PG Cooper’s Movie of the Month: Kill Bill Volumes 1 and 2 (2003 and 2004)

Posted: February 27, 2012 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Movie of the Month

*Disclaimer: Review contains SPOILERS

Release date: October 10th, 2003 and April 16th, 2004

Running time: 111 minutes and 136 minutes

Written by: Quentin Tarantino

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Lucy Liu, Vivica Fox, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, and Sonny Chiba

 

The Kill Bill saga. Like most people, I choose to view these films as one complete whole, rather than two separate entities. The plot follows Beatrix Kiddo (Uma Thurman), a former assassin. Beatrix worked with three other individuals, O-Ren Ishi (Lucy Liu), Vernita Green (Vivica Fox), Budd (Michael Madsen), and Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) in a group called The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. The group was formed and ran by Bill (David Caradine). Bill and Beatrix were lovers, but after becoming pregnant, Beatrix decides to leave to start a new life for her daughter. She becomes engaged, but when Bill finds out, sends the remaining members of The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad to murder her, her husband, and her friends. Bill takes the liberty himself to shoot Beatrix in the head. But Beatrix survives, and four years later, wakes from her coma. Her child and life are gone and Beatrix decides to take revenge on the people responsible, one at a time.

 

I’ve always been a fan of these movies, but upon revisiting them for this month’s “Movie of the Month”, I find I like them even more than before. The Kill Bill saga is an epic revenge tale of grand scope. It’s a story that takes Beatrix around the globe, from El Paso, Texas to Tokyo Japan. It’s not the locations that are really impressive though, it’s the different styles to the saga. At times, the film is an intense tribute to Eastern cinema. The sword play is reminiscent of samurai films, and the fight scenes reminiscent of martial arts films. This is further emphasized by the film’s music, editing, and cinematography. It can be extremely evocative of Eastern film. On the other side of the spectrum, the film is also a tribute to Western cinema. Even the tone is a clash of ideals. Kill Bill is funny, sad, dramatic, mindless, and thought provoking. Most films would fall apart with so many different things going on, but Tarantino and co know how to make it work.

 

Carrying the saga is a great performance from Uma Thurman. Thurman makes Beatrix Kiddo one of the ultimate badasses of cinema. She’s tough, she’s strong, and she’ll tear through hundreds of people to get her target. One problem I found a lot of movies have with badass characters is forgetting to make them human too. Kill Bill does not make that mistake. Yes, Beatrix is a kickass character who can seemingly take down any foe, but she’s still a human being. A lot of the best scenes in the saga are ones are the ones without any action. One of the best is when Beatrix first awakes from her coma. There are no words. Beatrix wakes up, realizes her baby is gone, and breaks down. I think Thurman’s best work though is during the third act of Volume Two. We see her realize her daughter is still alive, their moments of happiness together, and the tense final confrontation with Bill. It’s excellent.

Speaking of Bill, the supporting cast here is excellent. I don’t have time to go over everyone, so I’ll just point out a few favourites. David Caradine is awesome as Bill. He’s a character whom you have complicated feelings for. Throughout most of the saga, you hate him for what he’s done to Beatrix. But as you slowly begin to meet him, you begin to see his softer side. You even begin to understand why he did what he did. I’m not saying you grow to like him, but you’re emotions are more complicated. Often overlooked in these films is Michael Madsen as Bill’s brother Budd. I find Budd one of the most sympathetic characters of the saga. You get the sense that he truly regrets what he did to Beatrix. He’s living a pretty sad life and he almost seems depressed. It just feels like he’s limping on through life, and that experiences with Bill have messed him up pretty bad. There’s something about his character I just find fascinating. Lucy Liu and Daryl Hannah are also worthy of praise for their truly despicable villains.

