March 22nd, 2004
Written by Quentin Tarantino
Reviewed by Christopher Wehner
This review could be a result of having read in the last few weeks two of the greatest screenplays ever written: John Michael Hayes final draft of Hitchcock's Rear Window (Mr. Hayes is still alive and kicking and I got the chance to interview him. I will post it on the site later next month), and Preston Sturges The Power and the Glory. (Both scripts Ill discuss in my "Classic Screenplays" column over the next month or so.)
Honest Abe first reviewed Tarantinos Kill Bill two months ago for SU, and liked it. Most of the reviews have been favorable. So I was really looking forward to sitting down with the script and soaking it in. Youve got to love Tarantino. No question that Pulp Fiction is one of the best screenplays of the 1990s.
After Jackie Brown, from about 1998 to early 2000, Tarantino spent his time "gorging on film history and B-grade filmmakers." (As quoted in a September 2000 NY Times interview.) While reading that interview, I almost got the feeling that Tarantino had been on a sabbatical of sorts, exploring the history of movies and searching for a truer meaning to the art of filmmaking. I was completely consumed with the idea that Tarantino was going to come back better than ever. Already an icon, adored by millions, and with two exceptional films on his resume (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction), and one pretty good one (Jackie Brown). His other screenwriting efforts include the underrated True Romance, From Dusk Till Dawn, and his early drafts of Natural Born Killers.
Tarantino went on to say in that NY Times interview, "My fans are gonna love this one. They've been waiting a long time, and I think they're really going to be happy with it." According to reports, Kill Bill is something that Tarantino started thinking about over seven years ago and "Its a character that [he] and Uma [Thurman] came up with together."
Kill Bill is about "The Bride" (Uma Thurman) who seeks revenge on Bill after he slaughters everyone at her wedding and leaves her for dead. Her apparent dying words to him are that she is pregnant, and its his baby. She of course doesnt die, but lies in a coma for 5 years. Bill is an expert swordsman and deadly assassin, as is The Bride. Why he wants her dead isnt known at this point. There are other characters as well. The Bride seeks her revenge on all of them. The story is also a little more (and I mean just a little) complicate than that, but Ill leave you with your imagination.
Kill Bill is an interesting script and a less interesting story. The fractured narrative and multiple flashbacks that made Pulp Fiction so good, backfire here because of overuse and obtuse use. I know this movie is intended to be Tarantinos homage to the Kung Fu movies he loves, and thats very cool. But regardless of how honorable the deed, the fruits of this labor are spoiled.
The cool thing about Tarantinos writing is that he takes all of the rules all the screenwriting gurus preach (Syd Field anyone?) and throws them out the window. A narrative is something to play around with, not to be confined by. Pulp fiction is a perfect example of an "anti-structuralist" screenplay. Here it gets the better of him. A clever narrative doesnt make a movie good. Its just a device without substance employed by the writer. This script is all attitude and no character. Which was strange since all of Tarantinos prior work was so rich in character. About the only things we get to learn about most of the characters are the kinds of swords they use and what their favorite weapons are.
The story is a body count, practically everyone dies, and thats fine. This is a B Kung Fu movie, and a B movie is all it aspires to be. Giving it the benefit of the doubt, it might end up being a really cool extension of Tarantino's passion for the genre.
Kill Bill is 202 pages long and broken into chapters (much like Pulp Fiction, but taken to the extreme as we have ten chapters total):1. "2"
2. THE COMATOSE BRIDE
3. THE MAN FROM OKINAWA
4. SHOWDOWN AT HOUSE OF BLUE LEAVES
5. YUKIS REVENGE
6. "CAN SHE BAKE A CHERRY PIE"
7. THE LONELY GRAVE OF PAULA SCHULTZ
8. THE CRUEL TUTELAGE OF PAI MEI
9. ELLE AND I
10. THE BLOOD-SPLATTERED BRIDE
The best chapter in my opinion is "The lonely grave of Paula Schultz." If there is any interesting and memorable writing it is in this chapter. The ending unfortunately was rather lame and offered no surprises or thrills.
There were a few scenes that were cool and will be on screen. Bits here and there. Theres some memorable dialogue, (page 106) after someone has taken a chest full of lead, courtesy of Budd:
BUDD That gentled you down some, didnt it? Yepaint nobody a badass with two barrels of rock salt dug deep in their tits.
Tarantinoesque dialogue at its best.
Kill Bill is a self-indulgent wreck of a story. Something only a handful of directors could get away with. For the moment, Tarantino is among them. When I got to page 101 and realized I was only at the midway point of the script, and that the story had bored me beyond my wildest nightmares, I knew what had to be done. So I went out with a few friends and had drinks.
I found the second half to be fairly entertaining. Which was a relief. There was actually some drama and tension mixed in. Up to that point, the script was nothing more than fight after pointless fight. I really cant imagine this movie being three plus hours long as the script dictates by its length.
Tarantino can obviously write. Hes as good a screenwriter as he is a director. There must be every camera angle and technique known to God (Spielberg) in this script. Weve got cameras doing 360s, going up and down, coming down from the top, zooming, spinning, and everything else. And he doesnt always just tell us the camera "zooms," but it sometimes does a "SHAW BROTHERS ZOOM INTO HER EYES." Theres also a lot of the "Spaghetti-Western Style" FLASHBACKS used. You can tell this is a script the man loved writing, and most likely the actors will love doing. Ive even read that Tarantino is shooting parts of the film on the old Shaw Brothers lot. Which is also very cool. But once again, shoot this on the moon for all I care. The script as it stands now will produce a bad movie experience for most moviegoers.
But that's not all, weve also got verbiage. The dialogue spews from each shapeless character with rapacity. Another Tarantino trademark. The exposition is at times, and it pains me to say this, laughable: "The Bride goin Krakatoa all over whoevers ass happens to be in front of her at that moment" and "HUGH MOTHERFUCKIN BUTCHER KNIFE."
And finally, weve got "Vengeance Theme" music. For example: "As the Vengeance Theme plays, a Vein in The Brides forehead begins to pulsate." The characters are nothing but projections of attitude.
Kill Bill is evidence that Tarantinos "gorging" on B films and filmmakers has had a deep and negative effect on his screenwriting, which is surprising. I think in his honorable effort to honor those movies he loves and grew up on, he does himself a disservice. Kill Bill will be a pretty good "B" flick, and thats about it.
Until next time.