Wednesday, August 11, 2004
One of the best films of 2004, Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill, Vol. 2" is a swift, funny, potent continuation of one of the most exciting film sagas in recent memory. Having been split into two separate movies ("volumes") after a final cut of over four hours, the second half of "Kill Bill" is now on home video and DVD ("Vol. 1" is already available).
For those who haven't seen "Vol. 1" in a while (or at all), here's a refresher: Preparing to begin a new life as a wife and mother, The Bride (Uma Thurman) is brutally attacked by the group of assassins with whom she used to work (David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, Lucy Liu and Vivica A. Fox). Though left for dead, she survives for four years in a coma, wakes one night and swears revenge on her former partners. By the end of "Vol. 1," she has killed two of her targets (among many others who stood in her way), and a jaw-dropping secret about her child has been revealed.
"Vol. 2" picks up essentially just where "Vol. 1" left off, though the film rewinds numerous times to reveal the events leading up to the attack on The Bride, including her training by the skilled Pai Mei (Gordon Liu, in a very, very memorable role). Tarantino has already proven his fondness for manipulating a film's chronology (none of his previous films—"Reservoir Dogs," "Pulp Fiction" and "Jackie Brown"—unfold in order), and he does so masterfully here. His use of flashbacks is purposeful and necessary. The rest of "Vol. 2" finds The Bride in pursuit of the three remaining names on her "death list," including her former lover Bill (Carradine). Her quest, however, includes a challenge that forms the emotional core of the "Kill Bill" saga.
"Kill Bill Vol. 2" stands on its own a bit better than "Vol. 1" does, though both installments are essential to comprehend the full scope of the story and the skill of Tarantino's efforts. The trademark Tarantino dialogue that many felt was sorely missing from the first installment has been restored here; Bill's "Superman" speech near the end has already become one of most memorable movie monologues ever. If "Vol. 1" lacked emotional resonance, "Vol. 2" almost has too much of it. The visceral kinesis and overwhelming violence of the first film are gone; those who found "Vol. 1" difficult to stomach will be relieved to know that the quantity and manner of deaths are much more manageable in this picture.
Both films, however, will probably be remembered best for Tarantino's gleefully postmodern references to the grindhouse cinema of the 1960s and '70s. A meshing of martial arts film, spaghetti western, revenge tragedy, even horror movie, "Kill Bill" is one of those films that simply could never exist without the cinema that came before it. While Tarantino's influences are readily apparent in his earlier work, he's never unleashed the kind of explosive pastiche that he has with "Kill Bill" (and, really, neither has anyone else).
Though acting is of somewhat lesser concern here than in more "serious" fare, Thurman's performance, exhibiting a remarkable command of both physical and emotional faculties, hopefully won't be overlooked this awards season. One of the sly ironies of "Kill Bill" is that it transcends the very things that it so deftly honors. While The Bride is clearly an amalgamation of heroes and heroines past (even her lack of a name—which is finally revealed in "Vol. 2"—is a reference to characters played in the '60s by Clint Eastwood), Thurman gives her the complexity that those earlier characters lacked. In a scene late in the film, The Bride cries uncontrollably while sprawled out on a bathroom floor, overcome with joy. It is a moment that characters in those exploitation movies were never given, but The Bride has earned it, and there's no one better than Tarantino to have given it to her.