|Kill Bill, Volume 2|
|Written by Paul Lingas|
|Tuesday, 10 August 2004|
An uneven and ultimately disappointing conclusion to what began in “Kill Bill Volume 1,” “Volume 2” does have its brilliant moments and is worth the trouble if you’ve already seen “Volume 1.” As a quick recap, the film stars Uma Thurman as the Bride, a reformed member of an assassin squad led by Bill (David Carradine). After leaving the Bride for dead at her own wedding, the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad scatter to do their own things until the fully recovered and retrained Bride comes after them.
“Volume 1” never showed Carradine’s face and consisted primarily of the Bride’s hunt for two of her four would-be killers. While “Volume 1” is more of a kung fu/samurai film with lots of action, “Volume 2” examines the story that led to the whole mess and is, in writer/director Quentin Tarantino’s own words, “more of a spaghetti Western.”
In what amounts to a flashback sequence, we are once again at the small and dusty church where the Bride’s wedding is to take place. Making a subtle yet grand entrance during the rehearsal is Bill. The Bride is more than surprised to see him and they have a lengthy conversation in which it is generally revealed that Bill is here to see her off, though he is disappointed in her decision to leave the assassination squad. It is a charming scene that finally establishes the true relationship between Bill and the Bride. As we already know though, Bill ultimately decides not to play nice.
Back to the present, somewhere in the Nevada desert, Bill’s brother Budd (Michael Madsen) is settling into a life of nothingness, working as a bouncer at a strip club and living in a remotely located mobile home. When Bill comes to tell Budd to watch his back, relating the fact that the Bride has already killed two of the others, Budd takes the news in stride, not wanting to duck his culpability in the matter. The Bride comes after him but Budd initially gets the better of her, cagey veteran that he is.
This takes us to another flashback, one even further back than the wedding, when Bill takes the Bride to be trained by all around guru Pai Mei (Gordon Liu). This is the best sequence in the film for a variety of reasons. First of all, in Pai Mai, it features a character in Pai Mei who has appeared in many kung fu movies. In fact, Liu has played characters in those other movies who have fought the Pai Mei character. Now Liu gets to play the same character his other characters used to fight. In addition, it marks the second appearance by Liu in the set, as he played the head of the Fighting 88s in “Kill Bill Volume 1.” The sequence really hearkens back to classic kung fu movies, from the action to the appearance of Pai Mei to the super fast zooms. Absolutely brilliant. This is really where Tarantino is at his best and is a clear reflection of his love for movies. He takes things that old moviegoers will be familiar with and fuses them into his own films, sometimes borrowing directly, as in the case of Pai Mei, and other times giving them completely new blood.
While the Bride is struggling to extricate herself from the situation that Budd put her in, the third remaining member of the assassination squad, Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), pays Budd for the Bride’s sword, which she wants for herself. Unfortunately for Budd, Elle has placed a deadly snake in the suitcase with the money and Budd is killed. The Bride makes it back and the two women have an extremely fierce battle whose conclusion is, shall we say, perfectly horrifying and hilarious. Having killed everyone except for Bill, the Bride sets out to look for him, getting some information from a cagey Mexican pimp (played with amazing excellence by Michael Parks) before finally tracking down her former mentor. What results is the final confrontation between Bill and the Bride, one that involves much more information about both of their pasts.
While some of the information that we learn about the characters is fulfilling to an extent after “Volume 1,” much of “Volume 2” is ultimately unsatisfying. Where “Volume 1” is very fun, “Volume 2” tends to get a little pedantic, making us itch for some action or perhaps a pick-up in pace. The performances are all solid, especially by Thurman, who comes to own the Bride. Carradine is good, but there is a purposeful stiltedness that makes him somewhat of an unappealing character. If anything, both movies are a bit uneven, slowing down too much between action bits and blurring the line between narrative homage and self-aggrandizement. This is one of the problems that results from splitting a narrative into two films. A precedent of some sort is set with the first and expectation can kill the second. It doesn’t matter if the movies are intended to be different; when they are supposed to be a part of one distinct whole, they should be that, rather than two semi-distinct bits that vary within themselves and with each other.
Of all the Tarantino DVDs, with the exception of “Volume 1,” “Kill Bill Volume 2” has the cleanest transfer of the bunch by far. Pristine hues and colors leap out when needed and are properly muted when so desired. The black and white sequences look especially nice, as the contrast levels are perfect. An excellent double option of 5.1 DTS or Dolby Digital is included, with the DTS again winning out due to its clarity in the high dynamic range. The DTS really helps to amp up the fight sequences although, surprisingly, it doesn’t convey the soundtrack through the front speakers as well as the Dolby.
There is one deleted scene that is truly the greatest deleted scene ever. It is a complete, four minute sequence involving Bill and the Bride in the early days. They run into some vengeful men and Bill has to confront them. The results are magnificent, and though it doesn’t entirely work to advance the story, I can’t imagine why this scene was taken out of the final film.
The “making of” featurette is of the half-hour variety and, while it does have some good interviews with Tarantino and the main stars, it has too many long clips of the film to be entirely successful. For those who have seen the film the clips are unnecessary and take away time from what they want, which is more information and behind-the-scenes footage. Tarantino deftly explains his thoughts on the two films and how the second differs from the first. His enthusiasm for his own films as well as those he drew inspiration from is evident, especially when he talks about Gordon Liu. Most of the information has to do with the story and character; little to nothing is related about the rest of the production, with the exception of the score. Most of the “Volume 1” score was composed by The RZA, and while his music still crops up in “Volume 2,” most of the new score is the work of writer/director/singer/songwriter/can-do man Robert Rodriguez. This takes us to the other bonus feature, which is a two-song, 13-minute performance by Chingon, a mariachi group with Rodriguez that played at the “Volume 2” premiere. While nothing more than a live concert video, the music is great and the quality of the production is first-rate.
While the bonus materials are mixed at best, this is a fantastic transfer of a film that, though flawed, is a worthwhile addition to “Kill Bill Volume 1.” I definitely wouldn’t recommend having “Volume 2” alone, but while “Volume 1” is clearly superior, “Volume 2” is an almost necessary accompaniment.