Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003) & Vol. 2 (2004) Movie Retro Review by Stephen McLaughlin


Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writers: Quentin Tarantino, Quentin Tarantino (character The Bride) (as Q)
Stars: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Daryl Hannah, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen

I had a good think about how I wanted to construct a movie review for both volumes of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. Usually I would do them separately but I’ve always viewed the story in its entirety. I missed going to see these movies on their initial release and in many ways I am glad I first saw both volumes at the same time, meaning back to back. I never understood why a lot of people favoured volume one over volume two as watching these together the pacing remains consistent and the story remains interesting up to its climatic finale. The only element of change I could see was the first volume was more a martial art style movie that “Golden Harvest” would have been proud of. The second volume is more dialogue filled and also has a western feel to it but nevertheless a really good movie.

I also enjoy the way Tarantino will pluck an actor who was once really famous from near obscurity and reinvented them in his world of Red Apple Cigarettes and Big Cahuna Burgers. He did it with John Travolta in Pulp Fiction (1994) again with Kurt Russell in Death Proof (2007) and this time in 2003 with David Carradine as the lead villain and orchestrator “Bill”

As always Tarantino never uses the continuity template of revealing the story on a day to day basis. All his films will flit back and forth and so begins a reviewers nightmare of making sense of a “Tarantino Timeline” We begin in a Chapel with “The Bride” (Uma Thurman) lying bloodied and battered wearing a wedding dress on a floor clinging to life itself with “Bill” speaking to her and you can hear but not see him. As well as his voice you can also hear him loading his gun up with the Bride horrified on what is about to happen and just as she speaks the words “Bill, it’s your Baby” the gun goes off and blood splatters from her head. It’s at this point we realise she was carrying her unborn child.

The opening scene although shocking is the benchmark on what is about to go down over the next 3 hours and as always Quentin Tarantino is the master of hooking you from the Kick Off with his style of film making. “The Bride” as she is called at this stage is miraculously in a coma (for 4 years) and awakes in a hospital ward confused and distraught at realising her child was removed from her at some stage over the 4 year course. Regaining her memory and physical self is very quick but interlaced with the present scenes and flashbacks as it isn’t necessary to see “The Bride” performing physiotherapy and from a filmmakers point of view is executed in the right manner.

It is not long until we see what Uma Thurman’s character is capable of and the opening fight scene is terrific and has a style at this point that I had never seen before by Tarantino. The pace is fast and the action is violent and without uttering a word you can sense the rage and injustice from “The Bride” and at this point we have our first flashback in grainy black and white taking us back to that fateful day in the chapel and cleary Vernita Green (Vivica A Fox) was involved in “The Massacre at Two Pines” strangely Tarantino opted to show the audience “The Bride’s” hit list with Vernita number two on the list with the name O-Ren Ishii already scored out??

Tarantino manages to mix these fighting sequences with terrific dialogue and if I were to nitpick on this scene it would be that the choreography at times is obvious. This isn’t dissing the scene in anyway, in fact it’s one of my favourite scenes throughout both volumes but like the Star Wars Prequel lightsaber battles at times they look rehearsed to the point of being unnatural.

Volume 1 also never reveals the face of Bill at any point and we only hear David Carradine in voice or see him from the back of his head. Thinking back to 2003 I don’t think the casting of Bill was a big secret so in many ways I wasn’t sure why the first volume was shot like that. Also the identity of “The Bride” is also a secret adding a mystery to both characters.

The final third of the movie pays homage to Bruce Lee’s “Game of Death’s” yellow jumpsuit and the famous fighting scene in “Fist of Fury” with The Bride setting her sights on O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) and Sofie Fatale (Julie Dreyfus). These events happened before her encounter with Vernita Green at the beginning of the movie and I felt showing the audience that “The Bride” had already disposed of O-Ren should have killed the climatic battle scene. Strangely it doesn’t, in fact watching the build up to their face off is more anticipated and battling through O-Ren’s henchmen and her skilful bodyguard Gogo Yubari (Chiaki Kuriyama) are a must see. A lot of the sequences are filmed in black and white for reasons I can only assume are because of how graphic a lot of the sequences are shot.

After the bloodshed of the fighting scenes, a dismemberment Sofie Fatale is interrogated by Bill and the first volume ends with Bill asking Sofie “One more thing Sofie. Is she aware her daughter is alive?” The first time I saw this I admit my jaw dropped. I naturally assumed “The Bride’s” Daughter never survived the “The Massacre at Two Pines” and I’m sure I’m not alone in that cliffhanging dialogue. Kill Bill Vol. 1 isn’t far away from being a masterpiece and leaves you hungry for more. Back when Tarantino and Thurman were shooting “Pulp Fiction” they had discussed making a film in the Martial Arts genre with Uma Thurman as the lead. Did the inspiration come from Mia Wallace’s failed pilot “Fox Force Five?” Who knows. All I knew was I needed to see Volume 2.

The opening Scene in Volume 2 takes us back to the Chapel at Wedding Rehearsal. We see a very mellowed out “Bride” to be and this reminds of the time before the tragedy at the Chapel and allows the audience to understand that her character is in a different place at this point in her life. Her days as a deadly assassin are behind her. Discovering she is pregnant she is ready to move on with her life and join the human race. There is only one problem with that….Bill.

