Kill Bill, Volume 2
by Del Harvey
In which The Bride gets her man.
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Kill Bill Vol. 1 played like a nonstop action film, with grand scenes of battle in between short passages of “business”: The Bride goes here or does that. There was little dialogue and nothing in the way of backstory. In Kill Bill Vol. 2 we are given the backstory right up front as the film begins with the massacre at the wedding rehearsal. From there the film kicks into high gear with action and our heroine getting into one dilemma after another until, finally, she gets the chance to kill Bill.
I was impressed by some of the situations Tarantino put the character of The Bride through, and don’t want to give anything away here, so will leave it at that. However, in his desire to compliment numerous Asian filmmakers via imitation, Tarantino has once again elevated the action picture to cult status, much as he did with Pulp Fiction. And he has managed to break through a few barriers of American cinema in doing so, simply by using some of the staples of Asian cinema, including cutting away from a life-or-death situation for our heroine for a solid 15 minutes of backstory showing her training by one of the supreme Chinese martial artists. In the standard cut-and-paste methodologies typically employed by American filmmakers, diverting your audience’s attention for even a few minutes has long been thought unforgivable, but Tarantino shows that it is perfectly acceptable in KBv2.
Uma Thurman, as The Bride, is certainly a powerhouse, but I had the same difficulties with her here that I did in the first “volume”: she doesn’t carry enough menace. She is strong, she’s a good actress, and she can handle the action scenes well, but the threats don’t seem as real as those made by one of her targets, one-eyed assassin Elle Driver, played by Daryl Hannah. Thankfully, Uma’s acting is superior enough so that such minor flaws are easily ignored as she draws us in to her plight and has us rooting for her from opening reel to final scene.
It was good to see David Carradine as Bill, or perhaps it is good of Tarantino to give work to such actors as Carradine, Michael Parks, and Bo Svenson, none of whom have had much time on screen since the 70’s, when each was popular in his own right (Svenson made popular the original Walking Tall series of films). Michael Madsen is always good and especially fun to watch as Bill’s brother Budd. As a side note, Madsen played Vic Vega, aka Mr. Blonde, in Reservoir Dogs. His character is supposed to be the brother of Vince Vega, played by John Travolta in Pulp Fiction. Tarantino is supposedly working on a prequel to those two films which is centered around the Vega brothers, which is a story many of us will gladly line up to see.
I enjoyed KBv2 but now, after having seen the second half, feel more strongly than ever that they should have cut the film down and released it as a two and a half or even three hour version. Many people will say, “Then you would have lost this scene or that scene,” and I can only agree. But if you hadn’t seen those extra scenes, and you didn’t know it, you would not have lost much. And they would have given us this cut in DVD format, which is where I would rather have sat through four hours of film. I feel so strongly about this because at times KBv2 almost feels like a completely different film. Some of this may be attributable to Tarantino’s imitating foreign filmmakers, but some of it may also have to do with the fact that they knew they could release the thing in two halves.
If you saw the first film, then you have to see KBv2. Even if you haven’t, KBv2 stands on its own quite well, much as Uma Thurman’s character does. She and Tarantino have given us a strong female action heroine, and that is to be applauded anytime—especially for an American film.
Del Harvey is a Chicago writer and teaches at Columbia College.
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