Previously on Kill Bill…
A former assassin, known as The Bride (Uma Thurman), began her long and bloody journey of revenge against her former co-workers, a group of assassins known as the DIVAS (Deadly Viper Assassination Squad), who beat and left her and her unborn child for dead on the day of her wedding four years ago. Of the five people on her death list, the two who met their fate first were killer turned soccer mom Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) and O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), who had left the DIVAS to become the head of the Yakuza in Japan.
Two down, three to go. Before she can kill you-know-who (David Carradine), however, The Bride must contend with the remaining two former members of the Squad: the one-eyed Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) and Bill’s brother, Budd (Michael Madsen). After dispensing with several dozen people, at least, in the first half, three more people shouldn’t be much of a problem. But when you throw into the plot the daughter The Bride thought she had lost when she was nearly killed four years ago, the simple task of revenge gets complicated pretty damn quick.
Volume One of Quentin Tarantino’s epic ode to his favourite movie genres might have been light on story and character development and heavy on blood and style, but it was the most unadulterated fun you could have at the cinema in 2003, bar none.
Volume Two, which pays homage to Westerns both of the Sergio Leone and John Ford variety as well as ’70s Kung Fu flicks, feels more like the type of film we’ve come to expect from the fast-talking human film encyclopedia, which is odd considering that these films were a single entity at one point.
If Volume One one was uncharacteristic, new school Tarantino filmmaking, then Volume Two is definitely old-school, chock full of cool-talking criminals, pop-culture references, pitch-black comedy and violence that, while occasionally graphic, is more psychological and intense than physical and cartoonish.
But as The Bride journeys closer to her showdown with Bill, we discover that amidst the violence and laughs, the film has a heart and genuine emotion. Is Tarantino getting soft as he gets older? I think not. Tarantino’s films have always had these traits sprinkled throughout (Samuel Jackson’s brilliant closing speech in Pulp Fiction and the relationship between Pam Grier and Robert Forster’s characters in Jackie Brown are two great examples), just not as prevalent as they are in Kill Bill, in particular this volume.
As the story unfolds through Tarantino’s trademark fractured storyline, Kill Bill reveals itself to be not so much a straightforward revenge tale as it is one of lost love and regret. Bill’s heart was broken when The Bride, pregnant with his child, ran off to start a new life without telling him about her plans or the pregnancy. The members of the Deadly Viper Squad, despite being cold-blooded killers, even reveal some feelings of regret, in their own twisted way, on what they did to their former co-worker. To get a viewer to empathise with such a group of natural born killers (sorry, couldn’t resist) is a pretty tall order, but Tarantino, through his wonderful dialogue and assured directing, gets us to do so in a heartbeat.
The excellent ensemble cast also deserves credit for accomplishing this as well. The more we learn about The Bride and her past, the more Thurman’s performance develops and deepens. Madsen’s low-key performance as Budd, the story’s moral centre, is so good that we actually feel sorry for where he’s ended up in life, even after he’s buried our heroine alive! Hannah, given her best role in years as Driver, proves to be more than up for the task of being truly evil onscreen, while Gordon Liu is hilarious as the wise old master Pai Mei, who taught The Bride the finer points of martial arts and carrying water buckets.
As great as the above are, the real star of this volume is David Carradine. He is menacing without ever raising his voice and delivers one-liners with a deadpan delivery worthy of Clint Eastwood (his speech on comic books is a gem). Just like Madsen, Carradine elicits the viewer’s sympathy despite the fact that he tried to have his former love and their unborn child murdered. It’s a wonderful, career-high performance from the man formerly known as Kane.
Now that I have seen both halves of this saga, I believe Kill Bill to be Quentin Tarantino’s best work to date. It fires on all thrusters, never missing a step from first frame to last. If all filmmakers put as much effort and passion into their movies as Tarantino does, the world of cinema might actually be a place worth visiting more often.