Kill Bill: Vol. 1

(2003) dir. Quentin Tarantino
viewed: 10/13/03 at Loews Theatre at the Metreon, SF, CA

In the San Francisco Chronicle (a terrible source for critical reviews but is the newspaper that I read regularly), critic Mick LaSalle totally lambasted Quentin Tarantino and Kill Bill: Vol. 1 for the violence of the film. My understanding is that this reaction, as extreme as it is (reported not only in the initial review, but in a follow-up article later the week that the film was released), is in tune with a number of other critics of the film.

While I have mixed feelings about the way violence is portrayed in media (probably only more mixed as I now have a small child and begin to be more concerned with the world that he sees), I also have an affection for a number of types of action genres that are among the most violent in cinema. And if there is anything that this film is trying to do, it is trying to emulate and pay homage to a number of those films and their genres. I have to wonder how long has it been since these people, if at all, have seen some of the types of films to which Tarantino is referencing? I can only think that people who are reacting like this have spent too much time watching the latest (more typical) Miramax releases and mainstream “art house” films and have completely elided kung fu, the revenge film, and exploitation films from their worlds.

I found Kill Bill to be pretty damn entertaining, sashaying between moments of almost campy comedy (the dialogue was sort of intentionally bad, I am guessing) to stunningly pleasureablely choreographed action set-pieces with lots of dismemberment and geysers of blood.

Because the film was “chopped” in two, this being the first of two parts, it’s hard to draw a lot of conclusions about this film and what it is really about. It’s largely a visual spectacle, and it’s also sincerely steeped in homage. The film opens with a Shaw Bros. logo, which is followed by retro placeholder intertitle that reeks of the 1970’s. Tarantino doesn’t isn’t all too subtle with his referencing and tribute-paying. That aspect is seriously foregrounded in this film.

There is a campy quality to the violence as well. Anytime that a limb or head is severed, blood spurts from the wound in a comical stream, spurting and spurting, a couple beats longer than seems logical. The bursts are quite similar and so numerous that it quickly feels absurd. The absurdity is intentional, as it is a part of the camp and humor of the genres that Tarantino plays with. What the film’s attitude toward violence is I can’t say. But from an initial viewing, I would suggest that it’s almost like something from Monty Python, though it certainly veers toward drama to an extent.

As pure spectacle and entertainment, I liked it.

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