Laura Clifford Robin Clifford
The Bride (Uma Thurman) is back and this time she's ready to deliver on the titular promise of "Kill Bill Vol. 2."
In splitting his revenge epic into two parts, writer/director Quentin Tarantino has delivered two tonally different films. While Vol. 1 was a cartoon violent action spectacular, Vol. 2 is more reflective and dialogue driven. The master of genre sampling has gone from Sergio Leone and Japanese anime in Vol. 1 to John Ford and the Shaw Brothers in Vol. 2.
After a beautiful widescreen, black and white prologue, where Uma announces her intentions directly to the camera while driving in front of rear projection, we pick up at Chapter 6, 'Massacre at Twin Pines,' and get the backstory for Bill (David Carradine, TV's "Kung Fu") and his Assassination Viper Squad's attack on the Bride. This sequence is also in black and white and references Ford's "The Searchers" as the heavily pregnant bride (really doing a full dress rehearsal we learn) finds Bill playing the flute on the chapel porch. He thought she was dead. She outlines a future working in husband Tommy's (makeup artist Chris Nelson) used record store and nervously says 'call me Arlene' before introducing Bill as her dad. Bill had said he'd try to be nice, but he 'overreacts' and we see the Viper Squad march in from a high angle long shot.
In Chapter 7, 'The Lonely Grave of Paula Schultz,' the Bride is back in action stalking Bill's brother Budd (Michael Madsen) in his ramshackle mobile home. Budd's been tipped off by his estranged brother that the Black Mamba has taken down O-Ren Ishii and her Crazy 88's, so he's on alert, even though he believes that her revenge is justified. Surprisingly, the alcoholic loser (he's just been fired from his job as a bouncer at a remote strip club) gets the better of our heroine easily, then presents her with her most horrific obstacle. Chapter 8, 'The Cruel Tutelage of Pai Mei,' gives us our earliest look at the Bride as her lover Bill hands her over to the world's greatest practitioner of kung fu for training. Bill tells her about Pai Mei's ("Kill Bill Vol. 1's" Johnny Mo, "Drunken Monkey") prowess and deadly 'five point palm exploding heart' technique, then informs her that 'he hates Caucasians, despises Americans and has nothing but contempt for women.' This segment is an affectionate recreation of early fu flicks, right down to their incessant use of zooming and cheesy scoring, but it also serves to explain the Bride's ability to get out of the nightmare that ended Chapter 7, which is where Chapter 9, 'Elle and I,' begins. The duplicitous Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) has made a deal with Budd for the Mamba's Hanzo blade before her most revered opponent seemingly comes back from the dead for the ultimate cat fight. The Final Chapter, 'Face to Face,' finds the Bride, name finally revealed as Beatrix Kiddo, settling her score with Bill in a weird domestic cocoon that includes their daughter B.B. (newcomer Perla Haney-Jardine).
After the sheer movie-mad pop sensibility and stylized violence of "Vol. 1," "Volume 2" is a bit of a let down for several reasons. Yet there is no denying Tarantino's artistry. The Bills will probably end up being the most personal films in the director's oeuvre and it will be interesting to see if a recut of the whole will ever see the light of day. As a standalone film, "Vol. 2" suffers for its less flashy opponents and its final sequence. There is no one as spectacular as Lucy Liu and Chiaki Kuriyama in this episode (although Gordon Liu's Pai Mei is an equal matchup to Sonny Chiba's Hattori Hanzo) and Carradine plays Bill too ambiguously. Tarantino originally wrote the Bill character for Warren Beatty, a tantalizing casting choice that will forever provoke reimaginings of the film. And considering the superhuman swath of violence that leads up to Beatrix's confrontation with Bill, when it finally arrives the characters simply seem to relax too much, forming a familial bond of lethal equals. Beatrix's explanation for leaving Bill includes a too-jokey flashback involving a pregnancy test and Bill's reflection on his daughter presents a fledgling assassin! If one sits through the final credits, there's a hint that mother and daughter may be back, perhaps to face Elle, the only viper left alive.
