“Revenge is a dish best served cold.”
A proverb whose origins date from a French-English translation from the the early 19th Century, which has appeared in all forms of popular culture, such as Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan or CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory. However, it is its brief appearance in Quentin Tarantino’s fifth feature film that sets the tone for his endeavour to blend Eastern and Western cinematic cultures.
Kill Bill Vol. 1 sees a woman known as ‘The Bride’ (Thurman) on a mission to take down The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad – namely her former colleagues, as well as her ex-lover Bill (Carradine) – for massacring the members of her wedding party and leaving her in a coma for four years.
The concept of ‘The Bride’ dates back to when Tarantino and Thurman, who the former has called ‘his muse’, first worked together in cult hit Pulp Fiction(1994). After making Jackie Brown, Tarantino decided to postpone his work on what would become Inglorious Basterds to write and direct this feature – a film that was ultimately split into two, allowing him to tell a more complete story of his co-creation.
The film itself incorporates the theme of girl power. Adapted from the 1973 Japanese revenge film, Lady Snowblood, Kill Bill is basically reinforcing the simple message that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Along with The Bride, Liu’s O-Ren Ishii is also a wronged woman; she was only a child when her parents were murdered and when her position in the Yakuza underworld is questioned by a male Yakuza member due to her gender and mixed-Asian heritage, she spares no second thought to slicing his head off. In fact, it is the way the female characters lead the way throughout the film that dispels that lingering feeling of sexual equality in male-dominated scenarios.
You have the infamous scene where O-Ren leads her sadistic bodyguard Gogo (Battle Royale‘s Chiaki Kuriyama), lieutenant Sofie Fatale (Dreyfus) and her posse into The House of Blue Leaves to the tune of ‘Battle Without Honor or Humanity’, the spectacular fight scenes – especially between The Bride and Gogo, the power struggle within the Yakuza, even the massacre itself was undertaken by an assassination squad consisting mostly of women…These are scenes that have been traditionally dominated by men are portrayed, in this case, by female characters, which goes to show that all is fair in love and war.
Thurman easily takes charge of the film – allowing herself to fully become in The Bride by learning Japanese, martial arts and swordsmanship, you can see the extent of her dedication to the character she co-created with Tarantino. Watching her protagonist kick ass and taking on several intimidating targets is no simple feat, and Tarantino’s faith in his muse is evident. The supporting cast hold their own as well, some (Lucy Liu, Chiaki Kuriyama and Sonny Chiba) make more of a lasting impression than others but Vol 2. compensates for the uneven screentime for the remaining supporting characters.
Tarantino’s direction is sharp and snappy, playing along the Western themes of a showdown and the feeling of a lone warrior on a senseless mission to heighten the fact that there is more to this film besides girls with guns…and swords. The whole feature is a melee for the senses – along with the memorable soundtrack, you have the over-exaggerated bloodsplurt that was so graphic that it had to become monochrome, the cold and occasionally chilling dialogue, compassion for the protagonist and the fusion of the East and Western cinematic cultures.
As a director, Tarantino is able to incorporate aspects of Eastern cinema without the sense of overindulgence. By casting martial arts legends Sonny Chiba and Gordon Liu, as well as getting his cast to speak Japanese and not have it dubbed – a method he also adopted in Inglorious Basterds – Tarantino shows his respect for Asian cinema, instead of caving into the westernisation of the Hollywood machine.
Packed with action, aggression and style, Kill Bill is Tarantino’s homage to Eastern and Western Cinema, with Volume 1 dedicated to the former. It is clear to see that with this feature, it is the women who have the men by the balls.
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