In my review of Inglorious Basterds (2009), I mentioned that there are many classic Quentin Tarantino films that I do not enjoy. This includes the bulk of his early work. It was with Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003) that my opinion changed, at least for a time. I remember seeing early trailers of it and thinking that it was, if nothing, something stylistically different in appearance to his usual heist/shoot-‘em-up fare. It is no less gory than his other stuff, mind you, but at least there is more of an emotional core with a focused plot rather than random characters and no central theme. In re-watching it recently, it also made me realize that it kicked off several sub-genres that have become overplayed, particularly the revenge flick. Still, the primogeniture holds up to this day, even if the cell phones are comically antiquated.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 opens on a bloody, bruised, and beaten bride (Uma Thurman) being shot in the head by a faceless figure named Bill (David Carradine). The end. Kidding. Just before the gun goes off, she tells him that the baby she had been carrying was his. The next scene sets up her revenge quest as we see her ring the doorbell of the suburban home of Vernita Green (Vivica Fox), aka Copperhead, one of Bill’s former henchmen who assisted in the attack on the Bride. Vernita has a different life now, but she was once part of the Deadly Vipers Assassination Squad, a group of hitmen run by Bill of which the Bride was once a part. The Bride blames them all for not only the attack, but the death of her unborn child. She should have been dead herself, but when the film then cuts back to when the police investigate the assassination attempt, they find that she is still alive. Instead, she is in a coma and is put into a hospital. Bill then sends an assassin, Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), aka California Mountain Snake, to finish the job. Right as she is about to inject a lethal substance into the Bride’s intravenous (IV) drip, Bill calls her to cancel the hit. She is then left in a comatose state for the next four years, and is apparently part of a sick scam on the part of a nurse named Buck (Michael Bowen) who uses patients in that ward as sex objects. As one of Buck’s clients (Jonathan Loughran) is about to do his business, she awakens and mauls him, biting off is lower lip. She next takes care of Buck, taking his truck from him and spending the next several hours in it trying to will her long dormant limbs into movement. With motion restored, she flies to Okinawa, Japan, in order to meet renowned sword-maker Hattori Hanzo (Shin’ichi Chiba). Though the aging man has sworn never to make another weapon, when the Bride drops Bill’s name Hanzo decides to make one last blade due to some unsaid trouble between them. Armed with her new sword, she travels to Tokyo to do battle with O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), aka Cottonmouth, another former member of the Deadly Vipers Assassination Squad. Their encounter, though, is not to be as simple as crossing swords. O-Ren has gone with her cronies to an establishment known as the House of the Blue Leaves, and she takes along with her several bodyguards. After the Bride gets O-Ren’s attention by capturing and cutting off the arm of O-Ren’s assistant, Sofie Fatale (Julie Dreyfus), the Bride must also slice her way through O-Ren’s personal army known as the Crazy 88’s. She does so, but not before receiving a bloodying herself. Still, she is able to finally come face-to-face with O-Ren and defeat her too. Taking Sofie to the hospital, the Bride tosses the former assistant down the embankment to the medical staff with a message for Bill: that she is coming for him and everyone else responsible for putting her into a coma and prematurely ending her pregnancy. Bill comes to visit Sofie as she is recovering, and though we still do not see his face, he ends the film with a cliffhanger: the Bride’s child is alive.
It is a little difficult to discuss the plot of Kill Bill: Vol. 1 because there are several flashbacks that make sense while watching it but are burdensome to describe. One of these flashbacks involves O-Ren’s background, which is told while the Bride is attempting to get her big toe to wiggle. The story is also told in animation, and, if I recall correctly, this was done so that the film would not earn the box office killer rating of NC-17. In short, it is an extremely violent movie. Though it is cartoonish with its blood sprays, it spares no detail in showing limbs and heads being lopped off from their corresponding bodies. Furthermore, the sequence that talks about how O-Ren became an assassin features her at eleven years old having sex with an old man, the one responsible for killing her parents to boot. There is no nudity or anything graphic outside of the murder, but it is still something that is discussed. Had they filmed this in live-action, that probably would have been going too far for the film to have a remote chance at being seen by a wider audience. Then again, Tarantino never seems too concerned with such matters.
As objectionable as some of the material is in Kill Bill: Vol 1, I always feel a pang when I see the part where the Bride awakens from her coma to find the child she had been carrying gone, and she cries out in anguish. I have said in numerous other reviews that I do not like seeing people decide to take revenge against those who had harmed them. That is not a Christian quality. What I do appreciate, though, is the Bride referring to her unborn child as a person. In the parts where the Bride is narrating the story of what the Deadly Vipers Assassination Squad did, she mentions that she wants to kill them for the part they played in the murders of nine innocent people. She includes her child in this number, even though we find out at the end her daughter is alive. It is a subtle moment, but that speaks to what those in the pro-life camp have said for years about children in the womb. They are not a collection of cells, or some sort of parasite, but rather an actual human being that has all the qualities of life from the moment of conception. This is why the Catholic Church has been against abortion. No life deserves to be ended prematurely, whether it is somebody who has yet to see the outside of the womb or a ninety-year-old. Life is precious, and even though that is an odd thing to say in the context of a movie like this one, the message is still there no matter how small. Given how Hollywood typically approaches this subject, I am shocked that the line was allowed at all.
With the material in Kill Bill: Vol. 1, it is obviously not a film for all audiences. While I object to the Bride’s course of action, you do root for her nonetheless. It is a movie with buckets of blood, and a few moments that I could do without, but it is entertaining nonetheless.