First, let's put some of the rumors to bed: Quentin Tarantino always envisioned Kill Bill as a two-volume opus --- he just didn't spring the idea on Miramax until things were nearly finished. Volume 1 actually lends itself to episodes better than, say, The Matrix Reloaded or either of the first two Lord of the Rings pictures. The reason it works is because Tarantino breaks up his action --- which covers a broad, Adaptation-like scope of time and settings --- into chapters, so the cliffhanger seems very natural.
Volume 1 speeds by in a taut 97 minutes (at least 10 of which are credits), and, as pledged by Tarantino, is virtually non-stop action. Volume 2 promises more character development and substance (not to mention the name of Thurman's character, as well as a likely appearance by the guy she's trying to kill), which makes it difficult to critique Volume 1.
It's anybody's guess how long Volume 2 will be, but since the two halves seem like they'll be very different films, I don't have much problem with the dual release (other than twice as much green lining Miramax's coffers, in addition to shots at Oscars in two separate years). It sounds like they would have been clunkier as one flick.
I didn't know much about Kill Bill, other than some of the casting and its simple premise --- a pregnant woman is shot and left for dead on her wedding day but lives and tries to exact revenge on those responsible --- but as the opening credits unfurled, I got more and more excited.
The Street Fighter's Sonny Chiba (if you know True Romance, you know him) co-starring and choreographing some fight scenes while Crouching Tiger's Yuen Woo-ping handled the rest? Photography from Robert Richardson, who won an Oscar for JFK and shot the equally frenetic (not to mention Tarantino-penned) Natural Born Killers? A score from Wu-Tang's RZA? Music and an appearance by Japanese trash rockers The 126.96.36.199s? Michael Parks returning as the From Dusk Till Dawn sheriff? I could have gone home after the credits and been happy just to have seen that collection of names following the super-cheesy feature intros from the '70s.
But things got even better, starting with a tight black-and-white close-up of Uma Thurman's bloody face as an unknown man attempts to clean her up (hint: his handkerchief is monogrammed "Bob") before shooting her in the head. Somewhere in there, Sonny & Cher's "Bang Bang, My Baby Shot Me Down" was played, but by this point, my head was spinning and my notebook had fallen off my lap without me realizing it.
The rest of Volume 1 plays out in non-sequential chapters, showing Thurman's character (we never learn her name --- it's bleeped out whenever anyone mentions it, making it kind of like the suitcase in Pulp Fiction) hunting down her former associates, a group of hit men called the Deadly Vipers Assassination Squad (DiVAS).
If you've seen the trailer, you already know that The Bride (that's what we're supposed to call her for now) faces Lucy Liu's Cottonmouth and Vivica A. Fox's Copperhead. Anyone suffering from ophidiophobia will notice they're both named after snakes, as are the DiVAS other two members, who are briefly seen and played by Michael Madsen and Daryl Hannah.
If you're up on your Tarantino, you might recall the whole idea of a five-member assassination squad from Fiction (remember Fox Force Five?), which makes sense because Tarantino and Thurman came up with the loose idea for Kill Bill's story while shooting Fiction. In Volume 1, we see The Bride overcome the bullet to the head and subsequent four-year coma and partial paralysis to hit up three different cities on three very different missions, which generally involve gallons of blood as well as flying heads and limbs (one scene resembles the wide shot of casualties at the train depot from Gone With the Wind).
A Wind homage may not have been Tarantino's intention, though he pays tribute to so many other films, you'd need a doctorate in cinema with a minor in pop culture references to catch it all. They include martial arts epics like Game of Death and The Master of the Flying Guillotine, in addition to Kaboom cereal, borderline necrophilia, Japanese anime, spaghetti westerns, and The Green Lantern. In other words, all things I dig, aside from the anime (which is done really well), so take this review with a grain of salt.
Essentially, it's a mélange of the less sexual grind house films Tarantino saw as an impressionable youth, and in keeping with his penchant for resurrecting long-forgotten stars, here he attempts to revive Chiba and David Carradine (the former reprises his television role of Hattori Hanzo, while latter plays Bill).
But Volume 1 is all about the action. Remember how ridiculously lame the big fight scene between Neo and the thousand Agent Smiths in The Matrix Reloaded looked? You won't get any of that here. There's no CG, and that makes the fight scenes so much more satisfying. Tarantino does it all with clever old-school camera tricks and editing, and a little wire fu, too. Most of the battles involve knives or swords (holding true to Fox Force Five dogma), and one 20-minute segment is so bloody, it's shown in black and white.
And Volume 2? I can't wait.
Interested in raw, unsanitized movie ramblings from Jon? Visit his site, Planet Sick-Boy (www.sick-boy.com), or listen to him on WBER's Friday Morning Show.