seen an audience so with a movie as Pulp Fiction. The college crowd I sat with in Kimball's was similarly transfixed. There were laughs and shrieks, but little by way of conversation, trips to the concession stand, or cell phone text messaging.

Even though Kill Bill has been spliced in half to avoid an Oliver Stone running time, Q.T.'s storytelling is tighter than Robert Novak's Rolodex, and undeniably pleasurable. While it's indeed half a movie (Volume 2 will slash screens in February), its ending is not so abrupt that it leaves you unsatisfied.

Kill Bill stars Uma Thurman as "the bride," aka "Black Mamba," whose wedding party has been taken out by a coterie of svelte thugs known as the "Deadly Viper Assassination Squad."

Included in this illustrious murder team are the graceful O-Ren Ishii, (Lucy Liu), Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), Budd (Michael Madsen) and Elle (Daryl Hannah). Their leader is, of course, Bill: an omniscient Charlie's Angels patriarch with a dose of Dr. Evil thrown in. After wrecking the wedding, Bill shoots the bride in the head, until ...

She wakes from a coma four years later, bent on payback and nothing but. There's little more to Thurman's character, much less the entire film, just names on her "to-kill list," and elaborately staged blood spurting orgies of operatic violence.

These decadent and delightful fight scenes were choreographed by Tarantino and Yuen Wo-ping, of The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame. They're easily as dynamic and gruesome as any Asian splatter film you've ever seen. Tarantino's camera travels up close and personal with all sorts of pain-inducing projectiles, including his much-fetishized "Japanese steel" and enough severed anatomy to busy the Six Feet Under cast for 10 more seasons.

Naturally, Thurman slices, dices and decapitates all who stand (or jump, or kick, or punch) in her path. It's a delight to see her looking alive, as she too often appears comatose; her bored blue eyes undoubtedly the result of suffering through more Ethan Hawke novels than anyone should bear.

As with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Kill Bill seduces like an ornate dance piece, except where Ang Lee's paean to martial arts cinema smacked of the high church, Tarantino's twangs like a raucous rock power ballad.

Kill Bill closes with a cliff-hanging plot disclosure, a cavernous sword slash in Thurman's back, and three names left on her "to-kill" list. It's not too hard to figure what Volume 2 has in store, but certainly nothing that will make us feel or think anything beyond a guffawing cooooolllll!

-- John Dicker

Cinemark 16, Tinseltown, Kimball's Twin Peak

  • A review of Kill Bill Vol. 1

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