 

While Kill Bill may not seem like a terribly deep film, I find there’s a lot going on if when actually looks. I find the whole thing a pretty interesting study on revenge. At first glance, Beatrix’s path is a straight one. She makes a list of five people to kill, and goes to it. But as character Hattori Hanzo (Sonny Chiba) says, “Revenge is never a straight line. It’s a forest, and like a forest, it’s easy to lose your way.” Beatrix doesn’t deviate from her original goal, but she does untold amounts of damage in the process. Let’s go through each of the five on her list. First, O-Ren. Before killing O-Ren, Beatrix needs to fight off her personal guard, the Crazy 88. Now the Crazy 88 are criminals, so they probably deserve to die right? Well, a lot of the members are actually young people, a few only teenagers. It’s quite possible they were just confused kids who got caught up in violence. Instead of receiving the help they needed, they met the blade of a vengeful warrior. Next, Vernita. In the years following what happened to Beatrix, Vernita got married and had a daughter. Beatrix tries to avoid killing Vernita in front of her daughter but his ultimately unsuccessful. Vernita’s young daughter Nikki sees her mother dead at the hands of another woman. Something like that is going to effect you, and it’s quite possible that after a certain amount of time has passed, Nikki will come seeking revenge of her own, thus perpetuating the cycle. Even Beatrix acknowledges this when she tells little Nikki, “When you grow up, if you still feel raw about it, I’ll be waiting.” Next, there’s Budd. Now, Beatrix doesn’t actually kill Budd, but she would have, and his death is a direct result of her involvement. But who is Budd? Lord of the criminal underworld like O-Ren? Or a master assassin like Bill or Elle? No, Budd’s just a simple guy with a lot of problems living in El Paso, trying to get through life. Finally, there’s Bill. When Beatrix kills Bill, she also kills her daughter B.B.’s father. She then takes B.B. away with her. Is B.B. better off without someone like Bill as a father? Probably, but having your father killed by a mother who you just met would screw you up pretty bad. Now I’m not condemning Beatrix’s actions, or using this whole rant to criticize the film. Quite the contrary, I find it fascinating.

 

The film is also an interesting study on death, and the relationships between enemies. There’s a few key moments that study this. One is the battle between O-Ren and Beatrix. Before getting to O-Ren, Beatrix needs to go through wave after wave of O-Ren’s guard. When she finally makes it to O-Ren, Beatrix is exhausted. O-Ren makes and taunts her, but as the fight wears on, she develops a strange respect for her. This respect remains when Beatrix triumphs over O-Ren. Another key moment is when Budd tries to kill Beatrix. Budd is told he needs to make Beatrix suffer as she dies, and Budd tries to accomplish that. But he also tries to make it as pleasant as possible. Budd buries her alive, but gives her a flashlight for when she’s down there. It’s also worth noting how at one point, Beatrix resists violently, only for Budd to threaten to use a can of mace on her. However, he could have just used the mace right there, but instead he gives her a chance. I think this comes from that guilt within Budd I was talking about earlier. I don’t think Budd likes what he’s doing, so he does what he can to make the best of it. Then there’s Elle. At one point in the film, Elle, thinking Beatrix is dead, talks about how it’s such a shame Beatrix was killed by a loser like Budd, and that she deserved better than that. This makes Elle a huge hypocrite, because nobody kills using as much dishonourable methods as she does. She poisons Budd, Pai Mei, and she attempts to poison Beatrix while she’s comatose (but is stopped by Bill). It’s interesting that the character that prattles on the most about honour is the least honourable character of the saga. Finally, we come to Bill. The entire saga is built around Beatrix going and killing Bill. And yet when we finally reach that moment, you can tell the two still love each other. But they both made huge mistakes, and because of that, one of them had to die. It was the only way. It’s really quite tragic.

 

I shouldn’t ignore the action of the saga, which is nothing short of incredible. It’s insane to think out of so many fistfights and sword duels, each action scene remains unique and exciting. The best action scene is the epic battle between Beatrix and the Crazy 88. Holy shit is that fun to watch. There’s also the powerful duel between Beatrix and O-Ren, the bizarre fight between Beatrix and Gogo, the household brawl with Vernita, the training with Pai Mei, and the claustrophobic fist fight and subsequent deal with Elle. All these scenes are executed brilliantly. I also love how despite being a grand tale of bloody revenge, the saga’s climax is not an epic action, but an extremely well-written conversation. I know some people probably would have rather had an amazing action scene close out the story, but I personally feel the final conversation between Bill and Beatrix trumps everything. No, it’s not the most viscerally exciting, but it works the most on an emotional level.

