Kill Bill Vol. 2
I will never forget the first time I experienced a Quentin Tarantino film. I was in Lawrence, Kan., and the guy I was dating took me to a late night screening of Pulp Fiction. The on-campus cinema was packed to capacity with 20-year-old males who excitedly discussed the director and the film before it started. Then as soon as the lights dimmed, a testosterone-infused roar shook the walls. It didn’t quiet down from there. In fact, I eventually gave up trying to hear what was going on, because the actors were drowned out by the audience who noisily quoted the screenplay.
Any director who can create such devotion and hysteria must be approached with caution. And although I have seen most of Tarantino’s seminal works – Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994), Jackie Brown (1997) and Kill Bill: Vol. I (2003) – I have never considered him with anything more than curiosity. His monologues filled with cultural references seem only slightly more profound than Kevin Smith’s, and his penchant for sadism (cutting ears off with a straight razor; recreating the “I’m gonna make you squeal like a pig” scene from Deliverance) is a bit more than I care to indulge in. It’s a guy thing, is what I’ve chalked it up to.
Of all of his movies, the one I enjoyed the most was Jackie Brown, his homage to Pam Grier blaxploitation films, starring Grier. So with that memory still fresh in mind, I decided to give Kill Bill: Vol. 1 a shot. After all, we’re both fans of Asian cinema and he employed Woo-ping Yuen of The Matrix fame as his martial arts advisor. The pathetic verbal exchanges between Vivica A. Fox, who plays Vernita Green, and Uma Thurman, who plays the Bride, ruined the film for me, and then he only added insult to injury with his excessive use of cartoonish gore and that strange anime sequence. It seemed too much like showing off, and the critics post-screening lovefest only rankled my mood.
When Kill Bill: Vol 2 hit the theaters earlier this year, I was told, very firmly, by my moviegoing companion that he’d rather repeatedly stab chopsticks into his eyes than see the sequel, so we skipped it. My curiosity was piqued when the film ventured to the Westwood 8 – for $1.50 what the hell? – but I missed seeing it there. Yesterday, I was in the video store when the DVD box sang to me: “Don’t you want to know how it ends?” I did. (My moviegoing companion was surprisingly at my side.)
Intended to be one film, Kill Bill was chopped into two parts, so Tarantino could make it as long as it needed to be. Since Miramax big-wigs love him, that’s what they did. In Vol. 1, we watch in black-and-white as a bloody and beaten Bride gets a bullet put into her head by an off-camera assailant. This hit lands the very pregnant woman into a coma for four years. When she wakes up, she’s mad as hell and seeking revenge against her former boss, Bill (David Carradine), and his Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (Darryl Hannah, Fox, Lucy Liu and Michael Madsen). She only gets half of the job done in Vol. 1, so in the next volume she gets to tie up the loose ends.
Vol. 1 has some humorous moments, especially between Thurman and martial arts legend Sonny Chiba, who in the film plays samurai-sword master Hattori Hanzo, but for the most part it’s one blood bath after the next. And much of the dialogue is just painful to listen to. Most people adore it because the pacing is swift, and it’s a clear homage to the martial arts films that Tarantino loves. (We can’t forget the “kick ass soundtrack,” either. Isn’t that what everyone says?)
Vol. 2 is slower-moving and gives you a story and more character development. The characters also lapse into what this writer-director is so well-known for – those long, cultural filled monologues. Here Elle Driver (Hannah) stops to read what she’s scribbled in a notebook about the black mamba, and Bill delivers discourse on the mythology of superheroes. As they say, you either like this guy or you don’t.
Probably the reasons that the second half appealed to me was because it was the one that contained all of the talented actors, and it didn’t seem so slick and deliberate. (Fox and Liu could not, in any way, shape or form, be called actresses, and I’m still baffled why anyone hires them.)
Carradine appeared in Vol. 1 but not to any extent. That changes in Vol. 2; his character is the reason this revenge quest even began. After watching how at ease this actor is at playing this ethically muddy character, and you wonder a) why Warren Beatty was the first choice and b) why Mr. Kung Fu has been relegated to B-films? He’s a bastard in this film, but you love him. Also excellent is Hannah, who got short shrift in Vol. 1. Elle Driver has to be one of the best written female villains in the Western world. I’m convinced that this eyepatch-wearing vixen would kill and eat her young, just for the joy of it. The fight sequence between Thurman and Hannah is the highlight of the film, and probably will appeal to those who got off on the violence of Vol. 1.
Let’s not forget, though, that Thurman is the star of both volumes – she’s also credited for creating the Bride character – and she’s an appealing actress who is playing a character you care about. She’s not without sin, but she seems to be the one who has the most promising shot at redemption. Whether she’s slicing people with a sword or bashing wood with her increasingly bloodied fist, Thurman strikes a graceful and lean pose. [The sequences in which you see her training with Pai Mei (Chia Hui Liu) are also notable.]
If I were a man, I’d probably say that Vol. 1 was far superior. But since I’m not, I’ll say for the record that I’d probably add Vol. 2 to my DVD collection. And the beautiful thing is, you don’t have to have seen Vol. 1 to watch Vol. 2. There are enough flashbacks to bring you up to speed.
Just a few words about Tarantino. He’s not an original thinker, by any stretch of the imagination. He lifts names, characters, situations, etc. from the films that he’s watched, only most people miss the references because they are from obscure, foreign language films. He’s a bit like the Japanese. He borrows a bunch of ideas and then molds them into something new; something distinctly Tarantino. In this case he’s grabbed bits from marital arts films and Spaghetti Westerns and has produced Kill Bill. It’s not perfection, but it’s certainly worth checking out.