Bloody but moral

Submitted by on 23 October, 2003 - 12:00

It really is extremely bloody. Quentin Tarantino's previous films featured occasional acts of grisly violence (an ear being removed, someone's head getting blown off by accident), but these were both occasional and primarily psychological in their impact (e.g. in Pulp Fiction, you don't actually see Marvin's head exploding, just the blood splattering the back windscreen). The first part of the two-volume Kill Bill, by contrast, features ultra-graphic violence in virtually every scene, and the expectation of it leaves you on edge throughout.

Those who liked Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown will find this one surprising. In many ways, it is typical Tarantino: a hard-boiled plot centred around the shenanigans of organised criminals; distinctively stylish imagery; and a vast panoply of knowing references to the director's favourite films and genres. But whereas, in his earlier films, Tarantino took obvious pleasure in extensive tracts of naturalistic dialogue (witness hired killers discussing what French people put on their chips, or bank robbers arguing over how much to tip the waitress), Kill Bill is comparatively dialogue-free; and what dialogue there is is so austere and stylised as to be almost ornamental.

Not to say that Tarantino hasn't had fun here: the film is virtually one long nod to trash cinema from around the world, with yakuza, martial arts and even western motifs, not to mention fripperies such as a flashback told entirely in Japanese-style animation. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I missed most of the film's references and in-jokes. Tarantino has been described as the ultimate post-modern director, whose work is all glittering surfaces and clever nods to those in the know - and if that was true of his earlier films, it is true in spades here.

And yet. What surprised me most was that, given how flashy and violent all this is, I found the characters (particularly Uma Thurman's "Bride", the film's blood-soaked heroine/anti-heroine) peculiarly affecting. You could make an argument that Kill Bill's story of loss and revenge is less purely cynical and amoral than some of his other work; on that level, it is more like Jackie Brown than Pulp Fiction. And Tarantino may be manipulative, but at least in this case that includes knowing which emotional buttons to press.

Score: 7/10
Reviewer: S

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