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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.

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