Fills the <I>Bill</I>: QT kills again!

MOVIE REVIEW- Fills the Bill: QT kills again!

With his unique blend of dark humor and ultra-violence, Quentin Tarantino was the most imitated filmmaker of the 1990s, despite the fact that he was himself imitating the directors and genres, especially Asian action films, he enjoyed. His originality may have been over praised, but by the time he finished Americanizing and mixing and matching his borrowings, the result was something new and different.

He's the sum of his influences again in Kill Bill, Vol. 1, and in addition to the usual, they range from Francois Truffaut to Monty Python. It's a simple revenge tale that Tarantino tarts up with his usual twists and flourishes and jumping around in time.

Uma Thurman plays the Bride (as in Truffaut's The Bride Wore Black) who is almost killed on her wedding day in El Paso. The police find what appear to be nine dead bodies– "They wiped out the whole wedding party, execution-style"– but the Bride lives, although she's in a coma for the next four years.

One of her assassins, Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), comes into her hospital room to finish the job, but is stopped by her boss, Bill (David Carradine), who says, "I put a bullet in her head, but her heart just kept on beatin'." To him, that's reason enough not to play dirty now.

Bill heads the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, four members of which are targeted with him for revenge when the Bride wakes from her coma. Two are addressed in Volume 1, while Bill and the other two are saved for Volume 2.

In Tarantino's idea of a linear narrative, we see the Bride going after her second target, Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), first; then we flash back to the execution, the hospital, and the recovery and find out why she's driving the garish "Pussy Wagon." Finally we get to the Bride's first prey, O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu, redeeming herself for those Charlie's Angels movies), "queen of the Tokyo underworld."

In preparation for this battle, the Bride goes to Okinawa to have a sword custom made by retired master Hattori Honzo (Sonny Chiba). There's a possible gay subtext in his relationship to the man he lives with, who could be his servant or his lover, but they bicker like a couple of old queens.

Making a sword takes a month, so the Bride has time to practice and get back into shape while she's waiting. This also gives us time to get O-Ren's backstory. A "half-Japanese, half-Chinese American Army brat," she saw a yakuza boss murder her parents when she was nine. This segment is presented in anime, a clever way of introducing an element that will be run into the ground later in live-action: dismemberment. Scenes of beheading, bearming, belegging, and such, with fountains of blood gushing from the wounds, take on positively Pythonian proportions and then some.

All this is building up to the Bride's assault on O-Ren in a Tokyo restaurant, the House of Blue Leaves. First, a few bodyguards try to protect O-Ren, including 17-year-old Go Go Yubari (Chiaki Kuriyama), the Bride's first worthy opponent. When even she falls, O-Ren summons her personal army, the Crazy 88s.

As the Bride fights off dozens of men at once, you'll be reminded of Neo fighting the Agent Smith clones in The Matrix Reloaded, and like that scene, this fight goes on too long (about 20 minutes). When the Bride finally faces O-Ren, Tarantino might have stopped at any time, leaving a cliffhanger; but he sees the battle to its conclusion.

Tarantino fans will adore Kill Bill. Others will be disgusted, upset or just plain bored by it. Even I found some of his "cute" touches annoying– but fun at the same time. It's going to be a long four months, waiting for the rest of the story.

The press notes reveal some background on the Bride and why she was targeted that's not in Volume 1. Tarantino must be saving it for Volume 2, but some critics (not this one) are bound to reveal it sooner.

Watching Thurman go through the repertoire of martial arts advisor Yuen Wo-ping, I felt a burning desire to see her in a cage match with Sigourney Weaver. Wonder who would win?

But I digress. When I first heard Kill Bill was going to be released as two separate films, I was incensed, from a consumer's standpoint, thinking, "If each episode of Lord of the Rings can run three hours, why can't Kill Bill?"

Well, if the second volume is as long as the first, it would be more like three-and-a-half hours; and I must say that– except for the story being left open– the film feels complete.