In the middle of rehearsal “The Bride” hears a flute being played outside (Homage to Kung Fu? perhaps) and finally Bill is revealed. As I previously mentioned the feel to this Volume is different to the first part. The pace is slower and the settings are mostly set in the desert but the tone of the film remains. This is where I feel a lot of people couldn’t adjust to the changes and perhaps the execution at the films climax, which I’ll get to later.

“The Massacre at Two Pines” plays out with a tense build up between “The Bride” and Bill and Carradine is very tense in this scene and controlling. You can sense his contained rage at what is happening and the shot pulls back from the Chapel as the Vernita Green, O-Ren Ishii, Elle Driver, Budd and Sofie Fatale enter the building and we hear screams, gun fire and then silence.

One thing I was happier about was giving both Michael Madsen and Daryl Hannah a larger role in this Volume and it was pretty obvious it was going to happen anyway judging by “The Hit List” both had smaller parts in the first film and we only got an introduction to both of them. In fact it’s Hannah’s character Elle Driver the one eyed mad woman who finally unveils to the audience The Bride’s name is “Beatrix Kiddo.” Bud (Madsen) is portrayed as a bum but you sense in a former life he was a first rate assassin and we learn he is also Bill’s younger Brother.

Beatrix Kiddo’s first attempt at striking Bud down is quickly blasted by a gun full of rock salt and with Kiddo floored he injects her with some kind of paralysis drug to keep her at bay. The next sequence of events even to this day is uncomfortable viewing for me and if you suffer from claustrophobia you will know which scene I’m referring to. Yes that’s right, Bud intends to bury Beatrix Kiddo alive. The scene itself is simple but effective. In fact it’s not what you see but hearing the dirt being shovelled onto her coffin and her panting that freaks me out. I think it’s a great scene but I find it a hard scene to watch and I thought “how the hell is she going to get out if this?”

Kiddo when at her calmest reflects back to her first meeting with her old master Pai Mei played by Chia-Hui Liu. This is where the pacing of the movie slows down and I feel this may be one of the reasons a lot of people favour the first movie as it moves at a veracious speed. The meeting between Student and Master isn’t that deep and I felt Pai Mei for all his cruelty towards Beatrix came across more as a master with a twisted sense of humour. Don’t get me wrong he is strict and teaches her valuable lessons but it kind of reminded me of The Karate Kid (1984) a little when it should have had a darker tone. Nevertheless we see Beatrix growing as a student and it is partly her origins storyline at this point in the movie and we discover her inner strength to strike very hard and firm in close proximity. This skill allows her to be able to break through wooden timber from small spaces. Beatrix back in her coffin begins her escape from the confined space and reaches the earths surface gasping for breath…. and so was I at this point. Tarantino I felt put this scene in as I feel he enjoys his audience to squirm every now and then.

Beatrix Kiddo’s second attempt to strike at Bud would have to be a little more tactical. Unfortunately Kiddo never gets that chance as Bud in burying her previously took her Sword and negotiated a deal with Elle Driver to sell the sword to her for $1 Million. Driver sets Bud up and places a deadly snake in the loot poisoning him and he dies a slow death. Before Elle can step out of Bud’s trailer Beatrix Kiddo enters the scene and we finally have a fight scene between both former close assassins in a very confined space in the trailer. Even with one eye, Elle is a force to be reckoned with and I love the way Daryl Hannah portrays the character as a hard hitting psychopath with more venom in her than the snake that killed Bud. Fair play to Kiddo, she went for Drivers “Achilles Heal” or in this case her one good eye and in typical Tarantino style pull her eye out of its socket and stamps on it *Ewwww*

You sensed over both movies and so many complex fighting sequences that it made you wonder if the meeting with Bill would or could top anything that had been done before on a physical level. This is where I feel for a lot of people the climatic finale felt a little let down. Personally I was very satisfied with the ending. I enjoyed the dialogue between Beatrix Kiddo and Bill, I felt the intensity between them and the hatred and respect simultaneously. The meeting between Mother and Daughter although played down was sweet. It must be a difficult task to blend a scene with so many emotions. The hatred and anger from Kiddo towards Bill. Bill’s disappointment in Kiddo’s retirement and another thing that a lot of people probably overlooked… Bill’s fear towards Kiddo. Although it appears he is in control, why else would he have a gun at his side if he didn’t know what she was capable of?

In the end it’s Kiddo who has the ace in the pack and quickly uses the The Five-Point-Palm Exploding-Heart-Technique on Bill who although knows his days are numbered looks impressed with Kiddo learning this trick from her master Pai Mei. Yes that’s the climatic event and final fighting technique used in the film that lasts no more than 4 seconds. Disappointed? Hell no. Expected? Hell no. Satisfying? Hell yes. I couldn’t think of a better way to end her journey. Reconciled with her Daughter and finally having the chance for a normal life. Perfect.

The Cinematography throughout both volumes is testament to Director of Photography Robert Richardson who manages to set two different tones for both volumes and the late great Sally Menke’s editing cannot be ignored either. Menke’s editing and timing on all of her collaborations with Tarantino doesn’t get overlooked and I was genuinely saddened to hear when she passed away. Quentin Tarantino is at his finest in these two movies in my opinion. Again his characters are memorable and his soundtrack is never out of place whether it’s the sound of revenge in the form of “Quincy Jones’ Ironside excerpt” or the climatic revelation of “The Brides” daughter is alive in the form of “The Lonely Shepherd” by Zamfir. It all adds to a beautiful mood setter and is a vital ingredient in Tarantino’s filmmaking. Kill Bill Volume 1 and 2 in my opinion are cinematic history. Highly Recommended.

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