(Insomnia Theater) Kill Bill: Volume 1 Review

Insomniacs Unite for: Kill Bill vol. 1
Review by Bret Dorman

Quentin Tarantino has described making Kill Bill as having to scale Mount Everest.

That’s how I feel writing a review about a Quentin Tarantino movie.

Tarantino makes movies that tickle my inner filmlover. I know he can be divisive, but I’m here to unapologetically praise him for his work. After all, if you’re going to a midnight screening of one of his movies, chances are you’re a fan. This is for you.

But how do I write a review for an audience that isn’t just preaching to the choir? What sort of Midnight Movie positive lens point of view can I spin onto this movie that you haven’t already watched this movie through?

Hopefully by the end of this review I’ll have the answered those questions while successfully having climbed Mount Everest… or volume one of it anyway…

Classic Uma Thurman Kill Bill Poster

Classic Uma Thurman Kill Bill Poster

The Story: The Bride (Uma Thurman) is gunned down and put in four year long coma. When she wakes up, she reflects on the first person responsible. Then she gets a sword from retired swordsmith Hattori Hanzo (Sonny Chiba). Then she makes her Death List Five. Then she kills the first person. Then she kills the second person. But not all in that order. Also, there may not really be 88 members of the Crazy 88.

The genius of Kill Bill is that it doesn’t pretend to be anything it isn’t. This movie is a revenge flick, pure and simple. So instead of tedious plot scenes setting you up for average moments of cathartic vengeance, Tarantino summarizes the entire plot in a small handful of scenes (just in case you couldn’t get it from the title). Because of that we are free to explore the nooks and crannies of the story that usually go unexplored, the characters. Entire chapters are devoted to people who we know are going to die. Characters act nice and friendly but as soon as another character shows up or is mentioned the mood takes a total 180. By setting up the characters properly, then letting their reactions guide us through the world it creates, Kill Bill actually does succeed in becoming more than just a revenge flick… which it is.

QT loves feet...

QT loves feet…

Creating non-linear stories is part of Tarantino’s “gimmick” (up to this point in his filmography, at which point it tapers off to become less important). What sets Tarantino apart from some others who try this method is that he’s good at hiding or masking certain information so that it doesn’t get in the way of understanding the story (minor exemption: bleeping The Bride’s name, which is done tongue in cheek). Instead, each chapter is treated like its own short film complete with its highs and lows. That ability to look at a story in chunks, rearrange them, then chopping away all the necessary “fluff” of the story to explore all the unnecessary “fluff” of the characters. This is what makes a Tarantino movie a Tarantino, not the violence.

Although while we’re on the subject, Kill Bill is a legit martial arts movie, not a cheap imitation you usually get from an “American” film. And by that I mean it understands the philosophy of the art. It contains different types of fights (brutal beatdown, over the top animated, one vs one hundred, and dueling samurais) and each type is highlighted for its own unique features AND at a time in the movie where they make sense. Plus Tarantino doesn’t shy away from some of the weirder features of the genre (being able to tell how many years you are in a coma by reading palms) or the crazy amplified sound effects. Not to mention starring legit martial arts legends Sonny Chiba and Gordon Liu as well as Battle Royale star Chiaki Kuriyama.

Right down the middle...

Right down the middle…

Never treating it’s source material like dead weight, Kill Bill not only elevates itself to high art, it makes sure to lift the entire genre (and its sub genres) by its side. Part of that is the unapologetic love Tarantino has for the movies he loves, as well as mixing them in with other genres like (Spaghetti) Westerns or lifting right from other directors (Brian De Palma). Some may see this as stealing. Others as an homage. I like to think of it as a cinematic road map. Tarantino once said “I didn’t go to film school, I went to films.” I’ll add to that and say “I didn’t go to film school (well, just for one trimester), I went to Tarantino films, then I went to the films he used to make his films.”

Before I end, let me just gush for a bit. Over the tiny stuff. I love how Vernita Green closes her front door but it doesn’t close all the way and The Bride just nudges it shut. I love how The Bride says “right?” for the second time when talking to Buck and how he likes to, you know. I love how Hanzo’s employee states in Japanese “I’m not bald I shave my head” then in English “Do you understand?” I love how the dot on Hanzo’s “Bill” looks when he writes it in the window (then how The Bride erases it and makes sure to get every teeny tiny last bit). I love how the towel lands on Boss Tanaka’s hand and how he throws it back. I love when the axe flies by The Bride in slo-mo and you hear her inhale/exhale in surprise. I love how O-Ren says “You Lie!” (the moment AND the line delivery) after finding out The Bride has a Hanzo sword. I love all those minute moments and many many more in the film.

Why This Movie Is Perfect For Insomniacs: Kill Bill isn’t just the schlocky splatter fest martial arts grinhouse flick you can enjoy without it feeling like a guilty pleasure; its the movie you can point to and say “Yeah but this movie inspired that one part of Kill Bill” and make it okay to not feel guilty about other movies of the genre as well. If there’s any place that knows the first parts (volumes) are reserved for the dirtiest and grimiest part of your story, its Bowtie at Reston Town Center. Luckily, Bowite’s remodeled second wind allows you to enjoy The Bride’s bloody beginnings in luxury. And the midnight hour should be no problem for us insomniacs; after all, we scale mountains for the movies we love.

Elle Driver. Lover her so much.

Elle Driver. Lover her so much.

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