#WomenInAction, Retrospective Review: Kill Bill Vol.1

Year: 2003

Runtime: 111 minutes

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Writer: Quentin Tarantino

Stars: Uma Thurman, Daryl Hannah, Lucy Liu, Vivica Fox, Michael Madsen, David Carridine

By Joan Amenn

As has been noted by many others, Quentin Tarantino is not a particularly original film maker. With perhaps the exception of “Once Upon a Time in America” (2019) which is probably his most personal film, he tends to rely on tropes and pastiche, albeit in an entertaining way. He refers to this as paying homage to his favorite genres and it is clear from “Kill Bill Vol.1” that he is a huge fan of Asian martial arts films of the 1970’s. The plot device of an American woman empowered to take revenge on those who killed her family through her skill with a Japanese katana is unique and Uma Thurman’s performance elevates the film to be far better than maybe it should be.

Uma Thurman in Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003) Copyright: Miramax Films

Thurman’s Bride (her actual name is Beatrix according to her plane ticket to Japan) is a great female action hero. She is emotionally and physically strong but she is not cruel, even though she shares a past as one of the assassins who she now hunts down. Her former coworkers, now her enemies, are truly deserving of her vengeance as even they grudgingly admit.

Of course, their boss who ordered the mass murder that destroyed the Bride’s life is named Bill (David Carridine). Never actually seen on camera, he is the ultimate target of the Bride’s wrath. Her journey to finding him is only partially told here and is continued in the sequel, or Volume 2. However, the pacing, action sequences and dialog are all superior in this first part even though the final confrontation of the Bride and Bill is worth viewing the sequel.

Uma Thurman in Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003) Copyright: Miramax Films

Thurman seems to fully embrace her role as an action hero the moment she receives the katana made especially for her at her request.

The Bride’s first showdown with one of her former associates, Vernita Green (Vivica Fox) is almost cringeworthy in how it packs so many female antagonist tropes in one scene. The inevitable dueling with kitchen implements is almost as bad as bringing in Vernita’s very young daughter to interrupt her mother’s imminent demise. Once the Bride departs for Japan the film finds it’s footing as an action adventure martial arts homage. Tarantino even includes a brief episode of anime to explain the origin of the Bride’s next adversary. The showdown at the House of the Blue Leaves is epic and for that we have to thank the astonishingly talented stunt woman Zoe Bell.

Uma Thurman and Lucy Liu in Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003) Copyright: Miramax Films

Thurman seems to fully embrace her role as an action hero the moment she receives the katana made especially for her at her request. Zoe Bell did all of the Bride’s stunts including slicing an airborne baseball in half which should serve as a reminder that stunt doubles are long overdue for Oscar recognition. Bell makes the Bride’s dispatching of the Yakuza gang, the Crazy 88’s, a loving tribute to the best of Bruce Lee’s kung fu battles.

Her duel with O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), master swordswoman and leader of the Japanese underworld, perfectly illustrates how women can be depicted as heroic in their own right. “Kill Bill” ends on a cliff hanger that leads into the sequel but it is satisfying on its own watching the Bride strike out another name off her list of “vermin to kill.”

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