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Kill Bill -- Volume 1: DVDetails
Reviewed by Jason Myers, © 2004

Format: Movie
By:   Quentin Tarantino
Genre:   Martial Arts
Released:   March 2004 (DVD Release)
Review Date:   April 27, 2004
Audience Rating:   R
Okay, the movie itself has been reviewed elsewhere on this here site by Martin Thomas, but since the DVD of Kill Bill is so scrawny, I figured it won't hurt to toss out a few thoughts on both volumes of Kill Bill.

My estimation of Kill Bill -- Volume 1 fell somewhere in between that of the true believers and the scoffers. It's not "brilliant" or "astonishing," but it's not "just above average" either. It's that in-between place -- it's merely thoroughly thoroughly entertaining.

The soundtrack is amazing. If I ever met Tarantino, I wouldn't ask for his autograph, I'd beg him to burn me a CD mix.

The fight sequences are frenetic, boldly mixing gritty and unpleasant exploitation movie pulp with laugh-out-loud B-grated cheese. If you can't enjoy Kill Bill -- Volume 1, it's either because you're a snooty intellectual type or because the (considerable) violence of Kill Bill turns you off just on principle. If you can't love Volume 1 it's probably because the movie is a little more enamored with itself than you are with it, and because the movie is too straight-forward and simple to inspire lasting feelings of geek-chic devotion.

I mean, when I went to see Volume 2, there was one among our group who hadn't seen Volume 1. I found that I could pretty much sum up the plot by doing as Uma Thurman's character did: writing down the names of the people she wanted to kill (on a napkin where we were eating before the movie), and then crossing out the ones she had managed to kill in Volume 1.

Which is why, though I was looking forward to seeing Volume 2, I wasn't exactly chomping at the bit. I expected more of the same: cool music, revenge, snappy dialogue, revenge, movie homage, revenge, over-the-top fight sequence, revenge, revenge, revenge. In short, I was expecting to be thoroughly entertained, only perhaps less so the second time around.

Strangely enough, Tarantino has pulled the oldest exploitation movie trick in the book: putting most of the flashy stuff in the first part of the movie. Yes, there are still some cool fight sequences, but not one of them is even a fourth as long as The Bride's fight with O-Ren Ishi, Gogo and the Crazy Eighty-Eights. Heck, none of the fight scenes are even as good as the full-on Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! bitch-on-bitch death tango in the family room and foyer that Uma dances with Vivica A. Fox in the opening of Volume 1.

But Volume 2 is a slightly better movie.

Instead of following the action-movie formula whereby every "whammo" must be bigger and more elaborate than the last, Volume 2 actually gets quieter as it goes on. The scene when Uma finally meets up with Bill is gripping, intensely satisfying, and retroactively raises the quality of the entire saga. Too often in films about the journey of a hero, the resolution of a perfectly promising hero's journey takes a back seat to a noisy, empty, cliched, and ultimately boring, action set piece (yes, I'm talking to you, Hellboy).

The film is also a bolder mish-mash of styles and tones that will lead audiences to shake their heads in either delight or confusion, or both. Volume 2 contains an "ancient master trains the young apprentice" sequence that is so cheeky in its imitation of old Kung Fu movies that it wouldn't be out of place in a Naked Gun sequel. But it also features Quentin Tarantino at his most (dare I say it?) life-affirming. It's a mix that could wind up dangerously hard to swallow, but Tarantino gives us the sugar, baby, to make it all go down smooth.

One more thing: as Bill, David Carradine is a god of drop-dead zen cool. The guy (who I previously knew as "that actor from that Kung Fu show I've never seen") is my hero.

Okay, so what was it I was supposed to be talking about? Right. The Kill Bill -- Volume 1 DVD. Well, not much in the way of goodies:

1. Trailers for Tarantino's other films, which made me think "Why has it been so long since I've watched Resevoir Dogs?" and "I've never seen Jackie Brown, but do I care?"

2. Two bare-bones musical numbers by "The 5, 6, 7, 8's," whose very enthusiastic (and very off-key) surf music kitsch is far more enjoyable within the context of the movie than on its own.

3. A "Making Of" featurette. It's a little light, but still worth watching to see Quentin's enthusiastic musings on a variety of topics, including the genesis and development of the concept of Kill Bill. You probably already knew that the "Shaw Brothers" logo Volume 1 opens with is a nod to one of the most prolific producers of those old Kung Fu movies, and you probably knew that Sonny Chiba (who plays sword-maker Hattori Hanzo) is a venerated movie star in the East, but did you know that, in Kill Bill, his Hattori Hanzo character is a descendant of the four generations of Hattori Hanzo sword-makers he played in a Japanese series called Shadow Warriors? Also, you have to give proper respect to The RZA from The Wu-Tang Clan. Tarantino didn't choose the eclectic tunes for the soundtrack all by his lonesome.

As you probably could have guessed even without reading a review, this DVD release is little more than a tie-in to the theatrical release of Volume 2. Short term, if you just want to re-watch Volume 1 before you hit the theaters for Volume 2, you're better off renting, or bumming it from a friend who has less patience and more disposable income than you. In the long term, bide your time (maybe less than six months, maybe a year or two), for a meatier two-volume special edition.
Film/DVD Editor Jason Myers would like to kick Miramax for only releasing the tremendously original and hilarious Shaolin Soccer on like three and a half screens. Oh, that’s right, Americans only go to quality comedies like Johnson Family Vacation, Scooby Doo 2 and The Whole Ten Yards.

 
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