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October 10, 2003


Kill Bill review

umaTarantino has made a movie that is at once unlike any other movie and just like hundreds of other movies. It's a kaleidoscope of styles, ideas, and methods that come together in a way that no one could have expected. Miraculously, despite its genre-busting aspirations and Pulp Fiction-like timeshifting, the film is coherent and lucid, never getting overwhelmed by the flood of references it unleashes. But this coherence is undone by one of the dumbest ideas in Hollywood history: splitting this movie in half. Doing so robs it of an epic feel, and you end up thinking over and over again, "Is it going to end now?...Is it going to end now?"

Much has been made of the blood-and-guts, but it turns out the blood is cartoonish in nature, spraying all over the place with a liquid choreography so comic it almost makes you think of cream pies and seltzer water in the hands of the Marx brothers. But when QT wants you to feel the impact in a visceral way, he adapts his tone, and you groan with each slice, slam, or stab. However, with very few exceptions, the violence is not stomach-turning like Casino or Saving Private Ryan...it's just like the old Hong Kong kung fu movies, the genre which most influenced the film.

bruceBut despite its Hong Kong lineage, Tarantino also borrows from every B-movie genre there ever was (specifically, seemingly ever Asian B-movie genre -- except maybe the monster movie*) and does so with a dexterity that no other director could pull off. QT has a unique sense of the genre film that allows him to explore nuances and shift between sub-genres without seeming clumsy or cloying. Who else could shoot a classic one-against-all samurai fight and shift -- mid-scene -- from the look of Enter the Dragon to something reminiscent of German expressionism, and in so doing recall the disjointed look of another hitman-in-Japan movie, Branded to Kill. (Contrast this ability to that of, say, McG of Charlie's Angels fame, who admits he treats each scene like a different page in a storybook and doesn't care so much about rhythm and flow.) At the same time, QT seems to be teasing his video-store-clerk audience a little bit: every time you think you're clever for picking out some sly pop culture reference (the Kato masks, the Charlie-Brown-lookalike, the return of Red Apple cigarettes), he lets you ruminate on it for a minute, and then explicitly declares the reference either visually or in dialogue, robbing you of the opportunity to brag to your friends about how you noticed the Bruce Lee outfit before anybody.

Also worth mentioning is the unusual sound design of the film. QT deliberately calls attention to it, adding classic kung fu sound effects to nearly every fight, even when they don't really seem called for, a method which emphasizes the irreality of what you're watching and Uma's superheroine status. For instance, the film's first fight sequence takes place in a suburban setting that's a cross between one from Edward Scissorhands and "The Bonnie Situation" chapter of Pulp Fiction. Everything is normal and prosaic until the fight breaks out, and swooshing and smashing sounds come to the forefront. Much later in the movie, QT focuses on the sound of a mechanical water fountain, the slow pace of which serves as a metronome for the methodical fight between Uma and Liu. Meanwhile, The RZA's score for the film recedes into the background most of the time, which is almost the opposite of the score he did for another modern-Samurai-as-hitman film, Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog.

When it comes to the acting, Uma is good, but Lucy Liu is fantastic in every shot she's in. Vivica Fox is disposable and Daryl Hannah looks haggard, per usual. "Bill" is off-screen like Charlie, but we get a sense of his menace, a menace which Michael Madsen (who's in the movie for 30 seconds) seems to have inherited. The dialogue is funny, creative, and rarely predictable, and the various twists and turns of the plot keep you interested.

charlie brownStylistically, Tarantino hops genres every few scenes, but his camera work is consistently extraordinary, even apart from the fight scenes. In one overhead shot that follows Uma to a restaurant restroom, the camera tracks down a slightly canted path that I think very few other directors could have orchestrated. It's at moments like these when you want to turn to all your QT-backlashing friends and say, "Did you see that? Did you see that?" And you want to call up Harvey Weinstein and say, "Leave Quentin. The fuck. Alone."

*I think even monster movies may be referenced in the establishing shots as Uma flies into Tokyo.

categories: Movies
posted by adm at 7:43 PM | #


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