Fri, Oct 24, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Tarantino ups the bodycount in latest epic

The director treats death like a beautiful game in `Kill Bill' and once again comes up with a cinematically well-referenced film in praise of stylistic violence

By A. O. Scott  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Quentin Tarantino's new kung-fu thriller Kill Bill: Vol. 1, starring Uma Thurman, above, and Lucy Liu, right, is a blast if your idea of a good time is one hacked off limb per minute.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF PANDASIA

With its relentless bloodshed and scrambled, inconclusive narrative, Quentin Tarantino's long-awaited fourth feature, Kill Bill: Vol. 1, is certain to provoke both awe and revulsion. The film's detractors and its fans are likely to agree, however, that the movie, a densely referential pastiche of B-movie attitudes and situations, is above all an exercise in style.

In parts of Pulp Fiction (1994) and in his last picture, Jackie Brown (1997), Tarantino seemed to be using the action-exploitation formulas of which he is so enamored as stepping stones toward an exploration of plausible characters and authentic emotions. Now, it seems, his interests have swung in the opposite direction, and he has immersed himself, his characters and his audience in a highly artificial world, a looking-glass universe that reflects nothing beyond his own cinematic

obsessions.

How much you like Kill Bill, a two-part revenge epic, the first volume of which opens today, will probably depend on the extent to which you share those obsessions, on how much of a taste you have for the synthetic fusion cuisine that the director has cooked up. There are some strong and diverse flavors, as well as vivid colors in the mix, all of them deftly reflected in the hip-hop artist RZA's clever, eclectic score.

Tarantino samples the lurid hues of spaghetti westerns, the deep-fried funk of 1970s blaxploitation, and above all the graceful and kinetic mayhem of Asian action movies, from Hong Kong-style martial arts to samurai swordplay to hard-boiled gangster anime.

I should probably confess here that Tarantino's knowledge of these genres, to say nothing of his appetite for them, far surpasses my own (and I'd guess, just about everybody else's as well). But while being so relentlessly exposed to a filmmaker's idiosyncratic turn-ons can be tedious and off-putting, the undeniable passion that drives Kill Bill is fascinating, even, strange to say it, endearing.

Film Notes:

Kill Bill: VOL. 1

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Uma Thurman (The Bride/Black Mamba), David Carradine (Bill), Lucy Liu (O-Ren Ishii/Cottonmouth), Daryl Hannah (Elle Driver/California Mountain Snake), Vivica Fox (Vernita Green/Copperhead), Michael Madsen (Budd/Sidewinder), Michael Parks (Sheriff), Sonny Chiba (Hattori Hanzo) and Chiaki Kuriyama (Go Go Yubari)

Running time: 95 minutes

Taiwan Release: today


Tarantino is an irrepressible showoff, recklessly flaunting his formal skills as a choreographer of high-concept violence, but he is also an unabashed cinephile, and the sincerity of his enthusiasm gives this messy, uneven spectacle an odd, feverish integrity.

Old movies are not the sole focus of his obsession. The most vivid emotional connection in Kill Bill does not take place between any of the characters, but between the director and his star, Uma Thurman. Tarantino has referred to Thurman as "my actress," and as Marlene Dietrich to his Josef von Sternberg. Accordingly, much of the perverse energy of Kill Bill arises from his near-maniacal fascination with her. She is at once his idol, his alter-ego, his dream lover and his muse, the way Anna Karina was for Jean-Luc Godard in the early 1960s.

Tarantino shoots the elliptical curves of Thurman's face in extreme close-up, his wide shots emphasize her tall, willowy frame, and at one point the camera lingers on her long, strangely shaped toes for what seems like an entire reel. A title at the end informs us that the movie is "based on The Bride, a character created by Q and U" -- as in Quentin and Uma. In the movie, the two of them, one in front of the camera and one behind it, seem as inseparable as those two codependant letters.

It must be said that this infatuation takes some disturbing guises. The opening shot, in black-and-white, lingers on Thurman's bloody, beaten face. Her character, known by various aliases (her real name, for reasons that may become clear in Volume 2, is bleeped out whenever it is uttered), is attacked on her wedding day and left for dead by a team of assassins called the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (or DiVAS). They have been hired by Bill (David Carradine, whose face is never shown), who was once The Bride's lover and whose child she may be carrying. After four years in a coma, she wakes up and sets out to take revenge on her assailants, writing a "to kill" list with their names on it.

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