Kill Bill Vol. 1 Review
Before we get started, I'd better say that I'm not a Tarantino fan - I loved Reservoir Dogs and enjoyed the Tarantino scripted From Dusk Till Dawn, but at the same time I hated Pulp Fiction and can't really see the appeal of Jackie Brown. Likewise, I don't think I'm a big martial arts fan, although I do enjoy it from time to time - a big favourite being of course, Iron Monkey. So, it was with some trepidation that I decided to tackle a review of Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol 1.
The history of Kill Bill has been patchy - it was initially intended as one film, however with a running time of over three hours the decision was made late in the day to split the film down the middle and release it in two parts. This was greeted largely with distain by most of the movie-going public with accusations of money grabbing being thrown at both Miramax and Tarantino, however having seen the first half, I'm certain that the split was the right thing to do. Instead of a meandering bum-acher of a film we have a tightly crafted and scripted piece that doesn't allow the viewer time to become disinterested or desensitised. Three hours works well for films of the Lord of the Rings ilk, but for something as intense as Kill Bill I think it just wouldn't work.
It's hard to pigeon-hole Tarantino's latest film - it's very much made up of a string of homages to a huge array of films and genres. No-one else could bring together live action martial arts, particularly gruesome Manga, 70's funk and even Star Trek references and make it all work. It'd be impossible to point out every influence that has a bearing on the film, and by doing so you'd be missing the point. Kill Bill is a film that has been made to be enjoyed - it's not supposed to be taken seriously, and it's just escapism at its very best albeit very memorable.
Uma Thurman plays 'The Bride' - we don't know her real name as oddly Tarantino decided to beep over it the three times it was mentioned in the film. Quite why is anyone's guess, but it is quite annoying! She was once a member of the Deadly Vipers Assassination Squad under the codename of Black Mamba, but she left to get married and was eventually tracked down and left for dead by the rest of the squad in a massacre on her wedding day. Four-and-a-half years later, she awakes from her coma and sets about exacting revenge on the people who killed her husband to be and unborn baby.
At this point, it's also worth noting that there is no real plot to speak of - The Bride is out for revenge and she sets about killing all of the people who were involved in the massacre at her wedding. That's it and while some have commented on this as being a negative aspect of the film, I'm of the view that it really doesn't matter - any further plot would be entirely unneccessary and would only serve to lessen the enjoyment the film provides.
There are some stunning sequences to the film. The early hand-to-hand fight between The Bride and Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) is bone crunching and extremely well choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping with some excellent martial arts action. And, who can forget the stunning garden samurai sword fight with Yakuza boss O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) set against a snowy backdrop? Yet despite the violence, Tarantino still manages to elicit a chuckle every now again. I for one was grinning insanely throughout most of the film - it's shocking, bloody and violent with some truly gruesome scenes, but at the same time you just can't take it seriously. The sound of blood squirting from The Bride's victims after they lose various limbs sounds like water from a hose pipe and there's so much of it throughout the near two-hour running time. Not since Battle Royale has a film this horrifying been so fun!
You'd be forgiven for thinking Tarantino had directed a full on martial arts action movie before - but as we know this is the first and it is very much a superb piece of work. Instead of the MTV-esque quick cutting fight sequences, Tarantino concentrates on bringing some excellent fight sequences to the screen. The film looks and sounds fantastic. In the same light, the casting is spot-on with everyone delivering an unforgettable performance - the film wouldn't have been the same with out Uma Thurman's central pivotal character and Tarantino certainly did the right thing by delaying the film twelve months throughout her pregnancy. Lucy Liu proves she's more than her Hollywood persona and you really believe she could be a Yakuza boss!
The film runs to almost two hours - and leaves you wanting more. This is a testament to the decision to split the film down the middle - I think after another hour of this I'd be wanting it to end. Instead, the efficient and relatively short running time by modern standards, means the second part of the film is very much anticipated. Would the film work as one long piece? That's something we can't answer yet, but if Tarantino delivers again we'll have something worth heaping praise on.
