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Can’t select a movie mood? The way ‘Kill Bill’ juggles genres, you never have to choose

Western, martial arts, action, comedy, and even anime: Yep, Quentin Tarantino pretty much covered it here.

By Benjamin Bullard
Uma Thurman and David Carradine in Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004)

Clocking in at a combined 248 minutes, Quentin Tarantino’s epic two-part saga Kill Bill: Volume 1 & 2 somehow pulls off a minor miracle: Even at four hours and change, the iconic director’s early-2000s revenge fantasy speeds by faster than the deftest Viper assassin can swivel clear of Beatrix Kiddo’s dreaded five-finger death punch.

Chalk up the movies’ whole never-dull vibe to Tarantino’s gift for spinning no-filler pulp yarns that suck you in from the very first “bang.” These are action flicks that just don’t know the meaning of the word “drag” — even in moments when Uma Thurman (Kiddo, aka The Bride, aka Black Mamba) has to pause and take things slow, from regaining her walking skills to punching free from a too-early grave.

But just as key in keeping the now-classic films lively is the way they gleefully, playfully mix and match genres — or switch genres altogether on a dime. Framed as a vengeance tale sandwiched squarely between serious martial arts and western settings, there’s really a much bigger movie toy box that Tarantino’s raiding as The Bride crosses off one assassin’s target after another off her hateful hit list. In short, it’s impossible to get too cozy with a conventional, one-track movie environment in Kill Bill… because just when you do, Tarantino knocks the table over and opens the curtain on something entirely new.

Watching both Kill Bill movies back to back, it’s downright amazing how coherent and compelling the central story remains amid Tarantino’s energized mood swings. But the same pick-a-genre pretense that might’ve made a complete mess of things in less skillful creative hands instead comes across as a way to dress every story frame in just the right clothes for the occasion. Like David Lynch’s best movies (think Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive), Tarantino just has a knack for cramming dread, suspense, shocking violence, and laugh-out-loud hilarity all into a single film…and sometimes even into the same scene.

It’s almost easier to short-list the genres that Kill Bill doesn’t touch on than to attempt a full rundown of all the ones it does. There’s noir-ish western vibes right in the first film’s opening scene, later giving way to a more conventional western feel when Kiddo tracks down Bill’s slimy bar-bouncer brother Budd (Michael Madsen) in a dusty desert trailer. And a whole ocean of ink could be spilled on the movies’ mountain of martial arts homages, from Sonny Chiba playing famed swordsmith Hattori Hanzō to the epic action set piece (which unfolds like the coolest music video ever) that lays waste to the whole “Crazy 88” combat crew.

But there’s tons of nuance between each kill, with Tarantino pulling out every genre stop — including an incredible anime sequence to explain O-Ren Ishii’s (Lucy Liu) backstory — to round out all the John Wick-worthy action goodness. Things even veer winkingly close to slasher territory when the blood really starts flying, as O-Ren’s grisly, half-decapitated death scene (and tons of maimed Crazy 88 body parts) gruesomely attest.

For all the violence and volumes of jaw-dropping depravity, though, Tarantino lightens the mood with the darkest of comedic touches. No character in either film is as vile and criminally loathsome as Buck the sexually assaulting male nurse, played by Breaking Bad baddie Michael Bowen to snaky, skin-crawling perfection. But of course that’s just the spot where Tarantino gets the right amount of silly, giving Buck (and his infamous “I'm here to f***” catchphrase) a poetically hilarious comeuppance as Kiddo wheels away from the scene revving the engine of the slimeball’s very blinged-out (and very stolen) “P***y Wagon” redneck ride.

By the time The Bride at last makes it to Bill (the late, great David Carradine), sci-fi and straight-up Game of Thrones-style fantasy may be just about the only genres that haven’t at least gotten a fond tap on the shoulder in some slight way. Thanks to Tarantino’s eventual detachment from the much-hyped Star Trek film he at one point appeared to be bound to direct, it’s kind of a shame we didn’t get a smattering of science fiction thrown in along with the rest of Kill Bill’s genre kitchen sink: The director has recently teased that his next movie will indeed be his 10th and last one, which means Kill Bill will likely remain the most genre-busy project in his directing catalog.

The upshot of all the channel-switching that makes Kill Bill: Volume 1 & 2 such an evergreen back-to-back watch is simple: It’s a pair of films with so much going on that even the most tuned-out, attention-itchy viewer can’t help but stay plugged in ’til the end. Both films are part of Peacock’s big slate of December streaming new arrivals, so there’s no time like the present to dive in and revel in Tarantino’s ultimate, revenge-fueled ode to seamless style-switching.

Kill Bill: Volume 1 & 2 are streaming on Peacock.