Friday, October 17, 2003

Everyone Deserves a Visit to the House of Blue Leaves

Thrice, as of the time of this writing.
When Uma Thurman's character steps into the House of Blue Leaves, a jumping Tokyo nightspot frequented by Yakuza thugs, she marks the beginning of a 20-minute stretch of action movie perfection. It's a choreographed, gory jaunt that filmmakers in the action genre will be scrambling to top for the next five years.

Thurman, a nameless blonde swordswoman in a motorcycle suit with a yellowjacket color scheme, slices through countless Yakuza, the mad schoolgirl Gogo Yubari (Chiaki Kuriyama) and the notorious crime boss Johnny Mo (Gordon Liu). Finally, hardly dazed by the preceding ordeal, she duels samurai-style with O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), the queen of the Japanese underworld, in a serene snowfield.

The fight ends. White snow turns red. The audience gets up and leaves the theater, itching to see how the next half of "Kill Bill" will unfold.

"Kill Bill: Vol. 1" is a good movie. More than that, it's a flurry of sharp, shining metal that dazzles, boils the blood and satisfies the viewer more than any other movie in recent memory. "Kill Bill" combines popping visuals with an assured technical prowess befitting both the labels "film" and "flick" - terms usually on opposite ends of the cinematic spectrum.

The complaints against "Kill Bill: Vol. 1" however, are obvious.

First, Quentin Tarantino basically wrote a predictable, "Death Wish"-style revenge plot.

Second, dialogue steps aside for over-the-top blood and flashy fight scenes and staple elements from the kung fu, samurai, cowboy and blaxpolitation genres.

The entire spectacle is a big blowjob from and to Quentin Tarantino - until it ends with a blue balls-inducing cliffhanger.

And finally, like one poor Yakuza, this movie got cut in half.

And yet, as far as halves of movies go, "Kill Bill" is the best half-a-movie ever. Nobody should be watching this movie for its plot. Those fools should have gotten tickets to "Intolerable Cruelty" instead. No, "Kill Bill" merely throws perfectly timed punches with a flair unmatched by even Tarantino's earlier efforts. Appreciating "Kill Bill" means watching a movie in the truest sense of the word "watching."

The story is simple. For reasons likely disclosed in "Kill Bill: Volume Vol. 2," Thurman's character is attacked by her former fellow assassins on her wedding day. The groom dies; the bride goes into a coma. Once awake, she seeks out those who did her in. Between the spurts of blood, however, something deeper does exist. Given the minimal amount of dialogue, the actors commendably squeeze actual characters out of the script.

When Thurman's character wakes from a four-year-long coma, for example, her first reaction is to touch her temple where - as per her last memory - her boss, Bill (David Carradine) put a bullet. Her head clanks - a metal plate. The audience laughs. Immediately, Thurman then clutches her empty womb, where she had previously carried her unborn daughter. She screams in shock and anger. No one laughs.

It's this balance between violent, dark humor and realistic trauma that lends "Kill Bill" a certain emotional gravity. Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) balances life as a happy homemaker and as an assassin. The result is both funny — Vernita trashes her lovely living room brawling with Thurman's character — and awful — the fight pauses only to allow Vernita's daughter through.

Tarantino characteristically makes the movie sound as good as it looks. The RZA's score punctuates the fight scenes well enough, but the real sonic virtue is the selection of already existing tracks to illuminate any given scene's mood. Nancy Sinatra's version of "Bang Bang" opens the film with an appropriate mood as the silhouetted body of the protagonist slowly fades into view. Sound effects work well, too. From the gurgling of blood to the crunch of Vernita's shattered living room, "Kill Bill" sounds good.

Anyone who can stomach eye-gouging, tomahawk-chucking, head-lopping violence should see "Kill Bill" in theaters. "Jackie Brown" came out six years ago, meaning that "Kill Bill" is the first chance most of us have to legally see a Tarantino spectacle on the big screen.

See "Kill Bill" and let the best half-a-movie ever tantalize you. Witness Tarantino's mastery of both the camera and your own bloodlust. Clench your fists. Grit your teeth. And get ready to open your wallet again in February.

After all, everyone deserves a visit to the House of Blue Leaves.
Katie: "O-Ren totally blew her top." And I think Beatrix is a lovely name.