Now onto something that's unavoidable - the subject of cuts and the various versions of the film around the world. Just prior to release, it emerged that Tarantino had cut the film differently for Eastern audiences - in particularly Japan. Allegedly, the Japanese release of the film features additional violence that has been 'cut' from the Western releases, and in addition the black and white segment in the latter half of the film is in colour. This of course has had people scrambling to pick up the Japanese release of the DVD - something I intend to do myself, funds permitting, in a couple of months. However, as I understand it, these changes were not studio enforced but were more Tarantino's attempts to tailor the film to the markets the film was released in - both versions of the film are the director's cuts but based on their region of release. There isn't a definitive 'uncut' version even though the Japanese release may contain more footage. I'm of the view that the Western cut works well - the film is already very violent, and while more blood and gore might work for some people the film and it's narrative will see very little benefit with further footage. I also very much like the black and white sequence and it flows nicely into another monochrome sequence, this time in blue, where we see Uma's silhouette fighting off one attack after another. I like it like this and I think returning this sequence to full colour will take something away from the film.
The DVD is quite a barebones affair. The menus are gorgeous in the style of the anime segment of the film with some funky music and it all fits the film perfectly. The disc is packaged in a standard Amaray case.
Given the huge range of styles the film uses, the DVD transfer was always going to have it's work cut out. Thankfully Miramax have delivered one of the best looking transfers of the year with nothing apparent that'll knock any points off.
The variety of styles in use incorporates animation, black and white photography and of course a beautifully wide-ranging and bright colour palette. The animated scenes look stunningly sharp with well defined lines and no sign of any macro-blocking that sometimes afflicts transfers of solid blocks of colour. The black and white scenes were always grainy and would have presented a challenge to the MPEG encoding - thankfully it looks perfect with the high-contrast black and white shining. Finally, the rest of the films vibrant colours are all transferred here perfectly - Uma's bright yellow leather outfit at the end of the film looks stunning against the various backdrops of her final battle against Lucy Liu. And of course, we can't forget the amount of blood on show here - deep and red, just as it should be!
There is no sign of any digital artefacting such as edge enhancement or aliasing. Full marks (and then some!)
The soundtrack to the film is one of the best of the last year (although Lost In Translation gives it a run for it's money in quality talent terms). Thankfully the DVD transfer pays dividends - particularly the DTS soundtrack.
Firstly, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track is reference quality with huge amounts of surround action and the superb score hits the viewer from every angle. Just listen to the sound that Japanese schoolgirl, GoGo Yubari's (Chiaki Kuriyama) mace makes as she swings it above her head - every speaker gets a piece of the action. Superb!
The DTS soundtrack takes this and knocks things up another notch - with slightly more in the way of ambience and subtlety in the sound presented - it's definitely a more rewarding experience, but given the already high quality of the Dolby Digital track viewers limited to that format have no reason to be disappointed!
Now we're onto the disc's weak point - the extras are limited to a making-of featurette, some musical performances by Japanese girl group "The 5, 6, 7, 8's" and some trailers for Tarantino's other films (including Kill Bill Vol. 2)
The Making Of Kill Bill
This runs for just over 20 minutes and consists of interviews with Quentin Tarantino and various cast members and covers everything from the origins (way before Jackie Brown) to experiences of the actual filming. Tarantino also discusses his influences - mainly Japanese serials and martial arts flicks and also his decision to cast Sonny Chiba as Hattori Hanzo. It's obvious he has a great appreciation for the films that inspired Kill Bill. The featurette is surprisingly good in giving you a good background to the film and it's definitely worth a watch.
"The 5, 6, 7, 8's" perform "I Walk Like Jane Mansfield" and "I'm Blue"
Quite an amusing couple of music pieces shot on the film's set featuring the band playing a couple more songs. Definitely not something you'll return to unless you're a fan of Japanese girl groups.
Trailers for Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Jackie Brown, a couple of Kill Bill Vol. 1 trailers and a Kill Bill Vol. 2 trailer - although most fans will have already seen this online.
If anything, Kill Bill Vol.1 proves that originality isn't a necessity for a great film - in fact it proves that it's possible to create something totally unique that is in fact totally derivative. Tarantino has brought together so many seemingly distant influences and created a cohesive and very enjoyable film. The central performances are without fail, excellent, and it's all backed up with an excellent soundtrack and some stunning martial arts sequences.
The DVD release is reference quality - it may be a little barebones, but the presentation of the film is what really matters and the disc excels in that area. No doubt we'll be getting a more definitive release some time in the future once Vol. 2 makes its way to DVD, but for now this is certainly more than adequate and well worth getting hold of.