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Quentin Tarantino

Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)

DIRECTOR: Quentin Tarantino

CAST:

Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, Gordon Liu, Michael Parks, Samuel L. Jackson

REVIEW:

With Kill Bill: Vol. 2, Vol. 1 looks like a movie’s worth of set-up; what we get to now is the meat. Quentin Tarantino’s conclusion of his story is lighter on over-the-top gore and heavier on a few scenes of genuine emotion. Nonetheless, while it’s somewhat more subdued, Vol. 2 very much feels like a continuation and completion of Vol. 1, and fans of the first should enjoy the second.

Having crossed Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) and O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) off her Death List, the Bride (Uma Thurman) is gunning for the last two remaining members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, Budd (Michael Madsen), who’s fallen out of shape and is now a bouncer in a low-end bar but might not be as easy a target as he seems, and Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), who’s itching for a chance to face her one-on-one. And of course, at the bottom of the list is Bill (David Carradine).

Vol. 1 was heavier on over-the-top action than Tarantino’s trademark lengthy, offbeat monologues and conversations, but Vol. 2 finds more time for characters saying odd things. When Michael Madsen’s Budd asks why O-Ren Ishii’s bodyguards called themselves the Crazy 88s when there wasn’t actually 88 of them, Bill answers ‘probably because they thought it sounded cool’. Elle Driver rattles off detailed information she got off the internet about the Black Mamba snake, and in the last hilarious little touch, flips through multiple pages of a notepad where she wrote all this down, as if she’s just been carrying it around with her until she gets to savor sharing it with some helpless victim; after informing us that the Mamba’s amount of venom is ‘gargantuan’, she also makes the hilariously oddball comment that ‘you know, I’ve always liked that word, ‘gargantuan’…so rarely have an opportunity to use it in a sentence’. Budd has a rare philosophical moment, acknowledging ‘that woman deserves her revenge….and we deserve to die’. Bill goes on a monologue about Superman that takes a few minutes before his point starts to emerge. And in a couple key scenes, not only does Tarantino show off his knack for quirky dialogue, he also uses the drawn-out conversations to build an uneasy tension about what’s going to happen when the talking’s finished (Tarantino would employ this much more heavily in 2009’s Inglourious Basterds). Vol. 2 also fleshes out the past between the Bride and Bill, revealing that they were lovers, and starting out with an outwardly pleasant conversation between them with an undertone of unease in a black-and-white flashback to the day of the wedding rehearsal massacre. We also have a lengthy flashback sequence showing the Bride’s martial arts training under Pai Mei (Gordon Liu), who’s an intentional caricature of wise Asian mentors in kung-fu movies (check out how many times he ‘thoughtfully’ strokes his long white beard). The long-awaited, drawn-out final confrontation between the Bride and Bill is more verbal than physical, and despite the wackiness surrounding him, Tarantino makes a notable effort to portray Bill as more of a three-dimensional, even occasionally semi-sympathetic character than a one-note over-the-top moustache-twirling villain. Kill Bill may often be intentionally cartoonish, but there’s nothing cartoonish about Bill himself.

Uma Thurman has more required of her here- not just physical prowess, but emotional range, and she’s unfailingly solid. Just as Bill is developed here into more than a one-dimensional master villain, so do we see the Bride as more of a human being than just an unstoppable avenging angel of death. We even learn her name. David Carradine’s Bill is unflappably cool and controlled, and soft-spoken, with a hint of steel in his eyes. He’s capable of ice-blooded violence, but in his final conversation with the Bride, he admits he ‘overreacted’ in his treatment of her and seems wholly sincere, and their final moments prove to have more poignancy than celebration of victory. Of the others, Michael Madsen has a few amusing lines as his usual laconic self, and Daryl Hannah seems to relish playing against type as the eyepatch-wearing, vicious Elle Driver. Gordon Liu is great fun lampooning the traditional kung-fu master role, Michael Parks, who played the sunglasses-wearing Sheriff in Vol. 1, reappears here, only this time unrecognizably as an eighty-year-old Mexican pimp, and there’s a throwaway cameo by Samuel L. Jackson.

While Vol. 2 is less kinetic and gleefully over-the-top than Vol. 1, it’s more satisfying and more mature. There are no wounds shooting geysers of blood, and the face-off between the Bride and Bill is more about the characters than over-the-top action. In fact, there’s no big action sequence on the level of the Bride taking on the Crazy 88s in Vol. 1. When the violence comes here, it’s in short, abrupt bursts, although there is an entertainingly over-the-top knock-down drag-out fight between Uma Thurman and Daryl Hannah that echoes the opening fight between Thurman and Vivica A. Fox in Vol. 1. As before, the soundtrack borrows heavily from 70s exploitation flicks to intentionally incongruous effect, and Tarantino retains some of his flairs from the previous installment, like the split-screen showing both combatants when they separate during a fight, and the amusingly melodramatic alarm sounds that blare when the Bride spots an enemy. All in all, the two make for an entertaining, offbeat pair of movies, with Vol. 1 bringing the over-the-top action and Vol. 2 bringing a little more character and a hint of more depth. Those who enjoyed the first should enjoy the second, though perhaps not for all of the same reasons.

