Kill Bill Vol 1 (18)

First cut isn't the deepest  
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The Independent Culture

Prepare yourself for a mighty burden of hacking and hewing in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill. Dismemberment is everywhere: arms, legs and heads lopped off, flesh and bone savagely skewered, crimson fountains of blood gushing like a fire hydrant from the severed arteries. Guns figure in this frenzied pageant of violence, but the coolest weapon to wield is a samurai sword, its long twanging blade ever ready to separate limb from limb. The motif of chopping extends to the film itself, cut in two at the suggestion of Miramax boss Harvey Weinstein - one half now, the other half to follow next February.

Such truncation takes a risk. Will a project originally intended as a single movie benefit from being split in two? Will audiences that see the first part necessarily want to queue for the second? It's difficult to be certain. Kill Bill in volume one moves at quite a lick, and is very stylishly directed by Tarantino, but one never feels that the story it unspools honestly requires another movie in which to complete it. We are not in the epic realm of Lord of The Rings and its multiple narrative structure; rather, QT serves up an outlandish tale of revenge, made to look more complicated by dint of cutting (of course) between the past and the present. It's not just the flash of samurai steel that dazzles the eye - editor Sally Menke handles her scissors with elegant dexterity, in much the same way she did for Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction.

Tarantino apparently delayed the shooting of this movie until Uma Thurman had had her baby and got back to fighting fitness. You can understand why, too, because Thurman is the best thing here, athletic, cool-headed and as implacable as a Fury. She plays The Bride, who awakens from a four-year coma with a steel plate in her head and black vengeance in her heart.

In flashback we discover that she was left for dead by her former compadres, a crew of killers known as The Deadly Vipers Assassination Squad. Why they turned on her will presumably be explored in the second part, as will the shadowy figure of Bill himself, played by David Carradine (Kung Fu icon to a TV generation) and given a build-up to rival Brando's in Apocalypse Now. All we see of him here are his boots, his hand and his sword.

The movie hits the ground running as Thurman catches up with the first name on her "Death List", Vernita (Vivica A Fox), whose pleasant home in suburban Pasadena is turned upside down by their vicious knife fight. Tarantino pulls a terrific switcheroo as the combat is interrupted by the arrival of Vernita's solemn-faced four-year-old daughter from kindergarten, and the blades are quickly concealed like a guilty schoolgirl's cigarette. Over coffee Vernita and Thurman manage to hide their loathing just long enough to exchange a signature dose of poison-tipped banter. The scene, with its comical mingling of tension and farce, is very typical Tarantino, though its early introduction flatters to deceive - this is decidedly not a talky kind of movie, there are no elaborate set-piece riffs on cheeseburgers or Madonna lyrics, nor any of the motor-mouthed hoods we have come to expect.

Instead of his usual hipster jive, Tarantino sets out to prove himself a virtuoso of action and music. We all know what a movie nut he is, but never before has he borrowed so freely from the genre cinema that obsessed him during his years as a video-store assistant.

Kill Bill is a patchwork of influences: samurai and kung fu flicks, Asian gangster movies, spaghetti westerns, even Japanese anime are all co-opted in an effort to make a "movie-movie", i.e. one that has almost nothing to do with real life and everything to do with other movies. It is the sort of picture that characters from Pulp Fiction or True Romance would go to see. The violence tends towards the cartoonish, literally so in one passage recounting the traumatic origins of O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), who as a youngster witnesses the murder of her parents and a few years later exacts a sanguinary revenge on the Yakuza boss responsible; echoing the live-action carnage, the screen rains with blood. The music also reflects the hybrid influences Tarantino has absorbed, mixing and matching Japanese punk, Southern rockabilly and flamenco with snippets of old movie scores by Morricone, Isaac Hayes and Bernard Herrmann.

That Kill Bill inhabits a parallel universe to 21st-century life is acknowledged not just in the climactic fight sequence but in a small visual joke towards the end, when Thurman is seen on a passenger flight to Tokyo with her samurai sword parked next to her like an obedient dog. This is a world of bloodshed, but not a world that takes any account of September 11. This shouldn't necessarily matter: fantasy has its place, after all, and Tarantino has the confidence to occupy that place with an entirely movie-fed pastiche. I have a feeling, though, that fans above the age of 14 might be disappointed by the film's indifference to context, theme, depth. While one can hardly deny that it is "well-made", it's tempting to wonder what sort of film this might have been if Tarantino had devoted as much energy to psychological involvement as he does to the intricacies of style and music.

A second helping is on the way. You might find yourself able to bear the suspense.