Kill Bill Vol. 2 Review
If Kill Bill Vol. 1 had the style, Vol. 2 has the content. The second and final chapter of Quentin Tarantino's revenge opus has less action and a lot more dialogue. The martial arts take a back seat while the story hinted at in Vol. 1 is explained, explored and resolved. There's no big setpiece to rival the samurai showdown that capped Vol. 1. The single major action scene is a one-on-one catfight and the final confrontation largely a verbal one. Since Tarantino supplies the words, that doesn't necessarily make it any less exciting. Don't be deterred, while there may be less blood on the walls, this is still a dark and violent film. It's even nastier in some ways. If the Bride's opponents in Vol. 1 were at least allowed quick and honourable deaths, the scummier characters in Vol. 2 meet truly cringeworthy fates. One non-fatal injury earns the 18 certificate all by itself.
To recap, Kill Bill is the saga of a wronged woman's quest for revenge. Its heroine, the Bride (Uma Thurman) was a trained killer, a member of the Deadly Vipers Assassination Squad, who traded her violent life for pregnancy and marriage and was tracked down by her former colleagues, shot and left for dead. In the first half of the story, she journeyed to Japan where she procured a weapon from master swordmaker Hattori Hanzo (Sonny Chiba) and used it to kill one of her assailants, O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) along with what seemed like half the population of Tokyo. She also found time to drop in on target number two, Vernita Green (Viveca A Fox) and stick her to the kitchen wall like a cheap clock. Still on the Bride's list are trailer-dwelling redneck Budd (Michael Madsen), sinister, eye-patched ice queen Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) and of course the team's leader, the man behind the hit, Bill himself (David Carradine).
Yes, this time we get to see Bill. He's introduced at the beginning in a flashback to the Bride's wedding and he emerges as an unexpectedly civilised, cultured and almost effeminate character, his capacity for murder hidden just beneath the surface. A man who owns a video of Shogun Assassin and waxes lyrical about comic books, maybe he's Quentin Tarantino evil alter ego. David Carradine is not only a cult figure but a fine actor who won awards for his work in Bound For Glory and he fills out this complex character admirably well. He and Uma Thurman carry most of the dramatic burden as their relationship is given more weight and taken in some interesting directions.
Thurman is once again extraordinary. Seeing her in the two Kill Bills with the lazy Paycheck in between is like watching a light turn on, off and back on again. There must be other directors besides Tarantino who can get performances like this out of her. Daryl Hannah and Michael Madsen are consigned to secondary roles, doing henchman duty, but they perform it superbly and Hannah makes the most of a great monologue (the snake scene). There's also a memorable cameo from Michael Parks as a retired Mexican pimp, whose accent is meant to be that cheesy. I think.
The second film, like the first, is stolen by an Eastern star. Sonny Chiba walked away with Vol. 1, his performance both dignified and side-splittingly funny. This time it's veteran Hong Kong actor Gordon Liu who gets to have all the fun. He's hilarious as The Bride's trainer, martial arts master Pai Mei, a man not known for his patience with Westerners or unfriendly Shaolin monks. This flashback sequence is shot as a loving homage to seventies kung fu movies and it's the highlight of the film. Say what you want about Tarantino stealing from Asian cinema, he's honest about it and he pays its stars the compliment of writing them great roles, not cheap cameos. There is one genuine star cameo in Kill Bill Vol. 2, which I won't spoil, but even that adds something.
There are a few more visible weaknesses this time around. Vol. 2 is slightly less successful as a standalone film than its predecessor. The story doesn't quite have the depth Tarantino thinks it has and only so much depth can realistically be given to superheroes. There's a little more padding. Some of the more irrelevant scenes might have been better as DVD extras, Budd's employment problems for instance. Most of these problems stem from Vol. 2 being the "substance". Maybe with this kind of material, style works better than substance. So Vol. 2 may not hit you with quite the same impact as Vol. 1. Nevertheless, this is still a splendid movie in its own right and we shouldn't forget that the two parts were shot as one film. Even among great films, how many could realistically work at all split into two, let alone work this well? Together, volumes 1 and 2 form a unique and thrilling epic - Lord Of The Rings for those who grew up wanting to be ninjas rather than wizards.