Friday Film Focus: Kill Bill Volume 2

Kill Bill Volume 2 is an exuberant celebration of movie-making. It coasts with reckless joy from one audacious chapter to another. It’s not necessarily a sequel, but rather a continuation and completion. Volume 2 dives into emotional waters merely skimmed in the brilliant exercise that was the first film. The movie is a distillation of the countless grind house kung-fu movies Quentin Tarantino has absorbed (and loves beyond all reason). Combined with samurai swords, anime, and spaghetti westerns, Kill Bill Volume 2 is blast of pure movie oxygen.

Ok, so where Vol. 1 leave off? The Bride (Uma Thurman) traveled all the way to Tokyo to battle O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Lui). She also tripped to Pasadena in order to slaughter Vernita (Vivica A Fox). Ishii and Vernita were two of the five assassins involved in the killing of her entire wedding rehearsal party. Before the wedding begins however, The Bride confronts Bill on the porch of the chapel. This conversation suggests the true depth of their association. Bill, who is played by the fantastic David Carradine, offers the opinion that the two had a real, genuine relationship despite the prosperous details surrounding them. He’s deeply offended she is going to instead marry a record store owner and live a normal life. The Bride interestingly enough was pregnant with Bill’s baby when he shoots her in the head. She of course survives the attempted massacre — waking up from a coma four years later with the thirst to avenge herself. The last words of Vol. 1 came in the form of question by Bill: “Is she aware her daughter is still alive?”

The film opens with a long closeup of The Bride behind the wheel of a top down convertible. She proceeds to explain that she is going to kill Bill. There is a lot of explaining in this film; Tarantino usually writes dialogue with quirky details. His characters don’t talk in mundane dialogue, but rather in a kind of elevated speech that lovingly polishes their methods, legends, and beliefs. In a way, he gives his movies a mythical quality. Much of The Bride’s success in the first film came because she was able to persuade sword-maker Hattori Hanzo (Sonny Chiba) to make her the finest weapon imaginable. In Volume 2, she meets another Asian legend — the warrior master Pai Mei (Gordon Liu). Pai Mei, who lives alone on top of a high hill reached by climbing many stairs, was Bill’s master. In a flashback scene, Bill delivers his protege for training. Pai Mei is a strict, harsh teacher. The Bride (whose real name we find out is Beatrix Kiddo) sheds blood during their unrelenting sessions.

You may want to remember the five point exploding heart trick. Pai Mei’s hair is white and flowing like a character from a comic book. We learn that her training with Pai Mei prepared The Bride to begin her career with Bill (jetting around the world making vast amounts of money for killing).

As we are brought back to the present, The Bride has to fight her last formidable opponents — which include Elle Driver and Bill’s beer-chugging brother Budd. The actors definitely hold their own against flying swords. Michael Madsen is incredible as Budd. Madsen’s character mistakenly believes he can keep The Bride down by burying her alive. Tarantino, who began the film in black and white before switching to colors, plays with formats here too. To suggest the claustrophobia of being buried, he films The Bride inside the casket and switches from widescreen to the classic 4 x 3 ratio. Daryl Hannah mesmerizes as the eye patch wearing Elle Driver. She is The Bride’s replacement in Bill’s heart — not to mention a tough opponent in a show-stopping fight scene.

Of course, all the roads in Kill Bill lead to The Bride’s face off with Bill and the daughter she never knew she had. Bill puts her to sleep with videos. As a lovely touch, The Bride is pleased. Thurman gives an electrifying performance that breaks your heart with no mercy. But there is hell to pay.

Volume 2 is a story with enhanced character develop. They begin to resonate with the audience — especially during the final meeting between Bill and The Bride. This scene mostly consists of hypnotic dialogue, and ends in an event that is like a quiet yet deadly punch to the chest. Combined with Volume 1, Tarantino has made a masterful saga celebrating the martial arts genre while simultaneously transcending and loving it. He wants to take us on a wild ride into the dirty fun of movies. He does it so artfully that we can’t help but return to the film to shake out its secrets.

Image source: IFC