If you go to the movies a lot, you'll soon become bored with the overwhelming mediocrity of most Hollywood productions. You'll yearn for something new and different that engages your senses and your cerebellum and jolts you breathlessly back to a state of wonderment at what you're seeing.
In short, you need a Quentin Tarantino fix.
The quirky writer/actor/director known for his maze-like plot lines and unapologetic gore factor has made his most profoundly striking film yet, "Kill Bill, Vol. 1." It's dazzling to look at and delicious to follow, as the onscreen mix of two genres highly influential to Tarantino's career, spaghetti Westerns and kung fu movies, results in a film that's at once vastly entertaining and a veritable bloodbath.
At its heart, "Kill Bill" follows the tradition of the Chinese martial arts movies of the early 70s. Even the dialog is easy to imagine as subtitles or badly dubbed voiceovers. The action is all hand-to-hand as firearms take a back seat to blades of all sizes, from switchblades to butcher knives to samurai swords. And about half the movie takes place in Japan, both old world and new.
But to keep the Asian atmosphere fresh, Tarantino infuses the familiar settings with a vivacious funk and flamenco musical score, and splits the action sequences into various different film styles, almost like extended panels in a comic book. And as an homage to the Italian Westerns of the 1960s and 70s, when a character's limb or head gets sliced off, the blood doesn't just spurt - it sprays with the force of a fire hose.
Uma Thurman tops all her previous performances as the central character, known only to audiences as the former assassin Black Mamba. Through a series of chapters, some of which are flashbacks, or flashbacks of flashbacks, we follow her on a mission of revenge as she goes after the rest of her gang that left her for dead four years earlier.
Thurman's intensity and single-mindedness is riveting, but so is her lean and leggy physique and her martial arts prowess. The first two names she tracks down on her "death list" are played by Vivica A. Fox and Lucy Liu, and the fight sequences that follow are some of the most formidable ever filmed, no matter what gender the actors.
As originally written and filmed, "Kill Bill" would have run three full hours, which to Tarantino seemed a contradiction to the B-movies he fondly remembered being shown at the "grindhouses" or second-run theaters of his youth. So he tantalizingly split the film into two parts, with "Vol. 2" set for release in February 2004. The second installment is reportedly as Western in setting as the first was Asian, and the role of Bill, last on Black Mamba's list to kill, will take center stage. Former kung fu icon David Carradine plays Bill, but only in glimpses in "Vol. 1."
I certainly wouldn't wish for all movies to be as stylish and unconventional as Tarantino's - one can take only so much hyperrealism - but the colors, the music, the outstanding action and the gripping stories are exactly what the jaded moviegoer craves.
"Kill Bill, Vol. 1"Rated - R
for strong bloody violence, language and some sexual content
Starring: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, David Carradine
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Length: 110 minutes
Now playing at: Astoria Gateway Cinemas, Cannes Cinema in Seaside
Short take: Quirky writer/director Quentin Tarantino is back with another stylish and enigmatic story of professional killers. Uma Thurman triumphs as a former assassin out for revenge on her gangmates. A tribute to kung fu movies and spaghetti Westerns, the hand-to-hand action is first-rate, but be prepared for a bloodbath.
Rating: 3 stars
4 stars: Absolutely the best
3 stars: Good, solid entertainment
2 stars: Wait for the video
1 star: Don't waste your time
Movie Trivia: What is the significance of Uma Thurman's yellow leather motorcycle suit, seen here?
Movie Trivia answer: The suit is an exact copy of the track suit Bruce Lee wore in "The Game of Death," the film he left unfinished at his death in 1973.