Kill Bill: Vol. One 

(R) 4 stars

(R) 4 stars
In one of many unforgettable moments in Pulp Fiction, writer/director Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 marvel, Uma Thurman’s character lies unconscious on the floor, nearly dead from a drug overdose. Desperate to save her, a drug dealer slams a needle into her chest and depresses the plunger. It works, and Uma abruptly wakes up and bolts forward, her shocked face filling the screen, all in one dazzling adrenaline whoosh.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 is that whoosh, transformed somehow into a 90-minute movie. It’s half of a larger film, really (Vol. 2 opens Feb. 20), although it stands as a work unto itself. The fourth movie from Geek King Tarantino is fights and more fights, stone-faced players, pop art, great sound, film references galore and lots of tongue-in-cheek humor. That tongue-in-cheek, incidentally, may very well be part of a severed head. Numerous heads and assorted limbs get lopped off during the battles, followed by blood. Amazing amounts of blood. The severed limbs shoot blood like fire hoses, the decapitated torsos erupt with geysers of the stuff. The volume of blood is startling — and gross — at first, but after a bit the overkill becomes comical, then numbing and finally the crimson liquid becomes just another element in the color schemes. More sensitive souls may react differently. Primarily, the film is Tarantino’s homage to the ultra-violent 1970s kung fu movies he grew up watching in grind-house theaters. The “ShawScope” in the clever opening title sequence is a nod to the Shaw Brothers, who produced many kung fu flicks in Hong Kong back in the days. Uma Thurman stars, reunited with Tarantino, who understands what is so special about her. The story (never fear — no spoilers here) follows Uma (her character’s name is unknown, bleeped whenever spoken) as she squares off against Vivica A. Fox in her Pasadena home. There is relatively little dialogue in the film; Tarantino says the stylized yapping for which he is known comes in Vol. 2. Next we flashback to find out what ticked off Uma in the first place, followed by a four-year jump to a nightmarish hospital scene and another face-off. The action then moves to Japan, along with a terrific anime segment. Finally, a 20-minute battle scene, including a mesmerizing confrontation in a snowy yard. In addition to Thurman and Fox, the cast includes Lucy Liu, Sonny Chiba (the cult hero, who plays a master sword-maker, also choreographs the fight scenes), Michael Parks, Chiaki Kuriyama, Julie Dreyfus and Gordon Liu. Blink and you’ll miss Daryl Hannah, who presumably will have more to do in Vol. 2. Same goes for Michael Madsen and David Carradine, who plays Bill, but only lurks in the shadows here. IMPORTANT: When you realize the film is about to end, ignore anyone foolish enough to make an early exit and remain seated. You will be given a crucial bit of information just as the credits begin to roll. Throughout the film, I caught myself shaking my head and saying, “This is so cool!” Behind those dispassionate faces on screen, every visual, every sound reflects Quentin Tarantino’s overwhelming love of cinema. He is aided immeasurably by Robert Richardson’s wildly inventive cinematography, Sally Menke’s crisp editing and the outstanding mix of RZA’s original music with the music of others (my favorite, used early in the production, is the sirens-to-orchestra sample of Quincy Jones’ melodramatic “Theme from Ironside”). So, is Kill Bill: Vol. 1 as good as Tarantino’s best? Nope. The sparse dialogue and even sparser characterizations make it difficult to regard the film as more than a very entertaining, but insubstantial, audio-visual treat. As I stated earlier, this is the 90-minute equivalent of the whoosh from one brief moment in Pulp Fiction. Then again, as anyone can tell you, a whoosh is usually quite C – O – O – L.

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