Simultaneously exhilarating and infuriating, “Kill Bill - Vol. 1” is about everything and nothing at once. Quentin Tarantino’s first film in six years is an unabashed celebration of style over substance, of carefully choreographed fight sequences that result in cartoonishly crude violence — all edited with the relentless pacing of a music video.
It's both an homage to the film genres the writer-director loves (Japanese anime, Chinese martial-arts movies, Italian spaghetti Westerns, blaxploitation flicks) and to himself.
The uniform that the Japanese gangsters wear — black suit, white shirt, black tie — is straight out of “Reservoir Dogs,” which turned Tarantino into a god among film geeks in 1992. And the melancholy surf guitar in the film’s opening song brings to mind Dick Dale’s “Miserlou,” which famously punctuated the “Pulp Fiction” opening credits in 1994.
“Kill Bill” is yet another opportunity for Tarantino to show off his pathologically obsessive eye for detail — and another opportunity to showcase “Pulp Fiction” star Uma Thurman, here playing an assassin who seeks revenge on the former comrades who tried to kill her on her wedding day.
The yellow track suit Thurman wears when she takes on 100 samurai-sword wielding thugs (a scene reminiscent of Keanu Reeves’ battle with 100 Agent Smiths in “The Matrix Reloaded”) is an exact replica of the outfit Bruce Lee wore in “Game Of Death.” And during the climactic showdown between Thurman’s character and Lucy Liu’s in a Japanese garden, the snow seems to fall in perfect time to the music.
Then, just when “Kill Bill” really gets going, it abruptly ends — the result of Miramax’s maddening decision to release the original three-hour film in two parts.
It’s insulting to suggest that audiences can’t sit still that long to watch such an enthralling, meticulously crafted film. Then again, cutting it into two halves is probably just a marketing ploy to get filmgoers to pay twice.
And they will — the film is enormously entertaining, a sensory overload with some moments of true inspiration and dark humor amid the carnage. The cliffhanger ending is a doozy, and it’ll make you want to come back for “Kill Bill — Vol. 2” in February.
One angry bride
So if you choose to be manipulated, you’ll get to see Thurman in all her athletic, authoritative glory as a character known only as The Bride, who hunts down her former colleagues from the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad.
After lying in a coma for four years, The Bride suddenly awakens in the hospital, realizes the baby she was carrying is gone, and puts herself through rigorous training in order to exact her revenge. (Sonny Chiba, a Japanese martial-arts film legend and one of Tarantino’s idols, plays the samurai master who crafts The Bride’s sword.)
She makes a list of her targets and then goes after them - though Tarantino depicts her duels in his trademarked out-of-chronological-order style.
First there’s Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), who gets it in her suburban kitchen in a barrage of blood and breakfast cereal unfortunately witnessed by her 4-year-old daughter.
Then there’s O-Ren Ishii (Liu), the petite, feminine yet fearless leader of the Japanese mob underground. Liu makes her character so sexy and charismatic, it’s hard not to root for her to win. Her bodyguard, a teenager in a schoolgirl uniform with the fantastic name of Go Go Yubari (Chiaki Kuriyama), is equally intriguing, and doesn’t get enough screen time.
And that’s about all there is to say for now. The “Bill” of the title (David Carradine, another Tarantino idol) is heard in voiceovers but won’t appear on screen until the second half. Daryl Hannah shows up briefly in a naughty nurse get-up as another member of the assassin crew; presumably, her role will be expanded, too.
All we can do is guess and hope — just as Miramax and Tarantino can only guess and hope that killing Bill twice will pay off.