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Movies: Kill Bill Vol. 1

When Pulp Fiction came out in 1994 it was Required Viewing for my circle of acquaintances. It was also presupposed that you would love it, what with Quentin Tarantino reigning as the Hip New Director in the wake of Reservoir Dogs. But you certainly wouldn't have any queasiness or misgivings about the carnage in the film. After all, we were Generation X, too cynical to view gratuitous violence as anything but ironic, and too apathetic to feel a visceral reaction to anything, least of all the sight of some guy having his head blown off in the backseat of a car.

Today, however, I find myself older, married-er, a father-to-be, and largely uninterested in movies that showcase violence for violence sake. Intellectually I find such enterprises to be morally troublesome. In practice, I just find them to be dull. Seriously, how many times can you see one guy shoot another guy before the whole thing becomes so routine that you don't even notice it any more, like a grocery store checker asking if you "found everything okay?" Movies with a good mix of plot and action (The Matrix) still float my boat, but films which do little more than string together one "exciting" fight scene after another (The Matrix: Reloaded) do nothing for me these days.

So I had no real desire to catch Kill Bill, Vol. 1. At least, not until I read this review in the San Francisco Chronicle which called the film "a 90-minute orgy of endless sword fights, multiple severed limbs and gushing blood" and concluded with "let's just call it pornography, and let's just admit it's indefensible." The rational part of my brain agreed with most of what the reviewer was saying, but I was curious to discover what kind of emotional reaction I would have to yet another exercise in the exaltation of violence. I decided to see Kill Bill and find out how far removed I'd become from the 23 year-old who revered Pulp Fiction a decade ago.

The answer appears to be "not very." And my emotional reaction to Kill Bill was something along the lines of "Holy shit -- that was awesome!!"

At various points during the film I tried my darndest to become incensed by the completely unnecessary and wildly excessive gore, but my efforts were consistently undermined by the sad fact that I was thoroughly enjoying myself. [This is the part of the review where I would recap the plot, but as Kill Bill has no plot we'll just skip this section.]

The film is homage to the samurai films that Tarantino grew up with. That's what all the real movie reviewers say, at any rate. As I am not much of kung-fu film buff, pretty much every reference went over my head. But even so, while watching Kill Bill I felt like I did when I saw my very first Jackie Chan film, or when a friend talked me into going to see Akira and I entered the theater having no idea what to expect. Honestly, Kill Bill took me even farther back: it reminded me of riding my bike to the comic book store after a hard day of Junior High and spending the rest of the evening gorging myself on Wolverine and Punisher. Kill Bill may be intended as a tribute to chop-saki flicks, but it feels like watching the most violent (and enjoyable!) Saturday morning cartoons imaginable.

So there you go: I loved it and I'm ashamed. But not too ashamed to admit that I'm counting the weeks until Kill Bill Vol. 2.

Three final notes:

  • Pay special attention to that "Vol. 1". This is only half a movie, and not a self-contained half, either. At minute 111 the film simply comes to a halt, making no effort to tie up loose ends (and, in fact, introducing some brand new loose ends even as it draws to a close). As the final credits rolled I heard more than one person in the theater exclaim "What tha --?!", clearly unaware that they had only purchased a ticket to a single installment in a two-part series.
  • This film should not be rated R -- this is what the NC-17 rating was designed for, folks. So don't let your 14 year-old nephew sucker you into taking him to see it.
  • After I saw it, I read this in a review: "Don't leave until the final credits finish rolling or you'll miss what many are considering Kill Bill: Vol. 1s best bit." Sadly, I know not of what they speak. Oh well. I guess I'll have to see it again. Update: In the comments, Cambo says there is nothing after the credits -- the scene that was at the end during the pre-screening version was moved into the body of the film for the final release. Now I guess I'll have to see it again to, um, verify his claim.

