Monday, July 20, 2009

Remembering the year 2003

Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino

2003 was a big year for me. I shot my very first short film – also coincidentally my only short film – and I got involved in theatre production. It was also a big year for one of my favorite filmmakers, Quentin Tarantino. After his third film, JACKIE BROWN (1997), the follow-up to his contemporary masterpiece, PULP FICTION (1994), underwelmed both critics and audiences alike, Tarantino returned to theatres in 2003 with an epic so momentous that it needed to be split into two films. Clocking in originally at over four hours, Tarantino’s fourth film, as it is billed when the title appears on screen, KILL BILL, was both highly anticipated after a six-year hiatus on the part of the infamous filmmaker and highly criticized for being split into two parts (the second was released in the spring of 2004). Regular Tarantino distributor, Miramax, felt the film was just too long to be released as a whole; the industry meanwhile saw the decision as nothing more than a way to sell two tickets to one movie. Audiences did not care one way or the other; KILL BILL VOLUME ONE went on to earn over $180 million internationally and put Tarantino back on track to becoming the best of the contemporary film auteurs.

KILL BILL VOLUME ONE opens with a Klingon proverb … Revenge is a dish best served cold. Only Tarantino can open a film with a quote from a Star Trek character and transcend geekiness into authenticity. Besides, the quote fits as revenge gets served in the coldest of fashions in the two hours that follow. And with good reason, I might add. In a role that was written specifically for her (to the point that production was pushed back after she became pregnant), Uma Thurman plays The Bride and when we first meet her, she is lying on the floor, beaten and bloodied. A gun is pointed at her beautifully battered face and she tells the man standing above her, whose name, Bill, is all we know for now, that she is carrying his baby. Regardless, he shoots her anyway. Believing her and her entire wedding party to be dead, he leaves her to rot but The Bride is a character that will not be held down. Miraculously, she survives and devises a plan to obliterate the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (the group responsible for her wedding day massacre) one by one, including their leader, Bill (the recently deceased David Carradine). I’m a big supporter of turning the other cheek but this is one scenario where I can hardly blame her for exacting her revenge. In fact, I delighted in every second of it.

I was not the only one delighting in this blood-soaked revenge tale (nearly 100 people die in the film). Clearly, Tarantino was having so much fun too. Just as he did with PULP FICTION, he takes the story, based heavily on the 1973 Japanese film, LADY SNOWBLOOD, and breaks it up so that the timeline plays out non-sequentially. The through line is simply a death list that The Bride attacks one at a time. There are plenty of trademark Tarantino touches, from a bright, yellow truck called the Pussy Wagon to punchy dialogue like “My name is Buck and I like to fuck.” There is even a knowing nod to himself at one point when Thurman draws an imaginary square in the air, just like she did in PULP FICTION at the Jack Rabbit Slim restaurant on her date with John Travolta. Tarantino’s films are never fully out of the reach of his sometimes gigantic ego but he earns every indulgence in this film. Considering how playful his tone is, his care for the visual style is stupendous and the choreography of the all out brawl at the film’s climax is mesmerizing. All you can do is sit back and enjoy the bloodbath. And as much as Tarantino deserves all this praise for this picture, he could not have done it without Thurman. Her turn as The Bride is immensely demanding of her talents, both physically and emotionally, and she makes every moment on screen that much more urgent.

It seems that little is said about KILL BILL and what a strong picture it is for women working in the action genre. The rest of the cast is made up of Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox and Daryl Hannah and all of these ladies are not to be messed with. There is no denying their strength or the skills and Tarantino has far too much respect for both his characters and his actresses to ever allow them to be taken advantage of or exploited as girls gone wild. They are simply women who kick some serious ass paving the way for KILL BILL VOLUME ONE and Mr. Tarantino himself to do the same.

2003 Top 10
(in alphabetical order)

CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS, Andrew Jarecki (Director)
CITY OF GOD, Fernando Meirelles
ELEPHANT, Gus Van Sant
FINDING NEMO, Andrew Stanton
IN AMERICA, Jim Sheridan
KILL BILL VOLUME ONE, Quentin Tarantino
MONSTER, Patty Jenkins

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