When Pulp Fiction came out in 1994 it was Required Viewing for my circle of acquaintances. It was also presupposed that you would love it, what with Quentin Tarantino reigning as the Hip New Director in the wake of Reservoir Dogs. But you certainly wouldn’t have any queasiness or misgivings about the carnage in the film. After all, we were Generation X, too cynical to view gratuitous violence as anything but ironic, and too apathetic to feel a visceral reaction to anything, least of all the sight of some guy having his head blown off in the backseat of a car.
Today, however, I find myself older, married-er, a father-to-be, and largely uninterested in movies that showcase violence for violence sake. Intellectually I find such enterprises to be morally troublesome. In practice, I just find them to be dull. Seriously, how many times can you see one guy shoot another guy before the whole thing becomes so routine that you don’t even notice it any more, like a grocery store checker asking if you “found everything okay?” Movies with a good mix of plot and action (The Matrix) still float my boat, but films which do little more than string together one “exciting” fight scene after another (The Matrix: Reloaded) do nothing for me these days.
So I had no real desire to catch Kill Bill, Vol. 1. At least, not until I read this review in the San Francisco Chronicle which called the film “a 90-minute orgy of endless sword fights, multiple severed limbs and gushing blood” and concluded with “let’s just call it pornography, and let’s just admit it’s indefensible.” The rational part of my brain agreed with most of what the reviewer was saying, but I was curious to discover what kind of emotional reaction I would have to yet another exercise in the exaltation of violence. I decided to see Kill Bill and find out how far removed I’d become from the 23 year-old who revered Pulp Fiction a decade ago.
The answer appears to be “not very.” And my emotional reaction to Kill Bill was something along the lines of “Holy shit — that was awesome!!”
At various points during the film I tried my darndest to become incensed by the completely unnecessary and wildly excessive gore, but my efforts were consistently undermined by the sad fact that I was thoroughly enjoying myself. [This is the part of the review where I would recap the plot, but as Kill Bill has no plot we’ll just skip this section.]
The film is homage to the samurai films that Tarantino grew up with. That’s what all the real movie reviewers say, at any rate. As I am not much of kung-fu film buff, pretty much every reference went over my head. But even so, while watching Kill Bill I felt like I did when I saw my very first Jackie Chan film, or when a friend talked me into going to see Akira and I entered the theater having no idea what to expect. Honestly, Kill Bill took me even farther back: it reminded me of riding my bike to the comic book store after a hard day of Junior High and spending the rest of the evening gorging myself on Wolverine and Punisher. Kill Bill may be intended as a tribute to chop-saki flicks, but it feels like watching the most violent (and enjoyable!) Saturday morning cartoons imaginable.
So there you go: I loved it and I’m ashamed. But not too ashamed to admit that I’m counting the weeks until Kill Bill Vol. 2.
Three final notes:
- Pay special attention to that “Vol. 1”. This is only half a movie, and not a self-contained half, either. At minute 111 the film simply comes to a halt, making no effort to tie up loose ends (and, in fact, introducing some brand new loose ends even as it draws to a close). As the final credits rolled I heard more than one person in the theater exclaim “What tha –?!”, clearly unaware that they had only purchased a ticket to a single installment in a two-part series.
- This film should not be rated R — this is what the NC-17 rating was designed for, folks. So don’t let your 14 year-old nephew sucker you into taking him to see it.
- After I saw it, I read this in a review: “Don’t leave until the final credits finish rolling or you’ll miss what many are considering Kill Bill: Vol. 1s best bit.” Sadly, I know not of what they speak. Oh well. I guess I’ll have to see it again. Update: In the comments, Cambo says there is nothing after the credits — the scene that was at the end during the pre-screening version was moved into the body of the film for the final release. Now I guess I’ll have to see it again to, um, verify his claim.