A film review by Craig J. Koban

KILL BILL: VOLUME 2 jjj
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2004, R, 136 mins.

The Bride: Uma Thurman / Bill: David Carradine / Elle Driver: Daryl Hannah / Budd: Michael Madsen / Pai Mei: Gordon Liu / Esteban/Earl: Michael Parks / Organ Player: Samuel L. Jackson / Rev. Harmony: Bo Svenson

Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino

 

If KILL BILL: VOLUME 1 was Director/writer Quentin Tarantino's  beginning of an epic, visual love sonnet to the cinema, then KILL BILL VOLUME 2 most certainly fills in the last few stanzas.  This film (along with its already mentioned predecessor) is one of the most exploitive and self-indulgent films I have ever seen.   I mean that as a most sincere compliment.  

Like George Lucas did with STAR WARS (paying loving homage to the B-grade adventure serials of the 30’s and 40’s), Tarantino gleefully pays homage to the grind house kung fu picture, the Spaghetti Westerns, blaxploition films, and just about every genre that he enjoyed and thrived upon so much growing up.  VOLUME 2 is not so much a basic sequel as it is an immediate continuation and completion of Tarantino’s zest for the art form of cinema.  There is just so much joy, inspiration, exuberance, energy, determination, and overall love of movies that can be sensed by watching this picture.  Tarantino loves cinema and no other film that I have seen, either before or sense, so keenly and consistently reveals the artist’s zeal for making movies.  Only true film fans could appreciate this masterful amalgamation of style, genres, witty and offbeat humor, disjointed storytelling, and brilliant dialogue. 

But keep in mind, Tarantino is not regurgitating and copying the films he adored as a child.  No way.  What he is doing is borrowing and appropriating elements of those films an ingeniously weaving them into something completely fresh and original.  He does all of this while stretching his skills as a filmmaker (especially in the action arena) without (thankfully) sacrificing the amazingly offbeat and wonderfully written dialogue that has made him the new David Mamet. 

For the uninitiated, KILL BILL 2 follows the exploits of the character of The Bride (Uma Thurman, who has the utterly thankless role of carrying a genre picture that has always been dominated by men) as she seeks revenge on The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad led by her former lover, Bill.  You see, Bill and the Squad massacred the Bride and her friends before her impending marriage, but The Bride miraculously survived and vowed revenge on both Bill and the Squad.  In Volume 1 she effortlessly disposed of several of the members of the Squad, and another 88 of them in the now infamous bloodbath that concluded the film.  Now, she has her sights set on finishing the job with Budd (Michael Madson), Elle Driver (Daryl Hanna), and eventually Bill.  The opening scene, with The Bride driving a convertible staring right at the audience, reveals that  she “has done a lot of killing,” but she’s “not done yet.” 

Narratively speaking, the plot is as simple as it gets - it’s a basic revenge picture.  But make no mistake; this has marks of Tarantino’s genius all over it.  The one thing that amazes me upon watching this film is how effortlessly he mixes genres, moods, tones, camera work, and action to tell his story.  Scenes are shot in black and white, in alternate aspects ratios, in grainy and poorly focused cinematography (like the old grind house kung fu pictures), and are punctuated with equally broad music cues, oftentimes borrowed heavily from the Spaghetti Westerns of the great Sergio Leonne.  In one of the opening scenes, which revisit The Brides wedding day massacre and confrontation with Bill, Tarantino uses beautiful and tightly shot black and white cinematography to create an eerie tension and mood.  Not to mention that it reeks of his love of Leonne’s westerns.  Lesser directors use action and sound to create tension, Tarantino uses camera work and dialogue. 

The film, in classic Tarantino fashion, is told in an oddball collection of flashbacks and disjointed storytelling.  Along the way the Bride has to dispatch of an array of colorful opponents, and the most memorable of them would have to be the one eyed vixen known played by Elle Driver.  The fights scene, which occurs in the tight confines of a trailer, is a masterpiece of style, editing, choreography, and dark humor.  The end of the battle ends in with a violent strike by the Bride that was so broad its it’s humor and shocking in it’s imagery that people will probably laugh out loud hard after they momentarily coil in horror. 

The film also goes back in time and reveals the training of The Bride.  She meets Bill’s master – Pai Mei (played by Gordon Liu and dubbed by Tarantino).  These scenes show Tarantino’s love of the kung fu picture and anyone who has found memories of the training scenes in DRUNKEN MASTER will see the homage that takes place here.  Mei is both incredibly funny as a character, but is an equally harsh and uncompromising teacher, who hates women and Americans especially.  Tarantino here uses fuzzy stock and quick, unfocused pans and zooms…all as part of his method and technique of paying homage.  The scenes also helps pave the way as a creative solution that assists The Bride from escaping after being buried alive by Budd. 

This all boils down to her final confrontation with Bill, who is performed with so much carefully, underplayed energy and vile and subconscious contempt by David Carradine.  He plays the part like all great actors do with the role of the villain, with so much charm, charisma and quirky humor that’s it’s hard to dislike him, despite his obvious demented mind.  In one of the funniest scenes in the film, Bill deadpans to The Bride, “C’mon, was I really to blame for wanting to shot you and kill you after you left me?”  He also has an inspired moment, in an ingenious Tarantino monologue, where he discusses Superman and how his mythology parallels that of the Bride.  Only Tarantino has the power as a writer to make me completely rethink the mythology of the Last Son of Krypton.

The film is such a triumph on so many levels.  Many people whom may have been turned off by the intense, albeit cartoon-like, violence and gore of the first one may appreciate Volume 2 more, which is really more of a character study with lots of fantastic dialogue and only a few actions scenes and a couple of scenes of violent imagery.  I loved how Tarantino switched gears and focused more on resonating characters and given them more depth that allows his homage-saga to have extra emotional weight.  The characters are all quirky, likeable, humorous, and much more fully fleshed out in this film, and less like caricatures they were in the first volume.  I also liked the fact that there was several quiet moments in the film where characters are allowed to sit back, reflect, and speak to one another.  The true fans of Tarantino’s work, which involves some truly inspired dialogue, will not be disappointed by his work here.  

That’s not to say that the film works all of the time.  I think that the film suffers somewhat from a bit of a lethargic pace that could have corrected by some cohesive editing.  The opening scene revisiting the wedding massacre was beautifully shot, scored, and acted, but felt oddly redundant (we know what happened here, why revisit it?).  There is also a scene with Budd and his boss and a strip bar that felt superfluous at best.  The final confrontation between the Bride and Bill, despite shinning with the great dialogue, is, let’s face it, a bit anti-climatic, especially if you pay attention to a story Bill tells earlier in the film to the Bride.

Nevertheless, KILL BILL: VOLUME 2 shows a filmmaker at the top of his form, and it simultaneously shows Tarantino’s real passion for making films.  It’s so difficult to criticize him for his efforts here as his energy and style pour through every frame.  It works on its intended levels of satire, cinematic homage to past works, and flashy and kinetic style that separates Tarantino as a unique voice in contemporary cinema.  Although its tough to view this film as a sequel (both 1 and 2 were shot together and released separately), Volume 2 is one of those rare second films that top the first in intensity and interest, while still maintaining a cohesive and epic story as a whole.  A lot of people out there don’t like Tarantino because his films are crude, vulgar, and violent.  Maybe if they stepped back and looked hard at these films, they would see what inspired works they are, and movies need more voices like Tarantino.

 
 

 

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