Best of DVDs...with M.V. Moorhead

Kill Bill - Vol.1

"Revenge is never a straight line," remarks a character in Kill Bill; Vol. 1.  Neither are Quentin Tarantino's movies. This one takes such so many twists and turns that it required whole other movie—Kill Bill Vol. 2," in theaters now—to finish it.

Between the hype that attended his early career, the manic jabber of his public persona, and the countless miserable movies foisted on us by his imitators, Tarantino as a phenomenon fairly begs for a backlash. The trouble is, as a filmmaker he doesn't deserve it. This eccentric, deliberate-minded young artist has yet to make a bad movie. If Kill Bill, Vol. 1 isn't on the level of his best film, 1997's Jackie Brown, it's still a glittering, gleefully warped, constantly entertaining piece of action madness, and—at least for those who share its maker's genre obsessions—as much kinetic fun as the proverbial barrel of monkeys.

These are some heavily armed, seriously homicidal monkeys, too. The most agile of them, and our heroine, is The Bride (Uma Thruman), so named because she was wronged at the altar, not by her groom but by Bill, the unromantically-named boss of the lethal Far-East team of assassins of which she was once a member.

Awakening from a coma four years after the atrocity she suffers at the hands of Bill and his minions, she methodically sets about the business of her revenge, starting with the minions but working her way toward the mysterious Bill himself (David Carradine).

The above relates the plot in linear terms, however, and heaven forbid that Tarantino be thus constrained. As in his other films, the narrative is broken up and revealed to us gradually, in flashbacks and flash-forwards, flashbacks within flashbacks, voice-over narration, digressions and asides.

None of this is offered with any pretense of realism, or even with any fidelity to a particular kind of stylization. The various sequences are presented in the form of titled “chapters,” and each has its own visual and dramatic flavor, to the credit not only of Tarantino but of his brilliant cinematographer, that master of the mixed-media palette Robert Richardson.

There are scenes that recall latter-day Westerns, and others that have the neon look of an Asian actioner of the ‘70s, like the balletic, hyperbolically bloody series of sword battles that climaxes the film.

Still others, like the marvelous scene in Pasadena at the beginning of the film, wear the banal primary colors of Tarantino’s subtextually-criminal Californian suburbia. There’s even a lengthy sequence presented in elegant animation, in the manner of Japanese “anime.”

The characters this time are not the complex and talkative headcases of Tarantino’s earlier films; they’re deliberately two-dimensional and emblematic, and the dialogue Tarantino gives them is almost formal, as if it’s been translated from another language.

The actors adapt smoothly to this expansive style—Thurman may never have been this good before. She’s witty and insouciant as ever, yet her rage and grief, though they purposely lack psychological depth, nonetheless have an emotional breadth that makes them compelling.

Lucy Liu, as usual, is a kick as a demure, decapitation-happy lady yakuza, and as a killer-turned-soccer-mom, Vivica A. Fox glowers and moves like a panther.

Michael Bowen has a fine, revolting bit as a twisted hospital orderly, and two Japanese actors make a strong impression here—martial-arts film veteran Sonny Chiba is dignified yet warm as a swordmaker, while Chiaki Kuriyami is funny and frightening as a murderous teenager in a schoolgirl’s plaid dress. For juicier turns from Daryl Hannah, Michael Madsen and Carradine, you’ll either have go to the multiplex, or wait for Volume Two’s DVD release.

The DVD--Even if you're a big Tarantino fan, I'd make this disc a rental, not a purchase. The extras are pretty slight: There's the same puff-piece "making-of" documentary that ran repeatedly on Bravo last year, and there's a bundle of trailers for various Tarantino movies, including the very authentic '70s-style preview for Kill Bill Vol. I.

There's also a music-video sequence featuring a couple of numbers by The 5,6,7,8s, the fun, all-girl rock band seen in the film. ]

But it's a good bet that eventually there'll be a multi-disc set offering both "volumes" of Kill Bill, with a more generous supply of extra goodies.

Kill Bill, Vol. I earned a well-deserved R rating with its savagery and spurting blood. It's a cool movie, to be sure, but not for the little ones.