Jackie Brown rounded off Tarantino's trifecta of perfect cinematic homages to Western cinema. At least, half of it did. Refusing to cut the film down to reduce its overall run time of over four hours, Tarantino instead chose to make a single cut down the middle and release the film in two volumes. The critical question was for many whether the two volumes could work as independent pieces of cinema as well as two halves of a whole.
Kill Bill Volume 1 relates the story of The Bride (Uma Thurman), brutally attacked and left for dead on her wedding day by her former employee, the mysterious Bill (David Carradine), and his team of killers, the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. Miraculously surviving the assault, The Bride begins her mission for revenge against her assailants.
Kill Bill Volume 1 is a comprehensive triumph of the action genre. The director's hand is as assured as ever, with Tarantino's skill and passion for cinema coming across stronger than ever before. There are so many flawless sequences contained within this masterwork it's hard to single any out. The opening scene draws you into Tarantino's brutal hyperreal universe in unforgiving style, with monochrome close ups of Bill's intimidating cowboy-booted footsteps intercut with The Bride's bloodied and traumatized face. Throwing us from this, post opening credits, into a multicoloured, almost cartoonish brawl within a middle-class suburban home between Thurman's character and Vivica A. Fox's retired assassin Vernita Green will have you permanently hooked.
Volume 1 is, stylistically, Tarantino's most ambitious work, taking in a huge amount of influences and showcasing everything from Japanese domestic comedy to classic kung fu and samurai cinema to anime; everything the director attempts is a comprehensive success and melds perfectly into a brilliant, immersive whole. The cinematic precision on show is also breathtaking: watch a single camera shot follow Sofie Fatale (Julie Dreyfuss), right hand woman to another former Deadly Viper, O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), as she walks from O-Ren's private room in The House Of Blue Leaves restaurant to the toilets, panning upwards to give us an aerial perspective of the The Bride concealed in a cubicle, waiting to pounce.
The performances Tarantino captures from the whole cast are once again astounding. David Carradine's turn as Bill, his face never shown in Volume 1, is impressively grandiose yet earthy; Liu's performance as O-Ren is also impressive, the actress showing a severe and intimidating quality not previously seen in her career. Veteran Sonny Chiba as legendary swordsmith Hattori Hanzo brings both class and subtle comedy to his scenes. But, without question, it is Thurman's powerhouse turn as The Bride which is a cornerstone to Volume 1's success. Thurman is captivating in the spectacular action sequences - her showdown against O-Ren's Yakuza army, the Crazy 88, deserves to go down in action movie history as one of the all-time great fight sequences, being as it is a choreographic masterpiece - but also imbues The Bride with tangible emotion exactly when necessary. Watching Thurman wail in anguish when The Bride realises she is no longer with child after waking from a four year coma is genuinely, painfully heartwrenching.
I could go on and on about Kill Bill Volume 1's brilliance, mentioning scene after scene, actor after actor, moment after moment. It remains at this time my favourite of all of Tarantino's works, which considering the cinematic milestones already laid down by the director shows just how highly I regard this film. It has everything. The criticisms occasionally levelled at the film I just don't see. It's often cited as Tarantino's least "talky" film, and yet there are so many lines of dialogue that cut as sharply as a Hanzo sword that I don't even know where to begin. Any fears you might have about this feeling like "half a film" can be firmly assuaged: Tarantino skilfully ensures this stands on its own as well as as the opening chapters of a saga. It's not often I say this of a film, but I actually cannot fault Kill Bill Volume 1, nor can I recommend it highly enough.