Review: Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003)


Kill Bill Volume 1 ended my adoration of Quentin Tarantino. The primary reason for this is because the film felt like an excessive exercise in directional flexing as opposed to being thematically and narratively interesting. In fact, one could argue that this purposeful given the simple nature of the story and its overarching theme of revenge. However, on this viewing, the true revelation of Tarantino’s fourth film is that it is one of those films that falls apart due to a varied amount of problems. Firstly, the film seems overstretched to the point of tedium. In reality, the film only covers two people on The Bride’s (Uma Thurman) kill list. Moreover, one of these people is dealt with in a ten-minute sequence.

What is left is a creative, flashy and ultimately inane and futile sequences devoted to developing O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu). While one could see Tarantino’s reasoning for these scenes, they prove to be pointless. None of Ishii’s established skills is utilised in her final fight with The Bride. Nor does the information about her underlings have any bearings on their confrontations with Uma Thurman’s character in the finale.

Thurman plays The Bride with an inherent mad edge that manifests itself in her purposeful facial expressions and vocal tones, which give way to a dark sense of humour. Her performance is commendable and earnest. Nevertheless, The Bride is not a particularly strong, empowering female character. While her purpose and aim are clear, her image, which includes her car and glasses are taken from a formally disgusting serial rapist.

That character is indicative of Kill Bill Volume 1’s central problem. It is nasty and grizzly. The abuse that The Bride undergoes is unspeakable and contemptible. Tarantino then fills the rest of the film with relentlessly cartoon violence that demands to be relished by the audience. It feels as though the film is indecisive about its own identity.

At one moment, it appears like a grungy revenge picture in the style of 70s grindhouse fare like The Last House on the Left. At other times, it appears like a traditional martial arts film. And the large scale battle at the end feels like a video game. As a result of this Volume 1 marks Tarantino’s least engaging and fascinating interpretation of schlocky and often overlooked genre fare. Even Tarantino’s craft holds little interest. The visually stunning ending sword battle is cut like a Sergio Leone sequence, complete with a strong emphasis on mundane sounds. But, ultimately, it is the case of too little too late at that point in the picture.

About Sartaj Govind Singh

Notes from a distant observer: “Sartaj is a very eccentric fellow with a penchant for hats. He likes watching films and writes about them in great analytical detail. He has an MA degree in Philosophy and has been known to wear Mickey Mouse ears on his birthday.”
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