***

Kill Bill (2003)

DIRECTOR: Quentin Tarantino

CAST:

Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Daryl Hannah, Michael Madsen, David Carradine, Julie Dreyfus, Sonny Chiba, Michael Parks

REVIEW:

Billed as The 4th Film From Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill is a stylish, colorful, gleefully over-the-top, and energetic hodgepodge that doesn’t quite keep up momentum for its entire runtime and engages in a few too many occasions of self-indulgence but should still provide plenty of entertaining scenes for fans of Desperado or Once Upon A Time In Mexico.

The story is certainly simple enough, although we play around with the chronology. The nameless Bride (Uma Thurman) shows up on Vernita Green’s (Vivica A. Fox) happy homemaker doorstep in Pasadena, California to settle a score. The rest of the movie takes place before the opening scene, sketching out the massacre of the Bride’s entire wedding party by an enigmatic man named Bill (David Carradine, never clearly shown) and his Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (Fox, Lucy Liu, Daryl Hannah, and Michael Madsen), who put her in a coma and leave her for dead. After four years, the Bride awakes, escapes the hospital, and sets out to work her way down her Death List, until she can finally Kill Bill. But first, she sets her sights on O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), once a henchwoman of Bill’s, now the head of Tokyo’s criminal underworld.

As should be expected from a product of the twisted and quirky mind of Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill is off the beaten track, albeit not quite as bizarre as some of his other works, including Pulp Fiction. For those familiar with Tarantino, there are plenty of his usual calling cards: the eclectic soundtrack, including lots of 70s music and nods to spaghetti westerns, the titled chapters dividing the film, and the intentionally retro opening credits that look like we’re about to see a movie made around 1970. Tarantino pulls out the visual stops, doing lots of zoom-ins on feet and faces and eyes, freeze-frames when Bride recognizes one of her enemies, an entire lengthy backstory sequence shown in anime, and random switches to black-and-white and silhouette during the seemingly neverending climactic fight. Like Desperado (albeit with an extra dash of quirkiness), Kill Bill isn’t quite an outright comedy, but it’s not taking things very seriously either, as evidenced by the way blood shoots from wounds like a geyser. Many of the funniest bits are little throwaway touches: the sunglasses-wearing sheriff’s (Michael Parks in a cameo) dashboard lined with a row of more sunglasses, the way the Bride’s name is bleeped out whenever a character threatens to reveal it, and in a detail I found particularly amusing, the Bride carrying around a notebook with a page marked Death List, with the names written bigger the further down they go. Tarantino is telling a simple revenge story, but also makes it a parody of kung-fu movies and fills it with his usual wildly diverse and often deliberately ill-fitting soundtrack selections, and all kinds of either homages or jabs, depending on how you look at it, at pop culture and film cliches, like the climactic one-on-one fight between Bride and O-Ren just having to take place, of course, in an idyllic, snow-covered Japanese tea garden that looks straight out of a postcard. Looking for logic here is a fool’s game. How can the Bride carry her samurai sword onto the plane with her? Because she can.

Uma Thurman, who I usually find rather bland as an actress, is a firecracker here, perfectly credible as an unstoppable killing machine/action heroine, as well as in her few more serious moments. No one else has too much to do; Lucy Liu and Vivica A. Fox don’t have much required of them besides looking dangerous and performing one fight scene each (although the scene of Liu screaming at her underlings while holding a severed head is one of those things that lingers in the memory), while David Carradine, Michael Madsen, and Daryl Hannah are kept in the background to take their turns in Vol. 2.

Kill Bill has uneven issues. It starts off knocking one out of the park with a high-energy and wildly entertaining fight between Uma Thurman and Vivica A. Fox that would look right at home in one of the Jason Bourne films, and keeps up its momentum through the Bride’s escape from the hospital, but then Tarantino’s self-indulgences start to creep in. One entire chapter is devoted to a lengthy anime sequence detailing the origins of O-Ren Ishii that brings the pace firmly to a halt, particularly as none of the information relayed to us has any particular relevance at any other point in the movie (also, none of the other members of the wordily named Deadly Viper Assassination Squad is given anywhere near this level of backstory). As high-energy and gleefully over-the-top as the climactic fight scene is, with the Bride taking on what seems like hundreds of O-Ren’s bodyguards before the final one-on-one swordfight, it goes on for about half an hour and after a certain point it starts to feel redundant. There’s only so many times Tarantino can show blood shooting like a geyser, or switch to black-and-white, or show the figures fighting in silhouettes, to keep things original.

But despite its flaws, Kill Bill Vol. 1 still provides plenty of over-the-top gory action, and the kind of offbeat humor Tarantino’s fans expect. Don’t look for logic or realism, just strap yourself in and enjoy the wild ride.

***

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