Skip to main content

Empire List #423: Kill Bill Vol. 2

Quentin Tarantino must be a major annoyance to a lot of film teachers. They say to become good at anything you must first learn from the experts. Tarantino learned a lot before becoming a filmmaker, but from watching the stuff other people had done. It’s the dream of every guy who has ever worked at a video club: I have watched thousands of movies, what if I made one myself? Of course now that video clubs are going out of business we’re not likely to see someone emerge with a similar back story, but if anything he has proved you can watch and learn. With “Kill Bill Vol. 2” Tarantino shows what he learned by watching Westerns and Kung Fu movies, resulting in one of the best revenge movies of the last ten years.

By the time Volume 2 came out in early 2004, I was still reeling from having seen Volume one the year before. I must have had a weird facial expression after I left the theatre because my brother had looked at me and said: “You’re not going to go see the sequel aren’t you?” To which I responded “Are you crazy? Of course I will!” That’s right. Baby brother had grown up and had developed a taste for blood, mayhem and destruction. Bring it on Tarantino. I had turned 18 the previous year, my cynicism was up after my parent’s divorce and so I was ready for some R-rated violence. I love escapism.

Picking up where the “Kill Bill Vol. 1” left off, with assassin The Bride (Uma Thurman) going through the list of people who killed her friends and fiancĂ© at her wedding rehearsal. There are only three people left: Bud (Michael Madsen), Elle Rider (Daryl Hannah) and at the bottom of the list sits Bill (David Carradine), her former employer. The Bride is now on her way to kill Bud, the brother of Bill, although I don’t see the family resemblance. Having just chopped her way through 88 Japanese henchmen, it is a change of pace for her to go after a strip club bouncer who lives by himself in a trailer. It should be incredibly easy to sneak up on him while he’s rocking in his chair, listening to Johnny Cash. Not quite.

In the aftermath of their encounter, Bud locks up The Bride in a coffin and buries her six feet under. This is shot in a scary sequence, as we hear the nails being pounded into the wood, the box being dropped into the grave, the soil being shoved onto the coffin and finally silence. We only hear The Bride panicking in the dark, until she turns on the flashlight Bud gave her. Him giving her a flashlight seems a bit contradictory. If he is evil enough to bury her alive, why show a modicum of mercy by giving her light? Why not go all the way and have her suffocate in the dark? If I had to guess, I would say because without the flashlight, the audience wouldn’t be able to see anything at all.

That’s for the linear part of the plot. Tarantino has never been a fan of chronology. His breakout film “Reservoir Dogs” went back and forth in time constantly. The flashbacks in “Kill Bill Vol. 2” fill in the holes of the story as we head towards the inevitable final confrontation with Bill. One involves a black and white encounter between The Bride and Bill just before the massacre at the church. The scenes are filled with suspense since we already know that somewhere down the line four people will enter that church and shoot everyone from the groom to Rufus (Samuel L. Jackson) the piano player.

Yet Tarantino takes his time and allows them to talk first. As bloody and violent as his stories might be, they have some of the most entertaining and smart dialogue. His characters take time to have conversations, to discuss important things and sometimes to poke fun at their lifestyles. Before The Bride’s attack on Bud’s trailer, Bill warns him of her killing spree in Japan. Bud asks Bill if The Bride really killed 88 men, to which Bill points out they only called themselves The Crazy 88. “They just thought it sounded cool.” Well, it does. What were they going to call themselves? The Crazy 79?

All of the great actors saying this dialogue do a great job with their performances. Everyone has their moment in the sun, from Michael Madsen musing about retirement, to David Carradine delivering an analogy about life and death involving a gold fish. Also noteworthy is Michael Parks as retired Mexican pimp Esteban Vihaio. Parks is one of those actors most people have never heard about, but Tarantino and his friend Robert Rodriguez loved his early work, so they hire him every now and then. In “Kill Bill” he pulls double duty by playing both a pimp and Sheriff Earl McGraw in the first volume. Watch him play a deranged preacher in Kevin Smith’s “Red State.”

Some say revenge is sweet; others say it is a dish best served cold. The introduction of a character in the third act shows that if anything, revenge is complicated. Then of course there is the issue of the surviving characters left in The Bride’s path of destruction. Some of her victims’ relatives and friends might want to have a word with her in a couple of years. The fate of one character on her hit list in particular leaves the door open for a sequel. Will The Bride pick up her sword again? I certainly hope so.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #70: Stand by Me

Another clear influence on Stranger Things, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me (1986) portrays American kids from a lost era in which they could go on an adventure away from home. Nowadays if children go missing for more than an hour parents try to locate them using cell phone apps, but in the story written by Stephen King four boys in 1959 Oregon go walking in the woods during a long weekend to look for, of all things, a dead body. Their lives are sometimes at risk, they have no way of communicating with their parents, but they will definitely have a story to remember for the rest of their lives.
For many North Americans adults this movie fondly reminded them of a time in their childhood despite the inherent danger. Not so for me since, first of all, there was no time in my childhood when I could possibly go out of the house for more than three hours without my mom getting in her car to go look for me. The there is the fact that I spent a good chunk of my childhood living in Chile and Peru, an…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #77: Spartacus

Spartacus (1960) is an interesting movie in Stanley Kubrick's filmography because it doesn’t really feel like a Stanley Kubrick movie. I don’t exactly know why, but his signature style doesn’t seem to be present unlike in classics such as The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, or Dr. Strangelove. It does however feel like one of those big sword-and-sandals epics in which you have British thespians acting as Roman politicians with the occasional big battle sequence. In that respect it is spectacular and features Kirk Douglas at his best as the titular hero.
The story of the rebel slave Spartacus has inspired a bloody and sexy TV series (so far unseen by me, but I hear it’s great) and the story behind how it was made is one of those cases of life imitating art. The Bryan Cranston film Trumbo tells how screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted in Hollywood during the 1950s for his communist beliefs and had to rebel against the system by writing screenplays for cheap movies under a fake nam…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #79: The Thin Red Line

I once saw an interview in which Christopher Plummer said that what Terrence Malick needs is a writer. He was referring to his experience shooting The New World, which saw his role considerably reduced. The same happened to a much greater extent with Malick’s war movie The Thin Red Line (1998), which saw the screen time of many movie stars reduced to mere minutes amid a 170-minute running time. However you have to hand it to the guy: he knows how to make anything look beautiful, including the carnage of war.
Malick’s movie came out the same year as Saving Private Ryan, so I think that year I had my fill of ultra violent war films and was no too interested in seeing it. Sixteen years later I finally caught up to it on Netflix, but in hindsight the big screen might have been a better option since this is a very visual story. The plot is pretty loose, following one American soldier and sometimes some of his brothers in arms as they make their way through World War II in the Pacific theat…