Nowadays when you say "Kill Bill," some people automatically think of SZA's hit song and music video. However, in order to get the point where folks are thinking about SZA's track, you have to first acknowledge the film that inspired it all—Kill Bill, which is now something of a 2000s cult-classic. The saying "you had to be there" has become a cliche one, but you really did truly have to be there to experience the release of Kill Bill in real-time as the initial box office numbers and reviews don't tell the full story of the impact this movie has had in popular culture; it's certainly one of the best Quentin Tarantino movies from his filmography. Our current entertainment landscape is one judged by the numbers—it's all about how much you raked in at that box office, how successful your movie is once it hits streaming platforms, if it goes number one once it hits said streaming platform, and various other checkboxes that entertainment projects have to meet by way of the media and general public to be considered a "success."
At 20, 'Kill Bill' is a Movie That Holds Up
A classic is celebrating a birthday
As such, people may look at the $180 million (which translates to $330 million from today's standards) Kill Bill pulled in with a 2010s/2020s lens and deem it to not be a "massive success" because it didn't cross the $500 million or $1 billion mark. Here us out—in a land full of Tarantino classics this is one of his best, outdone only by himself. It's hard to definitively say Kill Bill is Quentin Tarantino's best movie ever when you've also to contend with the likes of Pulp Fiction, but dammit it his one of his best and most culturally significant. Released on this day 20 years ago, Kill Bill is borderline perfect movie complimented by Tarantino's legendary "imperfect" style.
For this project, Tarantino teamed up once again with Uma Thurman to create a cinematic masterpiece that would influence the action movies that came after it. Maybe this is a bold statement, but in our opinion, the overall way the action genre was approached as a whole changed after the release of Kill Bill, and its reflected in the way fight scenes are shot, the different camera angles used, the close-ups, and even in smaller details such as the costumes, make up, and hair styling used on the actors.
In addition to Thurman, the film also starred Lucy Liu, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, Vivica Fox, and David Carradine, along with Tarantino himself making an appearance. The plot? Thurman starring as a "The Bride," a former assassin out for blood against another group of assassins who tried to kill her and her unborn child after awakening from a four-year coma. The movie itself was inspired by the 1973 film Lady Snowblood while also drawing inspiration from classic blaxploitation films, samurai cinema, and spaghetti westerns. Thurman is a captivating bad ass with her portrayal of "The Bride," and in the years since the release of Kill Bill, has led the character to being ranked as one of the best action personas in recent history.
Another call out is the performance of Lucy Liu who by the year 2003 had fully made her mark in the action genre as one of its defining actors. In it, Liu portrayed O-Ren Ishii codename Cottonmouth, a vicious deadly viper leading the Japanese Yakuza. In case you didn't know, Liu did her own stunts for Kill Bill, which is one of the reasons why her performances remain lauded. No stunt doubles here!
The supporting cast was phenomenal as well, and the action was stellar. Loaded with brutal one-on-one fights enhanced with intense graphics (for the year 2003 at least) and sound effects, the House of Blues fight scene in particular, Vol. 1 can rightfully present it's case for being Tarantino's most dynamic—fighting-wise at least. A 2004 interview with Screenwriter’s Monthly suggested that Tarantino thought very highly of the film in all areas—perhaps even thinking it was his best to date at that particular point in time. "It’s coming from, in it’s basic form, all of these different revenge genre movies that I was jumping off from. The Bride could easily be this cowboy character from this spaghetti western. She could easily by Angela Mao character Deep Thrust or Broken Oath," he told the publication.
Tarantino continued: "I had the fortunate fun of being able to watch at least one Shaw Brothers movie a day, if not three, and the reason I was doing it is that I wanted to immerse myself so much in that style of filmmaking so that the things that they did would be second nature to me. It would be my style of filmmaking as far as this movie was concerned. I wouldn’t have to think about it. I wouldn’t have to be self conscious about it. I wanted to get that comfortable with it and it worked so well that, to me, during that entire year, the movies that were coming out of Hollywood were like these weird artistic, fringe movies. I was like someone who lived in Hong Kong in the ‘70’s. When you thought of movies, you thought of Kung Fu movies. The Shaw Brothers, the Shaw Scope Logo and then, the Feature Presentation thing which I grew up watching."
Now let's crunch the numbers shall we? Upon its release, Kill Bill grossed $22 million on its opening weekend. It's worldwide gross totaled slightly over $180 million which as we mentioned earlier would equal roughly $333 million in 2023. To make things even simpler, if released today, Vol. 1 would being seeing the numbers of some recent Marvel films in the last five years or so. Now we've reached the point where we get to share an actual review from the movie shared during its release. As we've said before, these are our favorite part of doing reflective "reviews" because it's almost as if you're stepping into a time machine and being transported back into the actual era these projects were released. Our flashback review of choice for today is a 2003 one written by Peter Bradshaw, which came also came out twenty years ago today.
Bradshaw starts the review saying "During the 1970s there was a queasy urban myth that, in New York cinemas, drug dealers were skulking down the aisles at midnight shows jabbing innocent moviegoers with needles, so instantly enslaving them to heroin. After one single viewing of Kill Bill Volume 1, starring Uma Thurman - Quentin Tarantino's first movie for six years - I felt like the director himself had cacklingly jammed his hypodermic into my throbbing arm. Really, no one delivers that sheer, aneurism-inducing rush with the same intravenous efficiency as Tarantino."
He adds "Brutally bloody and thrillingly callous from first to last, Kill Bill covers its action in a kind of delirium-glaze. Its storyline rolls out in a simulacrum universe, a place which looks and sounds like planet Earth in the early 21st century, but isn't. It's a martial- arts movie universe where the normal laws of economics, police work, physiology and gravity do not apply."
Another one of our favorite parts of doing these is finding at least one rare gem that we hope you either haven't seen or have forgotten about completely. It feels like we don't really get in-depth behind the scenes clips of movies anymore. Not in the way we used to at least where there would be a behind the scenes feature that accompanied the DVD/video release. That said, enjoy this behind the scenes featurette from Vol. 1.
As for Vol. 2? Well that's a different story for a day. Happy 20th to a classic that's still influencing popular culture to this day.
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