"Kill Bill Vol. 2" does have more of that delicious Tarantinoesque dialogue ('I never saw anyone buffalo Bill the way she buffaloed Bill') and cinematographer Robert Richardson ("Kill Bill, Vol. 1") and editor Sally Menke should be remembered at year's end for the slight of hand that lets the film slip from one genre style to the next while always seeming of a whole piece. Once again RZA (with additional music by Quentin's filmmaking buddy Robert Rodriguez) mines musical vaults for a dizzying array of musical accompaniment. Uma Thurman can claim a legendary film character, which she has acquitted with considerable panache all the while displaying incredible fortitude. The other acting pleasures in "Vol. 2" are found in the smaller supporting roles. Gordon Liu is hilarious as the egotistical and insulting martial arts master and if there is any justice, Michael Parks ("Kill Bill Vol. 1's" Sheriff, "From Dusk Til Dawn") should receive a Tarantino career revival for his snakelike Estaban, a Mexican brothel owner. Parks delivers his lines like he can barely stay awake, giving his conversational partner a false sense of security before he quietly strikes.
Tarantino credits 'story by' to 'Q&U,' which appears on screen like a lovers' initials carved into a tree. After "Pulp Fiction" and now "Kill Bill," Tarantino is wearing his heart for Thurman on his sleeve and we are the beneficiaries.
Last year we had our collective socks knocked off by the sheer audacity of the ultra violence in the first part of Quentin Tarantino’s story of The Bride’s (Uma Thurman) revenge against the members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad who done her wrong. The much anticipated finale of her story is here, at last, and we get a very different story spin from the first in “Kill Bill: Vol. 2.”
The first installment of “Kill Bill” was primarily a Kung Fu/martial arts fest with ample over-the-top violence that sprinkled in elements of Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns. It was a great deal of fun but, in my mind, an incomplete work that doesn’t really stand by itself, needing part two to finish the job. I think everyone expects (except for the QT fan boys who have dug up every “KB” reference they could find) that Volume 2 of The Bride’s tale would be a continuation of the first. Not so.
Sure, Vol. 2 finishes the Bride’s story with a preponderance of spaghetti western homage leavened with a lesser amount of martial arts hi-jinks than “Vol. 1.” There are ample swordfights and battles as she continues her rampage of revenge against her wrongdoers. But, there is more character development here as we learn what makes the lady tick, where her past experiences brought her and, in the film’s wonderful reverence to the Kung Fu master/disciple relationship, a visit to the remote lair of martial artist extraordinaire, Pai Mei (Gordon Lui).
By my very nature, as a film critic, I see lots of movies, not just at the theater, but at home and frequently. But, when I compare my understanding of cinema to Quentin Tarantino’s, I am in awe. His masterly comprehension of the art of film and its many genres are brought to the fore in “Kill Bill” (both volumes). “Vol. 1” pays its respect to the ultra-violent Hong Kong Kung Fu flicks that launched the careers of Bruce Lee and Sonny Chiba (who played sword master Hattori Hanzu in “KB: V1”), among others, in brilliant montages of gore. But, where the heroes of those earlier films took on a mob of bad guys one opponent at a time, in “KB: V1” the Bride takes on all comers all at once, wreaking mayhem and dismemberment on 5, 10, or more bad guys in a single flashing swoop of her deadly Hanzu sword.
Tarantino continues his display of cinematic virtuosity in “Vol. 2” as he, in the continuation of chapters, pulls in “the rest of the story” sketchily provided during the course of movie mayhem in “Vol. 1.” Part two starts off with the Bride driving across the stark black-and-white landscape on her final mission to off the film’s title character, Bill (David Caradine). She tells us of her plan for final vengeance and then the camera flashes back to the time just before the massacre at the wedding chapel takes place.
The beautiful and very pregnant Bride is having her wedding rehearsal at the Two Pines Chapel when, out of the blue, Bill arrives. “Be nice,” she admonishes him and Bill, who can’t be nice, promises to try his best to “be sweet.” With a pact, of sorts, established, the two head back into the church for the rehearsal when the four members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad – O-Ren Ishii, AKA Cottonmouth (Lucy Liu), Budd, AKA Sidewinder (Michael Madsen), Elle Driver, AKA California Mountain Snake (Daryl Hannah), and Vernita Green, AKA Copperhead (Vivica A. Fox) – show up on the doorstep. They enter and start blasting, killing all. The Bride still lives and, as she declares that Bill is the father of her baby, he caps her one in the crown. “Kill Bill: Vol. 2” gets under way.
