Chop 'Til You Drop
DIRECTED BY Quentin Tarantino
STARRING Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, David Carradine, Vivica Fox, Darryl Hannah
Opens October 10, Cert. 18, 120 mins
Quentin Tarantino wrote the first pages of this insane film back in '94, straight after wrapping Pulp Fiction. In a nutshell, it's Fox Force Five—the TV pilot briefly referred to by Uma Thurman's character in that film—beefed up, stretched out and packed full of horribly bloody dismemberment. Early US viewers have been saying it's the most violent film ever made. It's not. But it comes close.
Tarantino hasn't actually been working on this for nine years, of course. First came Jackie Brown, then a Lennon-style 'lost weekend'. He was supposed to film his WWII flick Inglorious Bastards before this, but never got round to it. Even once he started Kill Bill, he put it on hold while Thurman had a baby. And, in June, Miramax cut the film in two at the last minute. So you come to this thinking he's got something to hide. On the contrary, he's got a lot to show off.
We open on a b/w, extreme close-up of Thurman's gore-streaked face. It's her wedding day, and here she is, lying on a church floor, surrounded by corpses. Her former boss, Bill (Carradine), has a gun to her head. "Bill, I'm pregnant," she says. "It's your baby." He shoots her. Flash forward five years and Thurman's ringing the doorbell of a suburban home. A woman (Fox) answers, their eyes meet, there's a synth 'sting' and—whack! They launch into a bloody, glassware-smashing, furniture-breaking kung fu knife fight in the woman's living room. Tarantino's famous for his opening scenes, but this is so fast it snaps your head back.
If there's one thing we could have guessed beforehand, it's that Uma Thurman looks sexy with a blood-streaked sword in her hand. And this is very much her film. Referred to in the script only as "The Bride" (in a nod to Ronny Yu's 1993 swordfest The Bride With White Hair), Thurman's character is fresh out of a five-year coma and looking for revenge. It's not clear why Bill tried to kill her, but she knows her former team-mates in the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad were involved. So she sets out to kill them, one by one, until she gets to Bill.
As far as plot goes, that's it: feeble compared to the twist-filled storylines of Tarantino's previous films. But his motivation here, from the 1960s Shaw Bros logo in the film's opening credits onwards, is to accurately recreate the Asian "grindhouse" movies he loves—including their brutally linear, vengeance-themed plotlines.
For people who only know Tarantino from the much lighter, funkier Pulp Fiction, all this Asian stuff will be a mindfuck. Almost half the film's spoken in Japanese, and a whole 10 minutes in the middle are animated by the producers of 1995 animé classic Ghost In The Shell.
For fans of Asian cinema, though, that's the joy. It's a hundred 'fuck-me' moments from samurai classics like Zatoichi and Kozure Ôkami, and ultraviolent fare like Riki-Oh and Battle Royale, all woven together with loving accuracy. Take the sound effects. Tarantino's ear for detail means the fight scenes' clangs, swishes, chings and thumps are all painstakingly sourced from old Asian films. The hissing of blood from severed arteries had to be just so.
But let's assume you don't give a damn about authenticity. What's the big scene? Dogs had its ear-slicing, Pulp had its heart-injecting. What's Kill Bill got? Check out the climactic fight in the House Of Blue Leaves, a masterpiece of violence. It's not just the gore or the Yuen Woo Ping choreography. It's the dizzying confidence of the editing. At times, it's close-ups, silence and still moments, like you're reading a manga. At others, it's a b/w blur of clashing swords, chains and axes. Then it's silhouettes against a funky blue background. It goes on and on, and when it finally stops, the bloody dancefloor's strewn with groaning, limbless victims. Quent must have had this stuff in his head for years. The sick fuck. So, yeah, the dialogue's ridiculous, the plot rudimentary, the characters one-dimensional and the violence appalling. But in terms of jaw-dropping moments, the bloody buzz of it all, it's an all-out joy. And it ends with one of the best cliffhangers in cinema history. Bring on Volume Two.
Rating: 5 / 10