By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
|Photo by Andrew Copper|
When we last met The Bride(Uma Thurman) in Kill Bill: Vol. 1, she’d just spent a good 20 minutes dispatching psycho schoolgirl Go-Go Subari, chopping her way through 88 crazy yakuzas, and killing O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) in a hushed moonlit courtyard. Even those of us who found this extended “Showdown at the House of Blue Leaves” a bit numbing had to marvel at Quentin Tarantino’s audacity in plunking down such a baroque fight sequence only halfway through The Bride’s saga. I sat there thinking, “How can he possibly top this?”
He doesn’t even try. In the uncommonly pleasurable Kill Bill Vol. 2, Tarantino pulls off a triumphant piece of cinematic jujitsu. Having set us up in Vol. 1 for an ever more elaborately choreographed carnival of slaughter to follow, he neatly pivots and pulls us in another direction altogether. The Bride is still seeking blood vengeance, of course, and she’s still surrounded by all manner of deadly weapons, from Hattori Hanzo swords to deadly African snakes. But from its opening minutes you can feel the two volumes of Kill Bill coalescing into what it was clearly intended to be all along — not an Asian-cinema pastiche or an exercise in extreme high style, but a full-fledged Tarantino movie.
Although Vol. 2 remains a tightly woven nest of influences, from chopsocky to spaghetti Westerns, Tarantino is more trickster than thief. This is a very different movie from Vol. 1. There’s more talk, more humor, more close-ups, more feeling. And because it’s far less violent, the film has a lighter spirit. Where the previous volume often wallowed in the nastiness of Japanese exploitation pictures — all those lopped-off limbs, all that geysering blood — Tarantino here relishes the playful cheesiness of old Shaw Brothers pictures in which stern-faced monks pluck out villains’ eyeballs and employ kung fu moves that even sound silly.
Vol. 2 finds The Bride back in the American Southwest and eager to eradicate the rest of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad on her way to finishing off Bill (David Carradine). Naturally, this means a second encounter with duplicitous Elle Driver — Daryl Hannah in full-throttle bitch mode — strutting across the screen in black suit and eye patch like the vindictive anima of the Reservoir Dogs. But before dispatching her, The Bride must first deal with Bill’s brother Budd (a.k.a. Sidewinder), now a drunken bouncer at a titty bar. Budd is played by the reliably menacing Michael Madsen, whose face has gone soft and dissolute — his tiny eyes have sunk into his head like raisins into a bread pudding. He believes The Bride is thoroughly entitled to her revenge, though that won’t stop him from subjecting her to a harrowing premature burial that trumps George Sluizer’s The Vanishing.
Godard once said that movies need a beginning, a middle and an end — but not necessarily in that order. Although Tarantino isn’t quite so radical, he’s still a pretty fair sidewinder. Even as The Bride marches inexorably toward her face-off with Bill, the movie itself keeps leapfrogging in time and hopscotching in space, sprinkling in enough back story along the way to whet, if not quite satisfy, our curiosity. We learn why Elle wears that Hathaway Man eye patch, and we witness the ominous buildup to Vol. 1’s wedding massacre, shot in ravishing black-and-white by Robert Richardson, a scene all the more memorable because we don’t see any killing. At the same time, Tarantino refuses to pedantically tie up the first volume’s loose ends. If you’ve been wondering what happens to the disarmingly disarmed Sofie Fatale or whether Bill really was the assassin who slaughtered O-Ren Ishii’s parents, you’ll have to wait for the (inevitable) director’s-cut DVD. Which isn’t to say that Tarantino’s been sloppy.
Although his breezy use of chapter headings lets him create a series of semiautonomous mini films, he interlaces his motifs obsessively: Vol. 1 may have begun with Nancy Sinatra singing “Bang Bang” in a scene that made you hear it in a haunting new way, yet the song’s meaning doesn’t fully pay off until the end of Vol. 2.The movie’s filled with wonderfully directed sequences, such as The Bride’s training with Pai Mei (Gordon Liu), a querulous, woman-hating kung fu master with bushy eyebrows like huge albino caterpillars.
One great challenge of a revenge yarn titled Kill Bill is that when the audience finally meets Bill, he must live up to his billing as well as his killing — he’s got to be more than just a guy who deserves to die. It’s been reported that Tarantino showed the script to Warren Beatty, whose personal iconography would have made him the perfect satanic Charlie for all those killer angels. But Beatty thought the script merely a conga line of fight scenes, and the part was offered to Carradine, who wisely snatched it like a plum dropped from heaven. When younger, the lanky actor had a deserved reputation as a bad boy; now 68, his face as weathered as a dried-up riverbed, he’s superb at appearing to be a very bad man. Whether playing his bamboo flute or making oddball speeches (unmistakably crafted in the atelier Tarantino) about the meaning of Superman, Carradine’s Bill is the corrupted parody of the Westerner enthralled by the Wisdom of the East — Kung Fu’s Grasshopper gone terribly astray. What makes him a great villain is that he’s actually enormously seductive: calm, rational, spookily sexy. You can understand why The Bride was once in love with Bill.
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