As the chapters of the story are told, Tarantino and veteran cinematographer Robert Richardson (who lensed the beautifully shot, though sterile, “Snow Falling On Cedars”) give each segment its own unique look and style. “Chapter 6: Massacre at Twin Pines” is shot breathtakingly in black and white that rivals other B&W landmark films as “Last Picture Show,” “Dr. Strangelove” and “Paths of Glory” – and this is for just a chapter. The rest get their cinematic shrift with my favorite being “Chapter 8: The Cruel Tutelage of Pai-Mei,” done with grainy film stock and saturated colors that looks like the best of Hong Kong Kung Fu films from the 70’s. The look and feel is magically enhanced by Gordon Liu’s funny, stylish performance as cynical, capable Pai-Mei. He gives physicality to his role that is reminiscent of Joel Grey’s fabulous Korean master, Chiun, in the underrated “Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins” mixed with “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”
Tarantino’s admiration of the masters gives ample homage to the many genres but also to specific film masters. One instance recreates the classic image of John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards silhouetted in the doorway in John Ford’s “The Searchers” with Uma replacing the Duke (fittingly).
“KB: V2” is more thoughtful and dialogue driven than the action-packed opening volume. There is none of the outrageous multiple mayhem and time is spent, instead, creating full-fledged characters. The Bride (who is given a real name but I won’t tell) is perfectly played by Uma Thurman. The actress has never looked so gorgeous and this is high praise considering how much of the time she looks all beat up. Thurman was made for the part and has come into her own as an action star.
It has been noted that Warren Beatty was approached for the role of Bill and am I glad the megastar declined the role. David Caradine infuses his “Kung Fu” mystical aura into Bill, taking the character that you loathed in the first film and making him a sympathetic, three-dimensional being that is the Bride’s soul mate, except for the fact that he popped a slug in her head. Plus, the actor’s craggy handsomeness is used to good affect opposite Thurman’s beauty.
The rest of the DVAS alluded to in “Vol. 1,” where Cottonmouth (Liu) and Copperhead (Fox) were dispatched to a better life by the Bride, are given their due here. Sidewinder Budd (Madsen) has lost his edge and is relegated to being a bouncer in a disco, and he can’t even hold onto that job. He, luckily, gets the jump on the Bride when she tracks him down to his middle of nowhere mobile home and takes possession of her custom-made Hattori Hanzu sword. He makes a deal with one-eyed Elle Driver (Hannah) to trade the coveted blade for $1,000,000 cash – and the promise that the Bride suffers the most dreadful death. It is dreadful, but Tarantino pulls the rabbit out of the hat just when you’re getting really squeamish and the Bride continues her mission. The means of Budd’s demise is a real surprise.
The most action-packed sequence is the confrontation between the Bride and Elle as they go Hanzu to Hanzu. It is the least defining of the storylines and relies on the battle royal between these two warrior ladies – which is pretty darn good and done with a lot of imagination. The physical effort by Thurman, Hannah and their stunt people makes for action eye candy that entertains from start to finish.
Then, there are the guts of “Kill Bill: Vol. 2” when the Bride arrives at Bill’s home for the final confrontation. This, too, twists around and introduces even more of the personalities of the key players. Things end as promised but there is yet another dimension added when the Bride learns the truth about the aftermath of the chapel massacre. Caradine is great as Bill and is blessed with the sharp, kitschy dialog by Tarantino, especially the amusing Superman soliloquy. His drawling, gravel-voiced delivery fits the bill of Bill as he and Thurman build, in the last chapter, the relationship they never had but still ending as promised in a simple, elegant way.
Technical production is first-rate from Richardson’s expert lensing to the superb and varied sets by Yohei Taneda and David Wasco to the stylish costumes by Kumiko Ogawa and Catherine Marie Thomas and all around solid F/X.
The next step in the “Kill Bill” saga will come, a la “The Godfather” movies. When Tarantino combines volume one and two into a single film – as he says he intended from the start. This will make the film a whole entity that, besides satisfying the fans, will also generate more revenue when the “director’s cut” is announced. I’ll wait until that comes out before I rate that whole experience but, for now, I give “Kill Bill: Vol.2” an A-.
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