Kill Bill Vol. 1
dir. Quentin Tarantino
Opens Fri Oct 10 at various theaters.

Kill Bill Vol. 1 is being billed as "the fourth film by Quentin Tarantino." This, though, is somewhat of a typo; given the deluge of knockoffs and pale imitations of his work since the release of Reservoir Dogs, you could certainly peg his resumé as much longer. And even though Reservoir Dogs itself was an imitation (or, as some would say, a ripoff) of Ringo Lam's City on Fire, the stain left behind by Tarantino's film, along with his follow-up Pulp Fiction, fairly well sank indie film for a spell. How many would-be auteurs can crank out violent films filled with pseudo-catchy dialogue on issues such as fast food and obscure '70s flicks in a decade? The answer, as we all found out, was "Far too many."

Which might explain why Tarantino appears to have been in hiding for much of the past decade. Sure, there was Jackie Brown, but that was a bit of a failure; much more patient and sophisticated than Pulp Fiction, I suspect it bored those hoping for more of Pulp's cool mayhem, even if it is arguably a better film. And since Jackie Brown's release: nada. The king of '90s indie film disappeared at the turn of the century, and only just now is he returning. He is not coming back empty-handed, however, for this time he has brought along his best film to date. Or, at least one-half of his best film.

How great is Kill Bill? Final results won't be tallied until part two is released in February, but judging from the spectacle that is Vol. 1, Tarantino's opus may end up being a substantial stroke of genius. This is definitely good news for cinema, which has missed his obsessive lunacy for the past six years. After all, there may be better young filmmakers out there at the moment (Wes Anderson comes to mind), but no director working today can cause a revolt in America's all-important pop culture like the former video-store clerk from California's South Bay area.

Just what Kill Bill will do for pop culture remains to be decided, though, because America has never seen anything like it. How to describe it? I have gone through many attempts, but the best I can come up with is this: 100 minutes of splashed blood and severed limbs. Which is to say, it is unrepentantly violent, not to mention completely indefensible in regard to morality--a soulless, brutal picture intent on assaulting its audience and then leaving them to plead for more. And plead many will: With all the bloodshed in the film, all of it so over the top it is near cartoonish, Kill Bill Vol. 1 is one of the most beautiful and enjoyable experiences to be found at the multiplexes this year.

The film begins in darkness, labored breathing the only sound available to our ears. Fade up and we meet The Bride (Uma Thurman), who is a crumpled mess on the floor of a church, her face beaten and bloodied, her wedding dress in shambles. It is safe to assume, given this first image, that The Bride's nuptials have taken an unfortunate turn, an assumption seconded when moments later a bullet is fired into her head. The gunman: Bill (David Carradine), the leader of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, and the father of The Bride's unborn child. Despite the close-range shot, however, The Bride manages to survive (her door prizes: a lengthy coma and a metal plate in her skull) and, years later, she strikes out for payback.

There are five names on The Bride's To Kill List, beginning with Bill, of course, and followed by the other members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, each of whom answers to a code name taken from a venomous snake (The Bride's, when she was a member, was "Black Mamba"). There is a catch, however: In the five years The Bride lay comatose, the squad has scattered and all but disbanded, which sends The Bride trotting about the globe.

First stop (in the film's proper chronology, though Tarantino has once again jumbled his plot in its final construction) is Okinawa, Japan, where The Bride receives a sword from Hattori Hanzo (Sonny Chiba), the last great swordmaker and a sworn enemy of Bill. After that, it's on to Tokyo, where Cottonmouth (Lucy Liu) awaits, then Pasadena, California, to find Copperhead (Vivica A. Fox)--the two villains The Bride has time to quarrel with in Vol. 1.

The Bride's clash with Cottonmouth and her henchmen is Vol. 1's climax; a knife fight with Copperhead is its first scrimmage. And it is in these fight scenes that Tarantino's film makes its deepest mark. The knife fight with Copperhead takes place in a suburban home, and is interrupted by the return home from school of Copperhead's daughter--an odd choice by Tarantino, since dropping a child into the melee seems a risky proposition. No matter, though, for Tarantino just barrels ahead, kicking any and all morality directly to the curb--barely pausing, he tosses Kill Bill far beyond the envelope, and the film never looks back. By the time things land in Tokyo, it has already been presented to us that the picture is going to be a rather nasty piece of work, and the final battle in a Tokyo nightclub achieves a level of violence that would be damaging if it weren't so brilliantly put together, not to mention completely entertaining to behold.

A proper description of this final battle--which is close to 20 minutes long--is all but impossible, so I'll just offer some highlights: (1) The Bride in a Bruce Lee-inspired tracksuit; (2) a hundred or more henchmen attacking at once; (3) a Japanese schoolgirl with a rather lethal ball and chain; and (4) the need for Tarantino to switch from color film to black and white due to the gallons upon gallons of blood spilled.

And I do mean gallons upon gallons--all just in Vol. 1. Some have argued that dividing Kill Bill into two parts has derailed the film. Personally, after witnessing the first half, I needed to catch my breath. And now February can't come fast enough.

brad@thestranger.com

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