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Thu October 9, 2003
Kill Bill: Volume 1
An echo of Shakespeare's supreme ability to focus on a single theme
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
Quentin Tarantino's joy in filmmaking has been from "Pulp Fiction" at the least apparent. Now it shines in colors, ballet, beauty, and focus as never before in "Kill Bill." Uma Thurman embodies for him the ideals of grace and intelligence, vigor and violence, as she vengefully pursues murderers of her husband, child, and almost of herself, 4 years after being left for dead but awakening from a coma in a very bad mood.
In an echo of Shakespeare's supreme ability to focus on a single theme while creating layers of sub plots and themes, as for instance in "Hamlet," Tarantino has crafted a cornucopia of cinematic styles and genres aiming at one target: the broken line of revenge. Othello describes its path: "Till that a capable and wide revenge/ Swallow them up."
From the titles, the director shows a willingness to play with song and genre: Bad Bill is about to shoot his wounded colleague in the head while the director plays Nancy Sinatra's "Bang Bang," as macabre and appropriate a choice as I could think of; second only to that is the whistle tune Darryl Hannah is almost dancing to-- Bernard Herrmann's "Twisted-Nerve" theme. And the violence of this title sequence reminds me of the assassinations in the director's other famously violent flick, "Reservoir Dogs."
Everyone by now knows the director is honoring the Chinese grindhouse kung-fu films of the "70's and the exciting Japanese anime films. One of the revenge ballets is in anime style, a powerful evocation of a child's outrage at the murder of her father done in the style that transcends cartoon to accentuate the meaning in an almost surreal world. Anime was made for Tarantino.
Although it is tempting to compare "Kill Bill" with "Crouching Tiger" for its martial choreography and the presence of Lucy Liu as a villain, Tarantino goes way beyond "Tiger's" lovely violence into a nasty but beautiful world of courage and carelessness, camp and cunning. "Kill Bill" is simply smarter than "Tiger" because it focuses on the textures of revenge, enlisting our sympathy for Uma the assassination machine while explicating the inevitability of the revenge drive.
Does "Matrix" apply here? No, because Matrix confounds with an artificial complexity. "Kill Bill" never loses sight of its theme; it just pleases the audiences with the multiple cinematic ways to express it. At the beginning of a fight sequence, Liu says to enemy Thurman, "You didn't think it was gonna be that easy, did you?" To which Thurman replies, "You know, for a second there, yeah, I kinda did." It is easy to like this movie.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm.