A woman in a wedding dress, the Bride, lies wounded in a chapel in El Paso, Texas, having been attacked by the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. She tells their leader, Bill, that she is carrying his baby. He shoots her in the head.
Four years later, having survived the attack, the Bride goes to the home of Vernita Green, planning to kill her. Both women were members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, which has since disbanded; Vernita now leads a normal suburban family life. They engage in a knife fight, but are interrupted by the arrival of Vernita's young daughter, Nikki. Not wanting to kill Vernita in front of Nikki, the Bride agrees to meet Vernita at night to settle the matter, but Vernita tries to surprise the Bride with a pistol hidden in a box of cereal. The Bride dodges the shot and throws a knife into Vernita's chest, killing her.
Four and a half years earlier, police investigate the massacre at the wedding chapel. The sheriff discovers the Bride is alive but comatose. In the hospital, Deadly Viper Elle Driver prepares to assassinate the Bride via lethal injection, but Bill aborts the mission at the last moment, considering it dishonorable to kill the Bride when she cannot defend herself.
In the present, the Bride awakens from her four-year coma and is horrified to find she is no longer pregnant. She kills a hospital worker who has been raping her while she was comatose, takes his truck, and teaches herself to walk again. Resolving to kill Bill and all four members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, she picks her first target: O-Ren Ishii, now the leader of the Tokyo yakuza. O-Ren's parents were murdered by the yakuza when she was a child; she took vengeance on the yakuza boss and replaced him after training as an elite assassin.
The Bride travels to Okinawa, Japan, to obtain a sword from legendary swordsmith Hattori Hanzō, who has sworn never to forge a sword again. After learning that her target is Bill, his former student, he crafts his finest sword for her. The Bride tracks down O-Ren at a Tokyo restaurant, the House of Blue Leaves, and defeats her yakuza army, including the elite Crazy 88 and O-Ren's bodyguard, schoolgirl Gogo Yubari. She duels with O-Ren in the restaurant's Japanese garden. During the duel O-Ren first mocks and then apologizes to the Bride, who accepts. They continue and the Bride then tearfully slices the top of O-Ren's head off with a sword stroke. Afterwards, she tortures Sofie Fatale, O-Ren's assistant and Bill's protege for information about Bill, and leaves her alive to pass on a message and a threat. Bill asks her if the Bride knows her daughter is alive.Uma Thurman as the Bride (codename Black Mamba), a former member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, described as "the deadliest woman in the world". She seeks revenge on the Deadly Vipers after they try to kill her and her unborn child in a wedding chapel. Her real name is not revealed until Kill Bill: Volume 2.
Lucy Liu as O-Ren Ishii (codename Cottonmouth), a former Deadly Viper who has become the leader of the Japanese yakuza. She and the bride once had a close friendship. She is the Bride's first target.
David Carradine as Bill (codename Snake Charmer), the former leader of the Deadly Vipers, the Bride's former lover, and the father of her daughter. He is the final target of the Bride's revenge. He is an unseen character.
Vivica A. Fox as Vernita Green (codename Copperhead), a former Deadly Viper and now a mother and homemaker, living under the name Jeannie Bell. She is the Bride's second target.
Michael Madsen as Budd (codename Sidewinder), a former Deadly Viper, now working as a bouncer and living in a trailer. He is the Bride's third target.
Daryl Hannah as Elle Driver (codename California Mountain Snake), a former Deadly Viper and the Bride's fourth target.
Julie Dreyfus as Sofie Fatale, O-Ren's lawyer, confidant, and second lieutenant. She is also a former protégée of Bill's, and was present at the wedding chapel massacre.
Sonny Chiba as Hattori Hanzo, master swordsmith who, although long retired, agrees to craft a sword for the Bride.
Chiaki Kuriyama as Gogo Yubari, O-Ren's sadistic Japanese schoolgirl bodyguard.