 

A big reason the Kill Bill saga works so well also comes from how brilliantly crafted the whole thing is. Robert Richardson’s cinematography is gorgeous. The colour’s are very vibrant and Richardson does an amazing job capturing all the different styles. The editing is also nice and tight. Despite being about four hours when you add it all up, the Kill Bill saga flaws right by. And the script written by Tarantino is magnificent. Like most Tarantino films, half the pleasure is just listening to these guys speak. But it’s the music that might be my favourite aspect of the whole saga. Why? Because, like the rest of the film, the music is constantly changing in style. Specifically more Eastern music, and more Western music. The saga contains original music from RZA (of the Wu-Tang clan), and Tarantino’s friend and fellow director Robert Rodriguez. Other great music is used from the likes of Bernard Herrman, Vince Tempera, Gheorghe Zamfir, Luis Bacalov, Ennio Morricone, and Nora Orlandi.

 

Kill Bill is an amazing cinematic experience. It’s a truly epic story, full of incredible characters and mind blowing set pieces. It’s got sharp writing, wit, intelligence, and yet holds on to a sense of fun. If you want a deep revenge tale, look no further. If you want a check your brain at the door action film, look no further. Kill Bill is one of those rare cases where both desires are filled. It’s an amalgamation of ideas, feelings, and styles. As a result, we get something completely unique. I had forgotten how much I loved Kill Bill. I won’t make that mistake again.

 

Rating: A+

 

PG’s Great Movies:

Aliens (added January 27th, 2012)

A Clockwork Orange (added December 19th, 2011)

Collateral (added September 29th, 2011)

In The Loop (added November 26th, 2011)

Kill Bill Volumes 1 and 2 (added February 27th, 2012)

Comments
  1. Nice choice. Kill Bill could have been just another mindless action flick, but instead is actually pretty thoughtful. I may not agree with all of the philosophies the various characters espouse, but they all have one, and — with the exception of Elle, as you note — they all seem to try to actually live by them. They just inevitably bring the characters into conflict with each other. It makes for a fun, interesting film.

  2. Eric says:

    Aww yeah. I can’t even recall how many times I have seen these movies. Nice piece, PG. Have you seen Lady Snowblood? It was a major inspiration for Kill Bill.

    • pgcooper1939 says:

      Not, but I want to. I’ve seen some behind-the-scenes stuff on Kill Bill and they showed a few Lady Snowblood clips. Looks like it be interesting to watch if nothing else.

  3. alec96 says:

    I really love these movies, they could have easily been one big dumb mess. But I am glad it turned out to be a smart action movie. I also heard that there may be a new Kill Bill movie coming out someday. Quentin Tarantino said he wanted to do a sequel, I think he mentioned 2014. Well written post as well.

  4. Jaina says:

    Great write up for Kill Bill. It’s reminded me of everything I love about it.

    Looking back, I remember there being a lot of things said about Vol.2 being “too talky” and not as visceral as the first volume. I welcomed the change of pace. I thought it made the two volumes work so well together.

    And now I want to watch it all over again. It’s been ages!

  5. Wow. That’s a review right there, LOL. Boom.

    I love it too. Pure Awesomeness. Supercool. You’re right about the music, too, it’s awesome. I love how Tarantino mixes styles and mashes genres. Just an incredible incredible flick. An awesome choice for your movie of the month…

  6. […] Quentin Tarantino’s first Kill Bill is an awesome film, but it wasn’t the deepest of stories. Or at least it appeared that way, until Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume Two came out and proved there was a lot more going on. The film studies revenge, death, and enemies in a fascinating way. Tarantino’s script is also excellent, featuring great dialogue and story structure. Tarantino also shows more style in Kill Bill than he does in any of his other films. The cast is also great. Uma Thurman creates one of the strongest action heroes of all time, and David Carradine and Michael Madsen are also excellent. Kill Bill Volume Two is an epic revenge film, for my full thoughts, click here. […]

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