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Photograph by Andrew Cooper

Uma Thurman seeks vengeance after that whole 'Uma...Oprah' thing.


'Kill Bill: Volume 1': Uma Thurman vs. the Deadly Viper Assassination Force

By Richard von Busack

HAVING SATED himself on blaxploitation, our most renowned b-movie sponge soaks up the Orient. Kill Bill: Volume 1 is such a tribute to the age of kung-fu ozone fodder that Quentin Tarantino even includes the "ShawScope" title card (in honor of the Shaw Brothers). The first half of a projected two-part revenge film, Kill Bill concerns the adventures of the former Black Mamba (Uma Thurman), member of all-female Deadly Viper Assassination Force led by the mysterious "Bill" (David Carradine).

Coming back after a massive head wound and a four-year coma, Mamba, known for our purposes as "The Bride," goes on a mission of revenge against the teammates who tried to murder her. These include "Copperhead" (Vivica A. Fox), now a suburban mommy in Pasadena, and "Cottonmouth" (Lucy Liu), currently the ruthless female head of the Tokyo underworld.

Old time bushido-blade movie star Sonny Chiba co-stars as an Okinawan sword maker who crafts a weapon flawless enough to kill "huge vermin." This perfect sword hums like a tuning fork when it is drawn, anticipating the musical-comedy-like battle sequences to come.

The most captivating scene is the Bride's arrival in Tokyo, set to the strains of the "Green Hornet" theme by Al Hirt. She arrives against the orangest sky since the heat-wave-lit sets in Rear Window. In a jet she soars over a model of Tokyo as intricate as the ones the Toho Studio makers ever made in the expensive (but little-seen-here) late-period Godzilla movies. During a subsequent fight, the warriors battle silhouetted a brightly backlit scrim, like the finale of a 1950s MGM musical.

The final duel occurs in a frozen Japanese garden set, covered with softly falling, feathery, totally fake snow. (How did it get from heat-wave to dead of winter?) Between the orange sunset and the snow is a 20-gallon blood bath sword fight that soon wears out its welcome, leaving the floor covered with the most wounded bodies seen since that train station in Gone With the Wind.

When the dialogue's not in subtitles, it sounds creaky, as if it's been translated out of another language. And Uma Thurman--who keeps breaking the frame by trying to act--must deal with lines like "It's mercy, compassion and forgiveness I lack. Not rationality."

In its way, Kill Bill: Volume 1 is a gorgeous movie, but the gorgeousness isn't tied to anything but attitude. Tarantino's sensibility couldn't be more different from Steven Spielberg's, but he employs the same "Chicken McNuggets" method that critic Jonathan Rosenbaum described in Spielberg--that lack of organic content between juicy bite-size morsels. If you stumbled into this film at a drive-in, if the only information about its makers being what you could learn from a postage-stamp-size ad in the newspaper--or if this had been the result of a native genius instead of smothering irony and good old American wretched excess--at worst, Kill Bill is summed up by Michael Parks--decayed and debauched star of TV's Then Came Bronson--playing a Texas Ranger, wandering into a massacre scene, nearly tripping over all the discarded bullet shells. Looking at the mess, he concludes, "If you was a moron, you'd almost admire it."

Kill Bill: Volume 1 (R; 110 min.), directed and written by Quentin Tarantino, photographed by Robert Richardson and starring Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu and David Carradine, plays at selected theaters valleywide.

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Web extra to the October 9-15, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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