Posted on October 20, 2003 to Movies


I could quite easily find out for you, what with my working at a cinema an' all, but at the moment, I'm sick, so no workie for me! *CoughHack*

Posted by: James Metcalf on October 20, 2003 12:59 PM

I stayed past the end credits and there was nothing to see... just that blue rated R screen.

Posted by: tomas on October 20, 2003 1:05 PM

'...like a grocery store checker asking if you "found everything okay?"'

I really enjoy answering this question with a complaint about how the store is out of stock of something or has cheese that expired over a week ago. It really does shock them... and then they scramble to figure out how they are supposed to respond when someone does in fact answer this question.

If you find out about the ending please post it as I, as the low-brow movie goer that I am, scurried out of theatre the moment the credits rolled.

Posted by: Rob on October 20, 2003 1:05 PM

The review where he says to wait was from a pre-screening.... the scene at the end of the movie where Uma is writing the names on the pad of paper in the plane was originally after the credits. Tarantino did a quick edit after some of the critics complained....

P.S. Did anybody besides me notice that in that scene all the first class passengers have samurai swords???

Posted by: Cambo on October 20, 2003 1:13 PM

Did anyone notice that the first trailers had scenes that have be cut from the moive, for instance uma training with hantori and the bald by choice) guy?

I've seen the moive twice so far and I'm still stunned. The use of anime inside the film was wild, yet gratifying.

Posted by: quietfly on October 20, 2003 1:50 PM

(Thanks s.n. -- all fixed, I think.)

Posted by: Matthew on October 20, 2003 2:00 PM

No prob! Now, lay off the booze a little, eh? :)

Posted by: s.n. on October 20, 2003 2:29 PM

LOVED it! Just don't consider it a standalone movie; it's definitely intended to be viewed as a part of the genre.

BTW my favourite response to the '...grocery store checker asking if you "found everything okay?"' is to moan about my hangover. They get really freaked out.

Posted by: Justin on October 20, 2003 3:04 PM

You might have already seen the early 222 page script posted on line...but here you go anyway.


Posted by: chaddie on October 20, 2003 3:16 PM

The chronicle reviewer lost me when he said that the character go-go was in a _catholic_ schoolgirl outfit, then accused tarantino of having hangups. They have schoolgirls in Japan, I've heard--perhaps, maybe just perhaps, she was dressed as a stereotypical _japanese_ schoolgirl.

This is an excellent film. The reason critics are panning it is that their thesis advisors haven't told them them that it's clever yet.

Posted by: blinky on October 20, 2003 3:33 PM

Go ahead and click on the link to see what I thought of it. I hated it. I LOATHED it, because I want a plot with my action. Mindless violence strung together over a weak plot and bad dialogue has been done a hundred times before.

The only reason this dog is getting good reviews is QT's name is on it.

Not only that, but it's been done with better fight choreography. Go rent Fire Dragon (Yuen Wo Ping), The Killer (Chow Yun Fat), or any of Jet Li's older HK movies like My Father is a Hero(find the ones with subtitles, the dub jobs are horrible)

Posted by: Glen on October 20, 2003 4:43 PM

I didn't want to see this movie originally, because I don't like violence.
I loved it. The colours were intense, the camera work was wicked... the music was so over-the-top (purposely) and fab. I killed myself laughing all the way. Kaboom cereal. Kaboom cereal.

Seriously, the gore in this movie was Monty Python style, and for that, I can understand why it was rated R and not NC17. If you want to see a movie with violence that's actually disturbing, rent "the long good friday". (I always recommend this movie to people...) It freaked the hell out of me. Plus, it's Pierce Brosnan's first film, and he's young, and good looking, and evil, and has no lines, and glares at the camera.... *shiver*
Plus it has a realistic plot AND George Harrison funded it, and he was a cool guy.

Posted by: Pippi on October 20, 2003 6:56 PM

I'm so pathetic. Pulp Fiction and Resevoir Dogs both freaked me out. I actually had to take a little 'break' in the middle of the movies. When I heard that Kill Bill was a Hong Kong action violence movie I knew I'd have to see it. I've loved John Woo since 'The Killers.' I can handle buckets of blood and fighting when it's silly pretend Hong Kong stuff. But in other situations I'm a wimp. Also this review is very convincing!

