Movie Review: Kill Bill, Vol. 1

Welcome back to normal posts on Chigaijin! After a two-week hiatus (really a one-month hiatus) I’m kicking things off again with a review of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. I’ve got plenty of article ideas in the pipeline, so hopefully I’ll keep up a good post rate, at least for a while.

Kill Bill (Vol. 1) was my first Tarantino movie, though I’ve seen clips from Pulp Fiction before. I didn’t know much about the movie, except that there was a lot of violence and it felt like an odd thing to be watching with my grandma. So what I got was, if you take a step back, a revenge movie. A very weird one.

As far as plot goes, that’s about it. The movie opens with a fight scene, of course, which does get everyone interested in who this crazy woman is, and why she’s taking revenge on all these people.

For those regarded as warriors, when engaged in combat the vanquishing of thine enemy can be the warrior’s only concern. Suppress all human emotion and compassion. Kill whoever stands in thy way, even if that be Lord God or Buddha himself. This truth lies at the heart of the art of combat.

We get this quote in voiceover as the main character (whose name we never learn) gets into her car and drives away after committing murder in Suburbia. And that pretty accurately describes the rest of the movie: the protagonist fairly mechanically follows each step necessary to fulfill her goals.

Unfortunately, rather than reveal the backstory in tantalizing pieces throughout the movie, we get all we’re going to get in “Chapter 2”: the investigation of the mass murder we caught a glimpse of in the prologue and in the protagonist’s flashbacks. There is one piece of intrigue added just before the credits, but the net effect of having a straightforward backstory and an emotion-suppressed protagonist was that I didn’t care about her success.

(There are plenty of things unrevealed about the primary antagonist, the eponymous “Bill”, that I assume we’d find out in the second half of the movie. Wikipedia says it was intended to be one movie to begin with anyway, but ended up too long. Again, though, I don’t know if I care enough to watch the second half.)

That’s pretty much the entire plot side of the movie, but that’s not really the point of watching it, right? How about the action side of things?

…well, actually, the best fight scene was the first one. Almost all of the protagonist’s adventures in Japan were rather uninteresting fights. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by better showy martial arts (most recently, a Khmer translation of The Protector which I watched some of on a bus ride from Phnom Penh to Kompong Cham). I couldn’t help thinking, though, that this was not only not that showy, it also wasn’t very good fighting (lots of openings and pauses and such that could get the protagonist killed, and the enemy cannon fodder troops were really bad). And seriously…as cool as sword fights are, this is why guns were invented.1 I actually said this out loud because of how stupid it felt.

There’s an incredible amount of violence, but unlike some other movies in the last decade it’s actually not emphasized most of the time. Everything’s so matter-of-fact and practical—wait, maybe this is the “content modified for TV”. Even so, some movies are trying to shock you with the gore or mutilation or whatever, and I didn’t get that feeling in Kill Bill. Tarantino really likes clean amputations and spraying blood fountains, but other than that…

Okay, so the plot’s fairly mediocre, and the action’s fairly mediocre. As I asked on Facebook, what was I supposed to like about it?

My friend Gerald explains:

It’s an homage to all the kind of (rather crappy) movies that used to be crammed into matinees or late night tv/cable during the ’70s/’80s. When you were bored and looking for something to watch, you’d see these an’ sorta think: “wtf.. this is what people try to pass off as ‘entertainment’?” and the amusing thing is that the utter failed attempts made for their own form of entertainment.

This was during the age before infomercials took over late night television, so Kill Bill, in multiple ways, is referring to a bygone era in cinema history. Imagine if, after several more years, people eventually drop away from reality TV and the ‘genre’ thankfully dies, then 20 years later someone makes a work that is essentially the peak of evolution of ‘reality entertainment’. Kill Bill is kinda like that.

As for that, it’s rather not the best choice for someone who’s just trying to understand the entire point behind it.

…Okay. I have to admit there were some clever and/or fun points (listed at the end of this post under the section labeled “Comments With Spoilers”). My other friends Bien and Jessica back up Gerald’s POV. So what do I think?

Well, it’s perfectly okay to make movies targeted at a demographic that has prerequisite cultural knowledge. Heck, I watched all the original Star Trek movies. But like non-Trekkies (Trekkers?) coming to the original Star Trek movies, it does mean the movie’s going to lose some of its general appeal. For someone who is familiar with old action / martial arts movies, this could actually be a lot of fun. For the average movie-goer, though…

In the end, I feel like Tarantino was putting in a lot of references and tropes, and maybe that’s what’s supposed to make the movie enjoyable. But it felt like he was just pushing buttons at random, throwing in a bit of everything cause it was fun. That’s not good storytelling. That’s normally a newbie mistake on FanFiction.net.

I still want to see Pulp Fiction in full (I’ve only seen clips), and I’ve heard Reservoir Dogs is good too. But Kill Bill wasn’t fun enough or interesting enough to be worth the investment for me, and if I never see the second half I won’t really care.

Comments With Spoilers

These are random comments about things in the movie. Oh, and they have spoilers…though since you see in “Chapter 1” that O-Ren Ishii is already crossed out, you kind of know how the entire rest of the movie is going to go…

  • The Bride’s legs have atrophied, but her arms are fine? Pretty sure that’s not how it works. (Okay, the whole “wiggle your big toe” sequence implies neurological damage too, but even so.)
  • “The Origin of O-Ren” turned out to be one of my favorite chapters. At first I hit the “is this racist” block – she’s half-Japanese, so her story’s in anime? But maybe I’m just a sucker for this particular style, where the lines fluctuate a little during action.
  • On the other hand, the way The Bride pronounces “Ishii” really bothers me. I mean, I know the name really is “ishi-i” (probably 石井), but there’s not really a pause in there like that…
  • YOU CAN’T JUST TAKE A SWORD ON A PLANE.
  • When Ishii beheads Boss Tanaka, it actually shocked me more that she didn’t clean her katana before putting it back in the sheath. Guess the movie had already inured me to that sort of violence…
  • Is it just me, or was it a lot more work to take out Ishii than Green?
  • My Japanese is really bad now, but I tried to listen when they spoke in Japanese. I found it interesting that when The Bride says「殺したい鼠がいる」, 「ねずみ」is subtitled as “vermin”, but immediately after Hattori replies “Big rats”. I think “rat” is a better translation, but I suppose “vermin” has the connotation she was looking for.
  • Oh, that’s where “Woo Hoo” comes from.
  • I actually liked how the Bride’s name was bleeped out cause it was “interesting”, but in retrospect it feels like one of those buttons being pushed at random. When you don’t use someone’s name at all it means they’re either the everyman (-woman?) or they’re already dead / erased from the world. I guess it was the latter here, but…

…Yeah, I think that’s it. Carry on.

  1. This actually is why the feudal systems of both Europe and Asia mostly collapsed: ranged combat > close combat. In Europe, it was specifically the rise of crossbows, which fired bolts that could puncture armor. In Japan, you get the wonderful story of closing borders to Westerners in order to keep guns out of the country. ↩︎

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