Quentin Tarantino may be a demonic, mental case of a filmmaker, but isn't that
why his fans and others warm up to him? In fact, his demonic, resplendent
cribbing of other movies to make his own crime action epics is what juices him
up, and what juices our senses. That being said, I was not a huge fan of "Kill
Bill, Vol. 1," though I admired certain aspects of it. Overall, it was an often
entertaining and incredibly shallow action picture with a shallowly conceived
female assassin at its center. The story was unfinished, so here we are served
up a Volume 2. I am happy to report that it is as good as the first volume,
more restrained and more narrowly focused on the female assassin's motives. And
I was initially right - Tarantino had more up his sleeve.
The movie begins with a recap of Uma Thurman's Black Mamba's aka The Bride's
bloodied face shot to hell by Bill (David Carradine) in gripping
black-and-white images. Then we see Uma driving down a road, again in glamorous
black-and-white, explaining that her primary purpose is about to be fulfilled -
she will kill Bill. And so off we are into Tarantino's cartoonish world of
loners who look exhausted by life. The Black Mamba, actually known as Beatrix
Kiddo, has to kill a few more fellow assassins along the way, including Budd
aka Sidewinder, Bill's brother (Michael Madsen); the eyepatch-wearing Elle
Driver (Daryl Hannah); and the lord of the manor, the king of the hill himself,
Before we get to the revenge, we are treated to Tarantino's usual break up of
linear narrative into chapter stops. The opening chapter, titled the Massacre
at Two Pines Wedding Chapel, is also shot in black-and-white, and it shows the
Bride's wedding rehearsal with Bo Svenson as the minister and Samuel L. Jackson
as the organist. The mysterious figure that shows up is Bill, playing his flute
(no doubt the same flute from "Circle of Iron"), and inquiring why the Bride is
getting married. Then we realize that the real purpose of Bill's appearance at
her wedding is to kill her. The sequence is chilling in that we know the
inevitable is about to happen - and we cringe when the Bride kisses Bill and
thanks him for giving her away before the massacre begins.
What these chapters do best is to signify the characters' importance in
relation to their actions. One chapter focuses on Budd aka Sidewinder,
something of a bloated loner who works a menial job at a strip club. He shows
up late to work and is almost fired, until he is chosen for a special job by
his boss: to clean the toilet. These scenes may not serve much purpose to most
viewers but they show a sympathetic side to the Everyman who has to work menial
jobs to support himself. To further signify the loneliness, we see that Budd is
living in a trailer out in the middle of Sergio Leone's nowheresville desert
landscape. Bill visits Budd to reassure him that the Bride will come looking
for him. All Budd can do is drink and wait for her.
Less emphasis is given to Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), the cold-blooded assassin
whom we remember happily whistling Bernard Herrman's "Twisted Nerve" in "Vol.
1." Budd tells Elle that he not only has the Bride entombed in a few feet of
dirt but also an original sword created by Hattori Hanzo (Sonny Chiba), the
sword you'll recall that Hanzo claimed will cut God. It is a precious sword
that Elle would love to have, though she completely hates Budd. Once again,
Tarantino sets up for the inevitable and all I can say is that it involves a
black mamba snake. Oh, the irony!
"Vol. 2" squarely focuses on the Bride, and her desperate need to kill Bill.
However, as if we thought Tarantino used up all his cinematic tricks and
grindhouse cliches, the last third of the film is unexpectedly touching and
injected with pathos. What? Has Tarantino gone soft? Not at all, and for those
who remember the character-oriented "Jackie Brown," this new volume's extended
climax should come as no surprise.
As for the performances, well, it is no surprise that Tarantino still has that
special gift of casting the right actor. Uma Thurman is game all the way for
these blood-soaked volumes, and she gives us the Bride in all her complexity.
We see her pain in the superb climax, her anger, her fears, her winsome smile,
her frailty - basically, what was once a one-dimensional, shallow Bride has
become a full-bodied portrait of an assassin who wants to come to terms with
Bill. And I definitely felt something for her during her brief moment where she
is buried alive by Budd. Okay, so this is not the best performance by an
actress in 2004 (too early to tell for sure), but it is among Thurman's more
dynamic characters in quite sometime.
David Carradine has the role that best sums up his career as the killer with a
smile and a touch of class, namely Bill. In "Vol. 1," we never saw his face.
Here, we see a man who is soothing, calm, intelligent, loves to play the flute
and tell stories, and also a man capable of pure masochism - a murderer who
feels he has wronged the Bride. But the 67-year-old actor also carries the
"Kung-Fu" stamp of a man who has seen and weathered the crimes of his past - he
knows he will meet an untimely end. It is Carradine's pathos that gives "Kill
Bill" an extra notch above any of the grindhouse pictures of the past.
"Kill Bill Vol. 2" has a couple of tantalizing action scenes, though none as
over-the-top as the first volume. The brief swordfight between Elle and the
Bride in Budd's trailer is shockingly awesome and tightly shot (it can't be
easy fighting anybody in a trailer). More exceptional are the enjoyable
training sessions the Bride must endure from her master teacher, Pai Mei
(Gordon Liu, with long, flowing white hair), who is strict with her even when
she tries to eat rice with chopsticks. And the claustrophobic burial where the
Bride is encased in a coffin is vintage Tarantino.
"Kill Bill Vol. 2" may disappoint those seeking the thrill-happy momentum of
"Vol. 1." It is less an homage to everything Tarantino loves than it is a
poignant story of loners who are stripped of their costumes to reveal their
humanity. It may not be what you expect from a demonic mental case like
Tarantino, but it shows that he continues to surprise us.
Copyright © 2004 Jerry Saravia