Posted by: Miel on October 20, 2003 10:14 PM

Psst. Paragraph 4, sentence 2. Soemthing is wrong.

I have it on good authority that s. n. finds typos sexy. Samurais, not so much.

Thanks for the review.

Posted by: Tpyo on October 20, 2003 10:59 PM

Is it gorier than Pete Jackson's "Braindead"?

Posted by: Adam on October 21, 2003 1:42 AM

I'll have to rate it against one of my first Jackie Chan films, Drunken Master II -- an older release of Legend of Drunken Master, which for years we watched in Cantonese with Mandarin subtitles!
Not until Jackie released an English version (and cut the final scene!!) were my wife and I able to get the entire gist of the film.

Posted by: Jon on October 21, 2003 4:58 AM

My housemate went into LotR: Fellowship of the Ring not knowing it was the first part of a trilogy. About 20 minutes from the end she's thinking "crikey, they're going to be rushing through to the ending..." and then at the end it was "was that it?!?!"

Posted by: Simstim on October 21, 2003 5:42 AM

Quentin Tarantino has a very, very small penis. Apparently.

Posted by: stavrosthewonderchicken on October 21, 2003 7:24 AM

You are exactly right. This movie was Anime more than comic book. But it had elements of both, but mostly straight up anime.

I hear the second part is going to be a western.

Posted by: Wedge on October 21, 2003 7:57 AM

Check out this Kill Bill study guide, where they list off a bunch of HK film references that QT appears to draw from.


I went to see the movie with a friend and his girlfriend... I had the same response as you (ie holy shit, awesome!), my friend waited until his gf responded before commenting, she clearly missed many of the references and hated it. Hell, I missed a TON of the references and LOVED it, but that's probably a guy thing. :)

Posted by: Ryan Waddell on October 21, 2003 10:29 AM

Did I imagine your link to Gregg Easterbrook's review? I don't think so, but I know Gregg wishes he had imagined writing it. His comments regarding Jews and Hollywood earned him all sorts of problems. Then he gets fired from writing his Tuesday Morning Quarterback column for ESPN and to top it all off, the link is removed from the yeti. Poor TMQ - a smart man says a dumb thing and out he goes.

Posted by: Chris on October 21, 2003 2:06 PM

Did I imagine your link to Gregg Easterbrook's review?

No, I originally linked to Easterbrook's review (more of a screed, really), because I misremembered it as having that "let's just admit it's indefensible" line. Once I realized that the line came from the San Francisco review, I switched the link.

Easterbrook might have high ethical standards when it comes to leaving dumb mistakes on his blog, but I have no compunction over revision whatsoever.

Posted by: Matthew on October 21, 2003 2:12 PM

At first I was really excited about going to see this because, well, while I now know better and much prefer an intellectually stimulating plot, I *was* raised on mindless action movies. Then I heard it was outrageously gory, and changed my mind. I like action, not gore. However, if it's Python style, I think I can take it. Does anyone know if it's better/worse on gore than Black Hawk Down? I closed my eyes through half that movie (why did i see it? Josh. Ewan. Orlando. What? I'm female!) but I think I handled it pretty well. If it's not too disturbing, I will *definitely* see it.

Thanks for the review.

Posted by: Natalie on October 21, 2003 3:12 PM

Slightly off topic:
I'm with you Natalie, and Ewan was the only reason I dragged myself to Star Wars: Episode II after the horror that was Jar Jar.

Posted by: Erin on October 21, 2003 4:27 PM

To everyone who says that everything in Kill Bill has been done before, you are forgetting one major thing: Uma Therman. Yes, the main charicter in this movie that is so bloody they have to mop out the theatre after every showing has a femal lead actor, and three female villans who kick as much ass as the main charicter.

