"Kill Bill" is an explosion of all things Quentin Tarantino. One gets the sense that this is the film that Tarantino - former video store clerk, martial arts fan and "Pulp Fiction" director - has always wanted to make. The picture is unbelievably violent, yet violent in a way so over-the-top that one stops simply becoming grossed out and is able to appreciate the insanely meticulous choreography (by Yuen Woo-Ping, who also worked on the "Matrix" films and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") that went into creating the battles. There's also Tarantino's great direction and style. The kind of dialogue that Tarantino has become famous for is in evidence here, if not quite as much as his other films.
The picture revolves around the Bride (Uma Thurman), who was left for dead at her wedding party by Bill and her former associates: hitmen/women called the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. There's O-Ren Ishi a.k.a. Cottonmouth (Lucy Liu), Vernita Green a.k.a. Copperhead (Vivica A. Fox), Budd a.k.a. Side Winder (Michael Madsen), and Elle Driver a.k.a. California Mountain Snake (Daryl Hannah).
The picture goes out of order and there isn't much story beyond the core. Essentially, the Bride wakes up four years after her attack, lying in a coma all that time. Realizing that she's no longer pregnant and remembering what happened to her, she sets out for revenge, with Vernita Green first in the film, followed by O-Ren Ishi, with a stop at swordmaker Hattori Hanzo (Sonny Chiba) in-between.
The film's main action sequence, a fight between the Bride and 88 of O-Ren Ishi's associates, is certainly the finest fight sequence in ages. Although ridiculously gory, the athleticism and skill on display, as well as the lack of CGI (just wire work) are easy to appreciate. Even the black and white moments - done to assist the film in getting an R-rating - work for the picture. Touches of classic score and new pieces by Wu-Tang rapper the RZA serve the emotion of scenes and also serve to get the audience pumped up for the next sequence.
The performances are terrific. Thurman has a terrific mixture of grim determination and dark humor. Lucy Liu is also chilling and fun to watch as Ishi, the new head of the Tokyo underworld. Vivica A. Fox, Sonny Chiba, David Carradine, Daryl Hannah and Michael Madsen turn in very good supporting efforts. Technical credits are also stellar, as Robert Richardson's cinematography makes for Tarantino's slickest looking picture, while the director's usual editor, Sally Menke, handles the material superbly. Production design, costume design and other technical aspects are clearly first-rate, as Tarantino is working with his biggest budget yet.
Although the film's over-the-topness can go too far overboard at times and character development isn't quite what it should be, "Kill Bill" remains a splendid mixture of genres that are close to the filmmakers heart. It's not Tarantino's best film, but it's still an intense, fun stunner.
VIDEO: "Kill Bill Vol. 1" is presented by Miramax in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is very good, although it's a few steps short of greatness. Sharpness and detail are just satisfactory in the presentation - while I remember Robert Richardson's cinematography looking a tad soft at times theatrically, this presentation seems to be another touch softer.
Softness was a bit of a concern, but thankfully, there were very few other issues with the presentation. Edge enhancement remained brief and slight, while no compression artifacts were spotted. The film's vivid, bright color palette was superbly rendered, with the golden, warm hues of most of the movie appearing well-saturated and vibrant, with no smearing. This is a fine presentation, although it comes up a little short of what I was expecting.
SOUND: "Kill Bill" is presented in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 by Miramax. The film's sound mix has stretches where the majority of the audio takes place within the front speakers. While these dialogue-driven stretches sound terrific, the presentation really does take off during the action sequences, which have sword slices and other sound effects whipping through the rear speakers. Audio quality is terrific, with clean dialogue, crisp effects and occasional instances of strong low-bass.
EXTRAS: A 22-minute documentary is the main supplemental feature. It offers some interviews, promotes the flick and throws out a couple of decent tidbits about the film's influences. Nothing too great. We also get performances from the 5, 6, 7, 8's and trailers for Tarantino movies - including the "Kill Bill" flicks.
Final Thoughts: "Kill Bill Vol. 1" is lead by a masterful performance from Uma Thurman that perfectly portrays the tone and the style of the movie. While brutal, the action sequences have a real grace to them and the choreography of the major battles is stellar. This is clearly a blend of genres and films that Tarantino loves, but he's fused these styles together in a way that's often electric. The DVD doesn't offer much in the way of supplements, but presents the film with fine audio/video quality. Recommended.
The Film *** 1/2