So uproariously claret-soaked that the MPAA demanded a (thematically appropriate) black and white blood blinker, so gloriously funny-yet-poetic-yet-daft-yet-genius that it veers dangerously close to pantomime, so everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink that it risks entirely unhinging the rest of the film, Tarantino’s homage to just about everything burned onto celluloid since the beginning of time is a whirling dervish of a skirmish. “I want it to be to kung fu fights what the Apocalypse Now ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ scene was to battle scenes,” the man himself enthused to Time magazine during shooting. Could we ever doubt him?
The House of Blue Leaves. Bloodied yellow tracksuit stark against the wood furnishings of the restaurant, The Bride stands at the dance floor centre. Her steel blue eyes, caught in claustrophobic close up, appraise O-Ren Ishii’s army – the Crazy 88s, headed by Johnny Mo, all equipped with Kato mask and katana. They encircle her; black sharks sniffing at a single golden prey. Jaw set, The Bride twitches her blade into position. Then lunges. They fly at her. She flips, she leaps, she spins. She dances to a melody of screams and groans, sashaying with all the grace of a ballerina – a ballerina with a nice shiny katana that flashes and gleams as it does its dirty work. Then SQUELCH, she plucks out the right eye of one unlucky assailant, and suddenly everything’s monochrome. Filtered through black and white, The Bride savages and slices as she continues her roaring rampage of revenge. Limbs fly. Blades bite. Blood spews into the air in volcanic eruptions. One fallen fighter picks up his own freshly severed foot and screams – and well he should.
Shot at the Beijing Film Studio, China, the same hallowed building that once housed the very productions it so reveres, Kill Bill Vol. 1’s pivotal scene pitted Uma Thurman against legendary Yuen Woo-Ping’s stunt team for eight mighty weeks – six days a week, 14 hours a day. “That was probably the hardest,” the actress notes, perhaps a little modestly. Dosed up on action flicks, femme fatales and Westerns (Tarantino requested she watch John Woo’s The Killer, Coffy and Sergio Leone’s A Fistful Of Dollars), Thurman brings an unyielding gravitas to her double-crossed assassin. As she acrobats lethally through the House of Blue Leaves there’s never any doubt that she’s capable of taking on 88 of China’s finest killers. Watching her acquire bloody satisfaction, you can’t help but cheer.
And what blood there is – 450 gallons of the stuff in Kill Bill unified. “I’m really particular about the blood,” muses QT, “you can’t pour this raspberry pancake syrup on a sword and have it look good. You have to have this special kind of blood that you only see in Samurai movies.”
Enriching The Bride’s all-out assault are filmic references galore. This is film geek opium of the purest grade. Notice something familiar about the ‘one versus all’ conceit? Meet Year of the Dragon’s China Palace shootout. Seen those Crazy 88s before? They’re based on the yakuza gang of Black Lizard, their Kato masks last modelled by Bruce Lee in TV show The Green Hornet. Then there’s The Bride’s tracksuit (a direct tribute to Bruce Lee’s final, unfinished film Game of Death), the Crazy 88 who is hacked in half (hello, Ichi the Killer), The Bride fighting in silhouette against a blue-lit backdrop (thanks, Samurai Fiction), the use of the Ironside soundtrack… Like Tarantino’s ambition, the list is limitless. “I set up the sequence so that either it would be the greatest thing anyone’s ever seen as far as this shit’s concerned, or I would hit my head on the ceiling of my talent,” he said. At scene’s end, The Bride surveys the bloody quagmire that once was the House of Blue Leaves. “Those of you lucky enough to have your lives, take them with you,” she condemns. “However, leave the limbs you’ve lost. They belong to me now.” Tarantino, Thurman, we salute you.
BUT WE DON’T LOVE…
… Milla Jovovich’s pouty viper in Ultraviolet (2006)
Swapping class for arse, this shameless Matrix/Kill Bill rip-off succeeds only in (somehow) making Ms Jovovich sporting skin-tight leather bum-clenchingly dull. A hollow copycat with dud effects and sub-par sword play, The Bride would make short work of this tosh.