After much talk and hype Quentin Tarantino returns to the big screen after a six-year hiatus with his fourth feature, Kill Bill: Vol. 1. His previous film, Jackie Brown, based on the novel by Elmore Leonard, hit our screens way back in 1997. It is unclear what Tarantino has been doing over the past few years, perhaps re-watching his favourite genre films from the 70s and 80s. The wait has been well worthwhile though as his latest venture is a return to the Tarantino of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction days. Tarantino and Miramax were so excited about the project they split it in two, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 now and Kill Bill: Vol. 2 in early 2004.

Kill Bill is a homage to the films that Tarantino has loved most in his life, spaghetti westerns, Chinese martial arts films and Japanese samurai movies as well as anime. Tarantino describes it as a duck press of all the grindhouse cinema he’s absorbed over the past 35 years (he turned 40 this year). The film is more pastiche than homage as magpie Tarantino weaves genre and pop culture references two or three layers at a time. Uma Thurman wears a yellow tracksuit which is a tribute to the outfit worn by Bruce Lee in Game Of Death (1978). A scene from a yakuza movie is presented as a chunk of anime with a slice of spaghetti western music. Nothing is spared from the moment the scratchy opening sequence heralds a picture screened in Shaw scope. The reference of course is a tribute to the Hong Kong Shaw Brothers martial arts films. Tarantino admired the brothers so much that a whole section of Kill Bill was filmed in the original Shaw studios.

I’m sure many readers will remember only too well the genre films and actors that Tarantino weaves together in his latest project. First among the many links is Sonny Chiba and his 1970s Streetfighter series of films as well as his role as Hattori Honzo, the Ninja detective in Shadow Warriors. Sonny Chiba, who will be seen in the forthcoming Japanese film, Battle Royale II, is 64. Tarantino gives him a role playing a character called Hattori Honzo who has retired from the warrior business to run a sake bar. Then there’s David Carradine, who appeared in Martin Scorsese’s first film Boxcar Bertha (1972) as well as Mean Streets (1973), but who really achieved fame as a Kung Fu icon in that early 70s kung fu TV series. Carradine is 67 now and is cast as Bill, as in kill Bill.

It is rumoured that Tarantino waited for his muse, Uma Thurman, to have a baby and recover her fitness before he proceeded with his film. Uma plays Black Mamba, star assassin of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, the DiVAS. Thurman, a mainstay in Pulp Fiction, is the centre of the action and clearly demonstrates her ability to carry a lead role. Kill Bill is easily her best performance on the big screen to date. To this mix is added: 40-something Daryl Hannah, best remembered for her roles in Blade Runner (1982) and Steel Magnolias (1989), who plays assassin California Mountain Snake; Lucy Liu, who has finally graduated from Ally McBeal to more solid film roles and plays assassin Cottonmouth; and Michael Madsen, who has largely slipped to B-movie roles since appearing in Thelma And Louise and Reservoir Dogs, and plays assassin Sidewinder. Nineteen-year-old Japanese actress Chiaki Kuriyama (Battle Royale) puts in a great turn as a mace-swinging bodyguard.

Kill Bill is pure fantasy, there is not a lot of narrative and no depth beyond the old story of revenge is a dish best served cold. It is also very bloody in the tradition of Chinese martial arts and Japanese samurai films. Bloody is an understatement -“ the film is a corny spurtfest in keeping with 1970s tradition. Kill Bill is all visual style, thanks to the outstanding work of cinematographer Robert Richardson, long-time Oliver Stone collaborator, and Sally Menke, who has edited all of Tarantino’s films. The soundtrack is outstanding and encapsulates everything from Sinatra and Charlie Feathers to Japanese punk rockers the 5.6.7.8s. If you are a Tarantino fan or simply want to revisit long-gone genres, Kill Bill is the film for you.

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