Kill Bill: Volume 1

(USA 2003)

“Revenge is never a straight line. It’s a forest. And like a forest, it’s easy to lose your way. To get lost. To forget where you came in.”

—Hattori Hanzō

“It’s mercy, compassion, and forgiveness I lack,” The Bride (Uma Thurman) plainly informs one of her assailants before she exacts revenge. “Not rationality.” Uh, really? Right off the bat, Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Volume 1 (not to be conflated with Kill Bill: Volume 2, which is longer but not quite as good) is an action film packed with snark and coolness. Uma Thurman is The Bride (codeman Black Mamba), who in the sepiatone opening scene is lying on the floor of a chapel in El Paso, Texas. She’s in a wedding dress, bleeding and pleading for her life. “It’s your baby,” she tells Bill (David Carradine, who has a bigger part in the second installment). He shoots her in the head.

Four years later, The Bride wakes up—midfuck, mind you—from a coma in the hospital. There’s no baby. She takes out a would-be rapist, Jasper (Jonathan Loughran), and an orderly named Buck (Michael Bowen), who pimped her out. Incidentally, Buck has a catchphrase that rhymes with his name—you figure it out. The Bride runs off with Buck’s truck, the “Pussy Wagon.” Once she gets her feet and legs moving, she sets out to settle a score—or six. First, though, she has to persuade retired master swordsmith Hattori Hanzō (Sonny Chiba), who runs a sushi bar in Okinawa, to make her a sword.

Kill Bill: Volume 1 is totally far fetched, but that’s not important. Like most Tarantino films, the emphasis here is on the characters and the action, not the plot; otherwise, two hours of not much more than a badass blonde babe methodically killing teammates who double-crossed her when she was a member of something called the Viper Assassination Squad wouldn’t work. Originally intended as one long film (, Kill Bill: Volume 1 depicts two of the paybacks: Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), who’s now a housewife and mother in suburban Los Angeles, and O’Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), the head of the Tokyo Yakuza.

Beautifully staged and shot, the violence is over the top yet perfectly choreographed. The scene at the House of Blue Leaves is eloquent right down to the blood in the snow. Tarantino plays around with the sequence of events and mixes genres including anime. He employs his penchant for sharp dialogue, snazzy settings with memorable names, and sick humor. Plus, he throws in cool music and clothes; Daryl Hannah dressed as a nurse, for example, is fucking fabulous! As a result, Kill Bill: Volume 1 is a dazzling bloodfest. It takes a certain type to love a film like this—and it’s one of my favorites.

With Julie Dreyfus, Chiaki Kuriyama, Gordon Liu, Michael Parks, James Parks, Sakichi Sato, Ambrosia Kelley

Production: A Band Apart

Distribution: Miramax Films

111 minutes
Rated R

(Logan Theatre) A

Yakuza Apocalypse [極道大戦争]

(Japan 2015)

According to Wikipedia, Yakuza are members of transnational organized crime syndicates originating in Japan. Notorious for their strict codes of conduct and organized nature, they have a heirarchy of bosses, advisors, and lackeys. They also have a number of rituals– stuff like cutting off fingers and getting full-body tattoos. Mmmm. In Yakuza Apocalypse, lieutenant Akira Kageyama (Hayato Ichihara) is turned into a vampire when his beheaded boss, Genyō Kamiura (Lily Franky), bites him just before he dies, passing on his “powers” presumably so Kageyama can avenge his death. For poor Kageyama, however, being a vampire sorely tests Kamiura’s mantra of “no harm to civilians” and upsets the status quo both in the city where the gang operates and within the syndicate.

I love a dumb movie as long as it’s fun, and a little bizarre goes a long way. Yakuza Apocalypse certainly is both, but despite a strong enough start it is fun only to a point. Too bad. I love the melding of genres: mafia, kung fu, gore, action, end of the world shit. It struck me that I witnessed something come full circle: Yakuza Apocalypse so obviously was influenced by Quentin Tarantino, who in turn so obviously was influenced by martial arts films. Plus, making the deadly monster everyone fears a guy in a fuzzy muppet-like frog suit is a small stroke of genius. However, the plot is choppy, confusing, and hard to follow. I’m not sure what the deal is with “The Captain” or Masuda, to name just two “what the fucks.” The joke gets old, fast: the film goes on about 45 minutes too long and repeats the same tedious, drawn out battles, chases, and other nonsense. The audience loved it, but I got lost and bored; at just about two hours, I thought it would never end.

(Gene Siskel Film Center) D+