Gordon Liu as Johnny Mo, head of O-Ren's personal army, the Crazy 88.
Michael Parks as Earl McGraw, a Texas Ranger who investigates the wedding chapel massacre.
Michael Bowen as Buck, an orderly at the hospital who has been raping the Bride while she lay comatose.
Jun Kunimura as Boss Tanaka, a yakuza who O-Ren executes after he ridicules her ethnicity and gender.
Kenji Ohba as Shiro, Hattori Hanzo's employee.
James Parks as Edgar McGraw, a Texas Ranger and son of Earl McGraw.
Jonathan Loughran as Buck's trucker client, killed by the Bride after he attempts to rape her.
Yuki Kazamatsuri as the Proprietress of the House of Blue Leaves.
Sakichi Sato as Charlie Brown, a House of Blue Leaves employee who wears a kimono similar to the shirt worn by the Peanuts character.
Ambrosia Kelley as Nikki Bell, Vernita's 4-year-old daughter. She witnesses the Bride killing her mother, and the Bride suggests she seek revenge when she gets older, if she still "feels raw about it".
The 22.214.171.124's (Sachiko Fuji, Yoshiko Yamaguchi and Ronnie Yoshiko Fujiyama) as themselves, performing at the House of Blue Leaves.
Writer-director Quentin Tarantino and star Uma Thurman conceived Kill Bill during the production of Tarantino's 1994 film Pulp Fiction; the film credits the story to "Q & U". Tarantino spent a year and a half writing the script while he was living in New York City. He spent time with Thurman and her newborn daughter, which influenced the Bride character; Tarantino did not come to the realization that the Bride's daughter could still be alive until five months into writing. He originally wrote Bill to be played by Warren Beatty, but as the character developed and the role required greater screen time and martial arts training, he instead "molded" the character for David Carradine.
An early draft included an additional chapter set after the confrontation with Vernita in which the Bride has a gunfight with Gogo Yubari's vengeful sister Yuki. The scene was cut for time and budget reasons. Tarantino said: "I'm dealing with a three and a half-hour movie. Yuki's revenge is going to be the first to go. I'm going to kill myself shooting it, it's going to cost $1 million and it's going to be the first thing to go, so I can't do it." Another draft featured a scene in which the Bride's "Pussy Wagon" is blown up by Elle Driver.
When Thurman became pregnant as shooting was ready to begin, Tarantino delayed the production, saying: "If Josef Von Sternberg is getting ready to make Morocco and Marlene Dietrich gets pregnant, he waits for Dietrich!" Although the scenes are presented out of chronological order, the film was shot in sequence. Choreographer Woo-Ping Yuen, whose previous credits include The Matrix (1999), was the film's martial arts advisor. The anime sequence, covering O-Ren Ishii's backstory, was directed by Kazuto Nakazawa and produced by Production I.G, which had produced films including Ghost in the Shell and Blood: The Last Vampire. The combined production lasted 155 days and had a budget of $55 million.
According to Tarantino, the most difficult part of making the film was "trying to take myself to a different place as a filmmaker and throw my hat in the ring with other great action directors", as opposed to the dialogue scenes he was known for. The House of Blue Leaves sequence, in which the Bride battles dozens of yakuza soldiers, took eight weeks to film, six weeks over schedule. Tarantino wanted to create "one of the greatest, most exciting sequences in the history of cinema". The crew eschewed computer generated imagery in favor of traditional practical effects used in 1970s Chinese cinema, particularly by director Chang Cheh, including the use of fire extinguishers and condoms to create spurts and explosions of blood. Tarantino told his crew: "Let's pretend we're little kids and we're making a Super 8 movie in our back yard, and you don't have all this shit. How would you achieve this effect? Ingenuity is important here!"
Kill Bill was planned and produced as a single film. After shooting ended and editing began, producer Harvey Weinstein, known for pressuring filmmakers to shorten their films, suggested that Tarantino split the film in two. The decision meant Tarantino did not have to cut scenes, such as the anime sequence. He told IGN: "I'm talking about scenes that are some of the best scenes in the movie, but in this hurdling pace where you're trying to tell only one story, that would have been the stuff that would have had to go. But to me, that's kind of what the movie was, are these little detours and these little grace notes." The decision to split the film was announced in July 2003.
Kill Bill was inspired by "grindhouse" cinema, a term for films that played in cheap US theaters in the 1970s, including martial arts films, samurai cinema, blaxploitation films, and spaghetti westerns. The film homages the Shaw Brothers Studio, known for its martial arts films, with the inclusion of the ShawScope logo in its opening titles and use of the "crashing zoom", a fast zoom usually ending in a close-up commonly used in Shaw Brothers films.
When the Bride encounters a member of the Deadly Vipers, a flashing red screen with superimposed flashback footage appears, in homage to the 1965 spaghetti western Death Rides A Horse, whose hero witnesses the massacre of his family. The theme from Death Rides A Horse, composed by Ennio Morricone, plays when the Bride confronts O-Ren Ishii. The Bride’s yellow tracksuit, helmet and motorcycle resemble the ones used by Bruce Lee in the 1978 kung fu film Game of Death.
The Guardian wrote that Kill Bill shares much of its plot with the 1973 Japanese film Lady Snowblood, in which a woman kills off the gang who murdered her family, and observed that "Lady Snowblood uses stills and illustration for parts of the narrative that were too expensive to film, just as Kill Bill uses Japanese-style animation to break up the narrative". The plot also resembles the 1968 French film The Bride Wore Black, in which a bride seeks revenge on five gang members and strikes them off a list as she kills them.
As with Tarantino's previous films, Kill Bill features an eclectic soundtrack comprising many musical genres. On the two soundtracks, music ranges from country music to selections from the Spaghetti Western film scores of Ennio Morricone. Bernard Herrmann's theme from the film Twisted Nerve is whistled by the menacing Elle Driver in the hospital scene. A brief, 15-second excerpt from the opening of the Ironside theme music by Quincy Jones is used as the Bride's revenge motif, which flares up with a red-tinged flashback whenever she is in the company of her next target. Instrumental tracks from Japanese guitarist Tomoyasu Hotei figure prominently, and after the success of Kill Bill they were frequently used in American TV commercials and at sporting events. As the Bride enters "The House of Blue Leaves", go-go group The 5,6,7,8's perform "I Walk Like Jayne Mansfield," "I'm Blue (The Gong-Gong Song)" and "Woo Hoo." The connection to Lady Snowblood is further established by the use of "The Flower of Carnage" the closing theme from that film. James Last's "The Lonely Shepherd" by pan flute virtuoso Gheorghe Zamfir plays over the closing credits.
Kill Bill: Volume 1 was released in theaters on October 10, 2003. It was the first Tarantino film in six years, following Jackie Brown in 1997. In the United States and Canada, Volume 1 was released in 3,102 theaters and grossed $22 million on its opening weekend. Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations, said Volume 1's opening weekend gross was significant for a "very genre specific and very violent" film that in the United States was restricted to theatergoers 17 years old and up. It ranked first at the box office, beating School of Rock (in its second weekend) and Intolerable Cruelty (in its first). Volume 1 had the widest theatrical release and highest-grossing opening weekend of a Tarantino film to date; Jackie Brown and Pulp Fiction (1994) had each grossed $9.3 million on their opening weekends. According to the studio, exit polls showed that 90% of the audience was interested in seeing the second Kill Bill after seeing the first.
Outside the United States and Canada, Kill Bill: Volume 1 was released in 20 territories. The film outperformed its main competitor Intolerable Cruelty in Norway, Denmark and Finland, though it ranked second in Italy. Volume 1 had a record opening in Japan, though expectations were higher due to the film being partially set there and because of its homages to Japanese martial arts cinema. It had "a muted entry" in the United Kingdom and Germany due to its 18 certificate, but "experienced acceptable drops" after its opening weekend in the two territories. By November 2, 2003, it had made $31 million in the 20 territories. It grossed a total of $70 million in the United States and Canada and $110.9 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $180.9 million.
In the United States, Volume 1 was released on DVD and VHS on April 13, 2004, the week Volume 2 was released in theaters. In a December 2005 interview, Tarantino addressed the lack of a special edition DVD for Kill Bill by stating "I've been holding off because I've been working on it for so long that I just wanted a year off from Kill Bill and then I'll do the big supplementary DVD package." The United States does not have a DVD boxed set of Kill Bill, though box sets of the two separate volumes are available in other countries, such as France, Japan and the United Kingdom. Upon the DVD release of Volume 2 in the US, however, Best Buy did offer an exclusive box set slipcase to house the two individual releases together. Volume 1, along with Volume 2, was released in High Definition on Blu-ray on September 9, 2008 in the United States.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, Kill Bill: Volume 1 has a score of 85% based on reviews from 224 critics; the average rating is 7.7 out of 10. Its consensus reads: "Kill Bill is admittedly little more than a stylish revenge thriller – albeit one that benefits from a wildly inventive surfeit of style." At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film has an average score of 69 based on 43 reviews.
A. O. Scott of The New York Times wrote, "While being so relentlessly exposed to a filmmaker's idiosyncratic turn-ons can be tedious and off-putting, the undeniable passion that drives Kill Bill is fascinating, even, strange to say it, endearing. Mr. Tarantino is an irrepressible showoff, recklessly flaunting his formal skills as a choreographer of high-concept violence, but he is also an unabashed cinephile, and the sincerity of his enthusiasm gives this messy, uneven spectacle an odd, feverish integrity."
Manohla Dargis of the Los Angeles Times called Kill Bill: Volume 1 "a blood-soaked valentine to movies" and wrote: "It's apparent that Tarantino is striving for more than an off-the-rack mash note or a pastiche of golden oldies. It is, rather, his homage to movies shot in celluloid and wide, wide, wide, wide screen—an ode to the time right before movies were radically secularized." She recognized Tarantino's technical talent but thought Kill Bill: Volume 1's appeal was too limited to popular culture references, calling the film's story "the least interesting part of the whole equation."
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 4 stars out of 4, writing: "Kill Bill, Volume 1 shows Quentin Tarantino so effortlessly and brilliantly in command of his technique that he reminds me of a virtuoso violinist racing through 'Flight of the Bumble Bee' – or maybe an accordion prodigy setting a speed record for 'Lady of Spain'. I mean that as a sincere compliment. The movie is not about anything at all except the skill and humor of its making. It's kind of brilliant."
Cultural historian Maud Lavin states that the Bride's embodiment of murderous revenge taps into viewers' personal fantasies of committing violence. For audiences, particularly women viewers, the character provides a complex site for identification with one's own aggression.
Uma Thurman received a Golden Globe Best Actress nomination in 2004. She was also nominated in 2004 for a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, in addition with four other BAFTA nominations. Kill: Bill Volume 1 was placed in Empire Magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Films of All Time at number 325 and the Bride was also ranked number 66 in Empire magazine's "100 Greatest Movie Characters".
Kill Buljo is a 2007 Norwegian parody of Kill Bill. It is set in Finnmark, Norway and portrays the protagonist Jompa Tormann's hunt for Tampa and Papa Buljo. The film depends heavily on satirizing stereotypes about Norway's Sami population. According to the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet, Quentin Tarantino himself has watched the film's trailer and was quite happy about it, looking forward to seeing the film itself.
The Pussy Wagon vehicle from Kill Bill: Volume 1 made a cameo in the music video for Lady Gaga's song "Telephone" at Tarantino's behest.