Some of Quentin Tarantino's most inspired casting in his long movie career is in Kill Bill: Volume 1. Besides Uma Thurman herself, whose fitting into the role of a woman fueled by righteous anger would only come to light much later, Thurman's "The Bride" visits Okinawa to seek the craftsmanship of Hattori Hanzo and his lazy assistant. For several memorable minutes, Thurman shares screen time with two legends of Japanese grindhouse cinema.
Little did mainstream America realize as they flooded theaters (the film grossed $22 million domestically in its opening weekend, a big number for a hard-R movie in 2003), they were watching Sonny Chiba, one of the only acclaimed martial arts action heroes of Japanese cinema; and Kenji Ohba, legendary stuntman turned actor with more superhero roles than Ryan Reynolds. Their characters, two retired blacksmiths, craft a sword befitting Thurman's vengeful protagonist — an act that goes against Hanzo's sworn oath.
"I've done this because, philosophically, I am sympathetic to your aim," he tells her in Japanese. "I can tell you with no ego, this is my finest sword."
Kill Bill is truly some of Tarantino's finest works, too. And if you've not treated yourself to the artistry on display in the auteur's ultimate homage to martial arts films, Kill Bill: Volume 1 and Volume 2, you have until the end of March to do so via the convenience that is Netflix.
On Wednesday, Netflix announced its monthly list of titles that will arrive and leave the popular streaming service. While there are some choice new originals, such as the third season of the gothic anime Castlevania and the Brazilian spin-off to the addicting reality game show The Circle, it's Netflix's selection of movies that are leaving that are noteworthy.
In particular, the first two movies in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008); the camp favorites Charlie's Angels (2000) and Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003); the underrated sci-fi satire Small Soldiers (1998); Marvel's Black Panther (2018); and the first two Men in Black movies (1997 and 2002). All of these movies will leave Netflix on March 30.
And so will Kill Bill: Volume 1 and Kill Bill: Volume 2. Originally a four-hour epic split into two movies, both of them released in 2003, the movies weaponized every tool in the Tarantino toolbox, from wildly obscure pop culture references, to carefully plotted non-chronological storytelling, to some jaw-dropping surprises. (For many people, O-ren Ishii's backstory was their first introduction to anime.)
The Kill Bill epic is just that — a revenge epic kit-bashed from multiple '70s grindhouse genres into a single 21st-century masterpiece. When a nameless, pregnant bride (Uma Thurman) is left for dead by a gang of assassins, she embarks on a very bloody road to revenge that leads her face-to-face with her old boss Bill.
The Kill Bill films also marked a turning point for Tarantino. Since his first film, Reservoir Dogs in 1992, and through movies like Pulp Fiction (1994) and Jackie Brown (1997), Tarantino combated criticism for the violence in his pictures. But as cinema theorists regularly point out, Tarantino is a tasteful architect when it comes to bloodshed. His characters bleed, yes. They bleed plenty. But Tarantino moved his camera away when Mister Blonde (Michael Madsen) cut off a cop's ear in Reservoir Dogs. In Pulp Fiction, Tarantino also didn't show Brett getting pummeled by bullets, he only showed Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) pulling the triggers. Only twice did Tarantino ever actually show someone's brains getting blown out (Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown), and the violence was only used to punctuate the story.
Kill Bill changed that. A way station between his indie success in the '90s to his later reputation as a renowned, can't-miss attraction in the 2010s, Kill Bill was an explicitly stylized chanbara with impossible physical feats and Mortal Kombat-esque decapitation and bloodletting. Finally, a Quentin Tarantino that was actually violent. But once again Tarantino gave the film's violence a specific personality: An air of the impossible. In mixing fantastical choreography of vintage martial arts movies (legendary Hong Kong choreographer Yuen Woo-ping was a consultant on the movie) with Looney Tunes sound effects (note the sound of bowling pins when the Bride knocks Gogo on her feet).
And this is what audiences wanted. The Kill Bill movies proved audiences were fine with gruesome violence and good filmmaking in their popcorn entertainment.The Matrix walked, but Kill Bill ran, so John Wick and Deadpool could eventually somersault off a cliff. Kill Bill: Volume 1 and Volume 2 are leaving Netflix, but they're hardly erased from the canon. The films endure as 21st-century classics that illustrate a master still getting to realize just what was in him the whole time.
Kill Bill: Volume 1 and Volume 2 will leave Netflix on March 30.