This startling display of brutality from the offset sets out to shock the audience into engagement- the inclusion of gore and graphic violence is typical of Tarantino’s work (as much as the inclusion of bare feet is), with the penultimate scene in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood being a more recent example of the director’s use of extreme violence for entertainment. Kill Bill Vol 1 is thus no exception- in fact, when Beatrix is faced with her enemies, violence is the immediate response, with limited dialogue between herself and her opponents.
Yet, while the violence certainly captures our attention, it is the cinematography and story-telling of Kill Bill Vol 1 that is most noteworthy. The fluctuation and combination of different genres and mediums, along with his manipulation of time through the non-linear structure, takes what is essentially a typical revenge-fuelled plot and creates something extraordinary. The viewer is constantly kept engaged through the striking presentation, whether through the exaggerated sound effects of the fight scenes, or the depiction of O’Ren’s traumatic childhood as told through the medium of anime. To assign Kill Bill Vol 1 to one genre is simply impossible- it intertwines a multitude of genres, from action and western to comedy and old school martial arts films. Japanese culture is certainly a creative inspiration within the film, with their fashion, music, motorbikes and weaponry being key to the aesthetic of the film- one of the most iconic images is that of Beatrix on her Japanese Motorbike- a black and yellow Kawasaki ZZR 250- speeding through the streets of Japan.
Perhaps the most striking scene within the film is the iconic battle scene between Beatrix and O’Ren (Lucy Liu). The scenery itself is noteworthy, contrasting the intense and crowded Japanese restaurant with a peaceful, snowy garden paired with the almost angelic looking O’Ren awaiting Beatrix’s entrance. This change of pace indicates the climactic moment of their meeting, and in the silence the tension is evermore palpable.
Yet, despite their imminent fight to the death, one can’t help notice the similarities between these two opposing characters. O’Ren sought justice by avenging her parents following their murder, going on to head the most dangerous and powerful crime organisation in Japan despite her mixed heritage. In her desire for power and the protection of her trained killers, the ‘Crazy 88’, it is clear that she uses her position to ensure that the vulnerability she experienced as a child is never repeated. Likewise, the loss of Beatrix’s child has led her on a path of destruction as a result of her emotional turmoil and anger. Both women are on a path fuelled by their desire for vengeance, but also for invulnerability, explaining the sense of mutual respect conveyed throughout their almost graceful battle. Likewise, these parallels are similarly evident in the initial fight scene between Beatrix and Copperhead, in which Beatrix murders Copperhead in front of her young daughter, potentially creating yet another woman whose actions are fuelled by revenge and hatred. The cycle of vengeance is thus a pivotal theme within the film, suggesting the futility of revenge as a means of closure.
As the battle between O’Ren and Beatrix becomes increasingly fast paced, the superiority of Hattori Hanzo’s crafted samurai sword secures Beatrix her triumph, removing O’Ren’s scalp as one removes a crown- and with it, O’Ren’s reign is over. The final scene shows Beatrix kidnapping O’Ren’s associate and sending her directly to Bill to relay the news of O’Ren’s death, along with her intent to kill Bill (hence the title).
And yet, just as it seems that the character has finally obtained some closure having crossed two names off her list, Tarantino again inverts our expectations within the final moment, as it is revealed that Beatrix’s child is in fact alive. With an ending as abrupt as the opening, Tarantino tantalizes his audience with unanswered questions, having left them hanging until the following year for the release of Kill Bill Vol 2 for the answers they sought. Yes Tarantino, we do find you sadistic.
Throughout the entirety of Quentin Tarantino’s exceptional filmography, Kill Bill Vol 1 certainly epitomises the director’s genius, with his creativity and distinctive vision paralleled by few.