Posted by: Peteman on October 21, 2003 5:26 PM

I felt the same way as die shadowkeeper. I wasn't sure I could enjoy this film as I was supposed to be too mature to enjoy wall-to-wall violence. But if that wasn't the most fucking amazing film I have seen in a long time, then I have no reason to live. Really.

Posted by: f03tu5 on October 21, 2003 7:09 PM

that movie blew. even for violence, that sucked. below average kung fu movie. not even all that gorey or imaginative comapred to something like the Story of Ricky-O.

Posted by: destro on October 21, 2003 8:18 PM

Natalie: The gore isn't at ALL realistic. Unless you know someone whose heart can pump blood with the pressure of a firehose.

Posted by: Ryan Waddell on October 22, 2003 7:40 AM

>The only reason this dog is getting good reviews is QT's name is on it.

i think this undermines a lot of the reasons some of us like it so much. we see the references, the angles, the style and we like it.. i went because of QT's name, but i now like it because of so many different things that you may not, but its not because of his name. in fact, i'd say its the other way, as i've seen in a lot of reviews--this movie, the things in it, the way he did it help revalidate his greatness (i.e. his name).

>isn't at ALL realistic && pressure of a firehose

i wonder how many people have seen a blade staked into a person at all. it was entirely "realistic" i thought because i have no frame of reference for that reality. the same goes for space movies or what not... it agrees with what i figure it to be, but i wouldnt let what i feel to supercede what i'm being shown. I have seen blades go into arms and a leg once... (i'm a fencer, so i just see points, not blades). there is a bit of pressure.. i've also heard references to how strong the blood comes out of the cartoid (sp?) artery that its strong and very directional...

and to wrap up..the blood fire hydrant thing was in the anime part right... if i recall right, there were other stylistic choices about "impact" and style that help the viewer "feel" the experience. bathing in the blood of revenge mmay not objectively look like that, but i'm sure it feels like it.

Posted by: araboth on October 22, 2003 9:07 AM

This movie occupies the same sort of space in my mind as Sleepy Hollow does...movies that I love for the pure visuality, but nothing else, because there's not much else to them. The blue room scene reminded me of West Side Story in a way, with the balletic violence. And I'm female, and I got no specific references, but I thought it was fantastic and hilarious and/or beautiful anyway. Even the dialogue was stylized for aesthetic effect. Charming.

Posted by: lythea on October 22, 2003 9:51 AM

hey yeah, for me add hard boiled to akira and drunken master II for coolest, most violent action movies ever! i've heard battle royale and ichi the killer are pretty good too, but i've not seen them out on video at all. kill bill vol. 1 was okay :D oh wait, and ninja scroll! almost forgot, it kicked ass :D

Posted by: doho on October 22, 2003 12:34 PM

Kill Bill is not out in Tokyo yet, but I saw "Zatouichi" which is Takeshi Kitano's new samurai film which won awards at the Venice Film Festival. It has a good plot, awesome sound, some innovative camera angles, stunning swordplay, lots of gore, some campy stuff too. Highly recommended. This is the real deal.

Nothing against QT, but I have to imagine that there is a difference between a Japanese director doing a samurai film vs. an American director (even one as much of a fan of Asian cinema as QT is) doing what amounts to an homage of samurai films.

Posted by: Gen Kanai on October 24, 2003 6:28 PM

I haven't seen the film yet, but regarding the comment about blood coming out with the pressure of a firehose, you'd be surprised! For example, the blood in the main artery in your leg is under so much pressure that sometimes the only way to stop the flow from a wound around the groin is to stand on it - putting pressure on with your hands will have absolutely no effect at all.

However, like I said I haven't seen the film, so the blood could simply be spurting for visual effect... 8-)

Posted by: David Way on October 27, 2003 12:01 PM

This movie simply kicked ass!!!! I've seen it twice so far and I cannot wait for part 2 to come out!! Awesome soundtrack once again!!!!

Way to go quentin!!!

Posted by: Marcel on January 5, 2004 9:29 AM