Kill Bill Vol. 2

BY ALEX WOLSKY
Daily Arts Editor
Published April 15, 2004

The Michigan Daily discovered in November 2004 that several articles written by arts editor Alex Wolsky did not meet the newspaper's standard of ethical journalism. Parts of these stories had been plagiarized from other news sources. The article below appears to contain plagiarism, and the Daily no longer stands by its content. For details, see the Daily's editorial.

Laura Wong

First things first: “Kill Bill: Vol. 2” isn’t a perfect film — neither was “Vol. 1.” The final piece of Quentin Tarantino’s sundered pulp puzzle comes together in full force as The Bride (Uma Thurman) inflicts final punishment on those who wronged her. Underneath all the shogun violence and dried blood lies a film so dense in both history and culture, one can’t help to be amazed by Tarantino’s ambition.

Once again acting as both writer and director, Tarantino has no problem wearing his influences on his sleeve. With a dense network of references in the second installment, Tarantino is on one hand playing a game with his audience, while on the other hand making a point — demonstrating how East and West have so strongly influenced each other over the past few years. Just as Japanese director Akira Kurosawa openly brought the American Western to his 1954 epic, “The Seven Samurai,” Italian director Sergio Leone brought Kurosawa’s influence to the European market with “A Fistful of Dollars.” Finally, Tarantino has connected all three points with “Kill Bill.” He melds the Eastern, European and American points-of-view into one raucous, poignant meta-film.

“Vol. 2” draws most heavily on the American Western. Where the first film was a transition from East to West (The Bride was literally transplanted from a Texas hospital to Japan), the second film is solely focused on The Bride’s journey through the barren, cavernous Texas landscape in search of her final enemies — Budd (Michael Madsen, “Reservoir Dogs”), Elle Driver (Darryl Hannah, “Splash”) and, of course, Bill (David Carradine, TV’s “Kung Fu”).

Because “Kill Bill” has such a thin plot to work with, the performance of the characters comes to the forefront. And, as The Bride drives the story forward, the secondary characters become the most important feature of the film and thus take the spotlight off of Thurman. Their peculiarities and nuances make the characters memorable and more fleshed out than they were in “Vol. 1.”

Darryl Hannah, who had a fairly limited though significant role in “Vol. 1,” returns in “Vol. 2” as the manipulative Elle Driver. Elle plaintively acts as a foil — her character, by contrast, enhances the distinctive characteristics of The Bride. Hannah marvelously plays “The Bride Gone Bad,” which is so carefully alluded to in her dialogue from “Vol. 1.” Hannah’s flawless execution of the role transcends the film’s self-referential nature, as she becomes a unique entity in her own right.

Michael Madsen portrays Bill’s brother and colleague Budd, as he plays an ironic, absurdist role in “Vol. 2” as a once-deadly assassin turned bouncer at a lonely, Barstow, Calif. topless bar. Madsen brings the disillusioned swordfighter to life wonderfully. He’s a man who has turned to the Barstow for a solitary, private life, only to be brought out of retirement by The Bride’s quest for revenge.

And, then there’s The Bride and Bill’s unfinished business. Carradine — who plays the masterful Bill, all but non-existent in the first film — becomes all-too-human in the second. Tarantino’s conscious move to not reflect the character in a negative manner works effectively, and by the final battle royale, the audience empathizes with Bill. Interwoven in between tense, well-crafted scenes of Bill and The Bride, are flashbacks into the life of The Bride including a hilarious homage to ’70s kung fu detailing her training with the white-browed Pai Mei (Chinese film star Chia Hui Liu).

The nefarious Bill — known only by the tenor of his voice in the first film — proves to be a master of not just martial arts, but long-winded bullshit. The anti-climactic third act of “Vol. 2” acts as a microcosm for the entire film, which is slanted toward dialogue as opposed to combat. It will most certainly upset those who enjoyed the first volume’s in-your-face violence. Unlike “Vol. 1” which felt like a visceral dagger to the jugular, the second installment is a spacious exploration in character study and dialogue. Nearly every fight sequence in “Vol. 2” is framed by long, drawn-out conversations which slow, but don’t hinder the film.

The structure of “Kill Bill” seems off, however. At times, scenes from “Vol. 1” seem like they would fit better later in the film. Tarantino appears to have reshuffled “Kill Bill” for the sake of reshuffling the film, not because it emphasizes a critical point or thematic issue as in his earlier work, “Pulp Fiction.” That being said, the films work best together. In the way that “Vol. 1” seemed rushed and aimless, “Vol. 2” seems slowed and cerebral. They compliment each other perfectly.

With the release of “Kill Bill: Vol. 2,” Tarantino’s grand design becomes clear: The first part of his epic took place under the sign of the East, the second part is largely devoted to the West — that is, American and European revenge flicks, particularly the spaghetti Western. And it does so with a panache and style unlike any other film this year.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 

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