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Kill Bill Vol. 1 Review

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 released in 2003, is one of my favorite Quentin Tarantino films starring Uma Thurman.  The lead character, Black Mambo (Uma Thurman) awakens from a 4-year coma. As she starts experiencing flashbacks of events that led to her comatose state, she begins to seek vengeance on those involved in what she comes to realize was a failed attempt to murder her. Her kill list includes 4 female assassins and Bill, their leader. Anyone else that gets in her way is destined to meet their demise.  

After several athletic and entertaining fight scenes, the climactic is Black Mambo with her custom-made Japanese sword and O-Ren Ishii in the Bonsai garden after a gentle snowfall. The powdery white snow is still gently falling without a footprint or blemish. The snow creates an element of innocence and serenity in a scene that will soon become a gruesome bloodbath. The contrast of the snow in a Japanese zen garden while a white woman wearing a yellow tracksuit and Lucy Lui’s character O’Ren dons a gorgeous white kimono, engaging in swift and graceful sword fighting feels so luxurious. The blood splatters from the sword slicing Mambo’s skin and is flung onto the white snow like paint flung onto an artist’s canvas. The dialogue between the two women in this scene is brief and direct. Every step and movement is intentional and calculated. The lighting is full of rich contrast as well. There is drumming, battle-style music, almost Spanish sounding, and the subtle sounds of refilling and spilling of water from a bamboo fountain leading up to the fight.

This film portrays women in an exceptionally empowering way. It addresses the eminent threat of rape in a scene when Black Mambo is in a coma. A nurse or hospital staff, Buck, sneaks into her room to use her body for his selfish unpleasant desires. When she awakens from her coma and becomes aware of his actions, she gets revenge by slicing his Achilles tendon and crushing his head in a doorway repeatedly until she is out of energy. It is uncertain if he dies but he is left unconscious as she steals his vehicle, the “Pussy Wagon”. It becomes an important tool for her to use towards achieving her goals throughout the rest of the film. The female characters aren’t overly curvy or sexualized. We don’t see a ton of cleavage or butt shots. They are athletic and attractive but without emphasis on how attractive they are. They also bleed all over the place. Their wounds are deep, ugly, and as severe as the men, so as not to dumb down or “take it easy” on the ladies. This feels like a kind of primal equality, with all of their blood and cuts and black eyes, they continue fighting. 

This is without a doubt an action film. There is a sequel, which makes sense as the film implies that the protagonist has more work to do. The movie ends after Black Mamba accomplishes killing only  3 of the 5 assassins on her list. The dialogue throughout the film is minimal which adds to the intensity and directness of the film. Every action and line feels like a punch in the gut to the viewer. The majority of the characters are strong females, with a lot of supporting males that fight with them. It does seem that Bill, who we know is a white male, is the Boss character of the whole film. The conflict is set up to assume Black Mamba had a relationship with Bill and for some reason, he sought to have her killed. Now they will eventually have a fight to the death, once she works her way through all of his assassins. The conflict is not resolved by the end of the movie, leaving the viewer to watch the sequel for the rest of the story. The costumes are practical, athletic wear for doing martial arts moves in battle scenes. We don’t see a lot of heels or tiny swimsuits. There is only one girl in a skirt and the skirt isn’t sexualized. The skirt seems to symbolize femininity and youth.

This film kills Berger’s ( notion that only men act and women are observed. These women aren’t just observing themselves being looked at. In fact, several times they catch themselves being looked at by men in a way that doesn’t please them and they kill those men.  These women aren’t passively being looked at, they are main characters, active participants in the story, the writers of their own stories with goals and independent lives. They don’t subscribe to traditional female roles yet they show moments of care, nurturing, and tenderness. They make little effort towards their appearance except to wipe the blood off of their faces to better see their next target. 


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