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October 21, 2003

Kill Bill

I sometimes struggle with my willingness to accept the world on its own terms and the capacity I have as a middleclass American to do a damned thing about it. It is for this fundamental reason that I have a difficult time finding the proper perspective from which to judge Kill Bill. I'm outraged, I'm intrigued, I'm entertained, somewhat.

"He's an amateur", some critic said of Tarantino. He does it for the love of the genre. This sticks in my head as the only preview I've had of the film, which only makes it worse. I'd rather not hear anything. But it's very accurate. QT has a brilliant pacing for simple dialog which makes his films border on camp yet extremely memorable. If there's a flaw in Tarantino's style it is that he gives his films the quality that makes them perfect for adolescent boys to repeat. You can just see them gathered on the highschool steps repeating dialog like "Wiggle your big toe", over and over again. I know this. When I was an adolescent boy, the highschool steps were the scene of our recitations of Richard Pryor. We were ever so prepared to mimic and cause similar outrage.

What Tarantino has delivered is a set of interwoven vignettes of violence. The theme: vengeance. The vehicle, samurai swords. The virago, Uma Thurman, whose character is by far the most dangerous woman on the big screen since La Femme Nikita. With this woman, there is no memory loss, no hesitation about what she has become. She is a warrior, unblinking and deadly.

Where Kill Bill falters, oddly enough, is in the fight scenes. It's almost not a good martial arts film. When Jet Li takes on a police precinct full of cops, there is juicy choreography and a lot worth looking at. When Thurman slices and dices her way through an entire gang of Yakuza, it's just slaughter and hardly artful. I find myself questioning my entire visual vocabulary of swordplay. If kendo is that swift and brutal in actuality, it requires much more drama than we get. Which Kurosawa film was it in which the master swordsman kills his opponent so quickly? Imagine the master doing that with 4 people at once, taking a beat and then repeating over and over again. It doesn't work as martial art.

Tarantino is quick to remind us that we are not watching a typical big budget Hollywood film. He gets away with long slow closeups, uniquely Asian action gore motifs, anime, split screens, subtitles and extra cool music. It's stylized to the nth degree.

What is completely unique about Kill Bill is of course that it shows women killing women. I don't believe we are to be edified by this, but it certainly changes the sort of tension one experiences. It goes to the edge of repulsion and then pulls back in a distinctly feminine way. If you've ever watched girls play soccer, you might notice how they carry grudges over into different matches. Pow! That foul was for what you did to my friend last year. Thurman simmers then strikes. We think we know what it is that pushes a man over the edge; it's a familiar narrative. We know what to expect of the man-spy, the man-hunter, the man-mad for revenge. We don't know what to think of the orphaned girl twisted into sadism, the female crime boss who brokers no back talk, the woman who catches up to the man who has pimped her comatose body. The world is certainly not a better place now that Tarantino gives us this. Therein lies the dilemma. Is it porno or is it drama?

If you are a fan of the hardboiled action flick, you can appreciate the lack of cheese in Tarantino's craft. He is visually potent and every scene packs a wallop or a clever something. But what punch it delivers in a dozen different places, it makes up for in a profound lack of continuity. There is no sense of locale or flavor seeping into any of the characters. In that, it is very much like a video fighting game with a bunch of cool environments thrown in for relief. Nobody seems to touch any props which aren't weapons, or interact with anything on the set except as collateral damage in a fight. Since this was the first half of a twofer, it's easy to say that as of now the whole seems less than the sum of its parts, but it's unlikely to change.

What question is unanswered is whether this uberbitch will grow a heart - if she ever gets tired of revenge, if she'll ever get a far off misty look in her eyes that suggests she's tired of being a stone cold killer. But I don't think she has anywhere to go.

Posted by mbowen at October 21, 2003 09:18 PM

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Tracked on October 26, 2003 10:59 PM


what I wanted to know was whether he was intentionally spoofing the amount of killing that was going on with some of the obnoxious blood spatter, or it just seemed that way because I was looking too deeply into it.

As for the "waiting between punches" situation, I unfortunately liken it to some of the battles you see in the cartoonish Dragonball-Z type stuff. Which bothers the heck out of me - college students everywhere have too much appreciation for those shows, and the one thing I despise from it leaked into this movie. It was the one thing that bothered me - although Tarantino's script makes for some solid quotes, just as you discussed - it almost, and I say almost, makes you forget that you were annoyed about the delay in fighting.

Posted by: djspicerack at October 22, 2003 10:40 AM